Think Twice Before Hitting Delete

20 Feb

“So beautiful. A terrific tribute!  I love all the texts.  Can’t believe you saved them all!!”

 -Lynn Dever, Comment Section, “There Are Still No Words”, 11/12/12

Over the past seven and a half years, since Jeff first went away to college, I have rarely hit the delete button on my kids’ emails or texts.  I just couldn’t.  Whenever any of them sent me a message that I thought was particularly funny, interesting or classic, I saved it. I guess this can be partially explained by the fact that I’m a pack rat by nature, and that is something that drives Carey crazy, because the clutter that I’ve accumulated in parts of our house has gotten a bit overwhelming. 

But to me, saving every wonderful card, art project, or any type of gift from my boys was the only option.  Those things are precious to me, and I will never toss them.  And at least with electronic communication, there is no physical clutter, so my overloaded inbox can’t bother anyone else. 

The primary reason I saved so many of these things is because I’m probably one of the few people who will actually pull out an old card from time to time and read it.  Or I’ll do an email inbox search for messages from one of my kids, just so I can take a couple of minutes to enjoy some old emails from them all over again.  I might do this on a day that isn’t going so great, and I feel like I need a little pick-me-up.  Or I might do it in a happier moment when I’m just thinking about Carey or the boys and they’re not available to talk live.  But I never dreamed, not even in my worst nightmares, that the reason I would one day be thankful for having saved all of such treasures from Jeff was because memories of him would be all I had left. 

Given the circumstances, however, which I can’t change no matter how desperately I’d like to, I truly am thankful that I have these amazing memories of Jeff at my disposal.  Thank God I didn’t hit the delete button on them.  In a way, they have saved me emotionally, because I can literally choose a moment in time, go back to my saved emails or texts, and relive conversations we had in all their vibrancy.  And due to how great a personality Jeff had and what a lively writer he was, I feel like I’m back in that time again, and I can actually feel his presence. 

The best part is that our conversations were about anything and everything, with topics ranging from pomegranate juice to March Madness to the true age of Shaquille O’Neal.  I have shared so many examples in previous posts, but those represent only a fraction of the emails I’ve found.

I had to go back over six years to find our brief but classic email exchange about pomegranate juice, which I initiated.  It must have been a quiet day at work.  I read this one whenever I need to smile, and it never fails to elicit one.  The date was January 10, 2006:

Dad > Jeff: “Jeff- I went to get lunch in a deli near my office today, and the pomegranate juice craze is taking full force in the city.  They had all these small bottles of different flavors—cherry, mango, and even blueberry pomegranate juice.  I’ll be interested to see if you stay traditional or go for some of these new flavors!  Love, Dad”

Jeff > Dad: “Hey- yea I actually don’t like the other flavors that much.  I like the traditional pomegranate.  However, I went into town a few days ago and they only had tangerine and cherry flavored, so I got the tangerine.  It’s ok, but not as good as the original in my opinion.  You know me; I’m a traditionalist at heart.”

Ah yes, he certainly was that.  Jeff was all about upholding traditions in every aspect of life.  Traditional family values, for example, were extremely important to him.  He loved all of our annual family rituals—Greek Easter at Aunt Betty’s house in Brooklyn, Thanksgiving at Carey’s cousin Athene’s house on Long Island, birthday cake and gift giving sessions at our kitchen table, and me reading “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” to the family every single Christmas eve, including Jeff’s very last one.

Even Jeff’s choice of baseball teams revolved around the same theme–he was such a huge Yankees fan in large part because the franchise is so steeped in tradition.  Thus, it is no big surprise that traditional pomegranate juice would remain his choice even as more and more flavors hit the market.

If I want to stay in 2006 and relive more interesting moments with Jeff, I need only to go to the very next morning, January 11th, to find another great email exchange.  In what would turn out to be a semi-regular happening during Jeff’s college years, he inadvertently called us in the early morning hours of a night out during January term:

Dad > Jeff, 7:12am: “Why did you call us at 12:30am and then not say anything?  All I heard was you saying to someone, “Drink your shot”.  Haven’t I told you to be careful about doing shots?  I understand about celebrating your grades, but if you dial us at that hour, you have to say something.”

Jeff > Dad, 12:47pm:

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I must admit, that’s a pretty decent explanation on Jeff’s part, though my email back to him reflected my ignorance about drinking games at that time:

I guess Carey and I should be flattered that we were number 1 on his speed dial.  The question is which one of you was number 11 that he was intending to dial?

I’ll never forget how excited Jeff was when, 8 months later at the start of his sophomore year, he was given his own newspaper column, which he called J.K. Rolling.  Thanks to my habit of saving emails, I can again experience how we shared that excitement together.  Jeff wanted to start his writing career on a strong note and so he asked me to critique a draft of his article before he submitted it to the editors.  I was happy to do it and to be a part of it all.  The date was September 11, 2006:

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I love the fact that both Drew and Brett have also found a way to incorporate their passion for sports into their college careers.  Drew is a sports information intern at Widener, having compiled statistics in the press box at their football games, and he now is filming both men’s and women’s basketball games.  Brett is a sportswriter for The Villanovan newspaper and has written articles reporting on the football, soccer, and basketball teams, and he has also written his own columns.  Jeff would be so proud of his brothers.

