Morris: The last of the ‘keepers’

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Leo Morris

Know what I will miss most about newspapers when they’re finally gone forever?

The way people ordered extra copies when a cousin got married or a child made a noteworthy high school sports play, how they framed the clippings and put them on the wall for friends to see or cut them out and pasted them into a scrapbook to impress other relatives with.

The clippings became artifacts of family life — precious memories one generation could pass on to the next as a way to say, “We were here, we did this, and it mattered.”

Do people still get so excited when they “make the paper” and all they have to share are pixels dancing across a glowing screen?

Somehow, I doubt it. The question occurred to me as I thought about the artifacts in my own life, the remnants of human craftsmanship that connect me to the past.

The shoebox of old photographs, many in black and white, that can be sifted through on rainy afternoons and take me back to places thrilling to visit, long-dead relatives frozen in a moment of joy and hopefulness, younger versions of me with people who drifted into and out of my life.

The stack of eight-track tapes belonging to my father, along with the portable player that can be brought back to life with a battery replacement the next time I want to hear the music that moved a Kentucky coal miner transplanted to Indiana.

My special fountain pen and my brother’s special watch.

The pen is a Montblanc, an extravagant purchase when I really couldn’t afford the cost. It writes no better than a $1 Bic, but, oh, it is a magnificent work of art.

The watch is a Rolex, given as a bonus when my brother met a difficult goal for his company. It keeps time no better than a drugstore Timex, but it is such a fine example of exquisite excess that my brother has put it in his will.

How many people still accumulate such artifacts today? We take and share photos with our phones. The music is downloaded to our ears, no interface required. Our timekeeping and writing are moving online, along with our deep research, mapmaking and direction finding, measuring, voice recording, calendar keeping, health monitoring and on and on and on.

And as the electronic dots slither through cyberspace, what will they leave behind?

There are numerous archeological digs in Indiana where we can see evidence of the ancient civilization known as the Hopewell, learn about their complicated social life, discover their amazing travels across the continent, try to understand the path from their times to our own.

And while we visit statues of famous Hoosiers – Anthony Wayne in Fort Wayne, William Henry Harrison in Indianapolis, Abraham Lincoln in Wabash – we can study their life and times to see how we can emulate their virtues and avoid their mistakes.

As long as the statues still stand, of course, before we remove them because they depict flawed human beings who do not measure up to modern sensibilities.

Little wonder that we want to ignore our history these days, or at least erase the parts of it that we don’t want to think about. We can easily do that when we are erasing our own history as we go, determined to live in the eternal now. When future historians try to decipher our life and times, what evidence will they find in our ruins?

There is a favorite story I tell about my mother.

When I first started as a journalist, a wet-behind-the-ears reporter in Wabash, my mother in Fort Wayne got a subscription and clipped every article I wrote, even the three-paragraph ones of no consequence whatsoever.

Later in my career, when I moved back to Fort Wayne and wrote for the paper my parents had always taken, I asked her if she still cut out my articles.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “the good ones.”

I like to think this column would be one of the ones she’d consider a keeper. At least I’d know it still existed somewhere, even if only as a bookmark in her browser history.

Out there in the cloud that is beginning to cover all.

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