A month later, Jeff wrote a scathing article, which I’ve reprinted previously here on the blog, excoriating the Yankees for their woeful performance against the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs that year.  Prior to submitting it, he again sent me a preview:

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And then, of course, there’s March Madness.  I’ve shared some classic emails from Jeff related to this topic before, but I recently found another conversation we had in 2009 that practically had me reaching for the phone to call him and reminisce.  It started on March 30, 2009:

Jeff > Dad:

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Jeff > Dad, April 5th, 4:24am: 

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Unfortunately, Michigan State lost, and I got nothing, as Jeff rightly said would be the case.  As I read this conversation over and over again, I just let my entire being absorb the excitement and enthusiasm of his words, as well as the pride in his grade and in getting the interview.  And I torture myself thinking about what might have been had he just fought through the rough patch he endured starting in late August 2010 and then let himself return to this state of vibrancy reflected in these email conversations.

As I move forward to the spring of 2009 and read emails written right before his graduation from Middlebury, I am reminded of how Jeff and I used to enjoy correcting each other’s minor mistakes in a light-hearted way.  Jeff gets a pass on his incorrect word choice below, as it was 2:51am after a few drinks.  The date was May 10th, 2009.

Jeff > Dad: “I’m starting to realize that I passionately dislike the White South.  I would wholeheartedly support their succession from the Union.”

Dad > Jeff, 9:04 am:

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Jeff > Dad, 9:59am:

“Oh haha, alright–secession.  Next Saturday, I propose you and Mom go out to dinner (or order in), have a nice bottle of wine, and then rent Mississippi Burning (1988, starring Gene Hackman).  I watched it with Thao Friday night.”

Then, at the end of an email exchange that began on May 5th and ended on May 11th, it was Jeff’s turn to teach me something and to bring my knowledge of fraternities and social houses into the current decade.  And in addition, he decided to offer his advice about which college Drew should choose to attend.

Dad > Jeff, May 5th, 2009:

Jeff > Dad, May 5th: 

Dad > Jeff, May 5th: “He wants to explore it.”

Jeff > Dad, May 11, 2009: 

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Dad > Jeff:  

Jeff > Dad: 

Thirty years earlier, there were only guys in my KDR fraternity, so I didn’t know this.  But I loved when Jeff taught me things, and it certainly was a common occurrence.  And when we weren’t correcting each other, there were often times when we completely disagreed about who said what about a certain previously discussed topic.  The following comedy show of an email exchange occurred on July 1, 2009.  I truly did laugh out loud when I found this, as I remember it like it was yesterday.

Jeff > Dad:  

And how’s this for a mature fatherly response:

Jeff > Dad:  

And with that response, the case was closed and we agreed to disagree.  I guess even the best communicators have their moments of confusion.  But it’s just another example of the fun we had talking about everything and anything, and I love being able to go back in time and live these conversations again through my computer screen. 

The last exchange I’ll share is one that is classic in the way that it starts on the topic of chicken wings and ends with some banter about the Knicks’ potential interest in Allen Iverson.  Chicken wings and the Knicks- two of our favorite subjects, for sure.  The date was November 19, 2009.

Dad > Jeff: “Hey, check out this article from CNBC.com—‘Chicken Wing Finder Makes Debut—One man is betting that sports fans, or anyone for that matter, aren’t satisfied with the information available about chicken wing establishments’.”

Jeff > Dad:  

Dad > Jeff: 

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Jeff > Dad:   

Jeff, ever the voice of reason, was probably right.  It likely would have been a mistake.  But the bottom line of all this is that I shudder to think where I’d be emotionally today if I didn’t have these vivid memories at my disposal any time of day or night.  What if, after smiling or laughing out loud at Jeff’s emails upon receiving them at the time, I had just hit the delete button?  What if they were gone forever?  I guess I’d still have all the pictures, videos, cards and art projects that would keep his memory alive for me.  But there’s something about Jeff’s writing, particularly in texts and emails, that brings his larger-than-life personality out in such full force that I can literally feel it in my soul when I read it.

Of course, my feelings about this are made much more acute by the fact that, as I said earlier, these memories are all that I have left.  However, I would still have wanted to keep these emails and text treasures forever even if Jeff was still alive.  Maybe I’m in the minority of people who feel this way, but I would still want to look back at them with nostalgic enjoyment as we got older, and I’m sure we would have had a lot of laughs reading these together over the years and remembering the conversations.

We talked about everything.  We talked about nothing. Were we talking about Shaq, or were we talking about Vince Carter? Are women in KDR called brothers or sisters?  Should Drew go to Providence or Gettysburg?  What’s better, traditional pomegranate juice or flavored?  Should the Knicks have pursued Iverson?  Some of these questions had definitive answers, and some were just fun to ponder together.  But the answers didn’t really matter—it was the banter between us that was such an amazing part of the overall close-knit relationship that we enjoyed for Jeff’s entire life.  I miss him so much.

I am fortunate and truly blessed to have equally close relationships with Drew and Brett, and not surprisingly, I have saved all of their noteworthy emails and texts as well.  Whether it was Brett texting me with the simple message of “Yeah baby!” on April 11, 2011, minutes after he passed his road test, or Drew sending me a text this past Memorial Day weekend saying, “People are coming.  Do we have large plastic cups?” (Drew’s not so subtle way of informing me that a major game of beer pong was about to take place at our house while Carey and I were in Newport), these messages reinforce to me that every electronic communication you receive from your child, friend or relative is a potential lifelong memory, in the same way that cards, pictures, videos, etc. are.  Once I realized this in 2005, I never hit the delete key when I received something that made me smile, laugh or just simply touched me in some way. 

That decision ended up being huge for me, and so I will always encourage everyone to think twice before wiping out an email, text or Facebook conversation.  Years down the road, I think you’ll be glad you exercised such restraint.

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-Rich Klein

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2 Responses to “Think Twice Before Hitting Delete”

  1. Dan February 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    Boy did this hit the spot. Thanks, Rich. Loved this. I wonder if maybe I could have been
    #11. He called me on wknds all the time trying to get me to come to KDR. But it was way too far a walk from pretty much everywhere else on campus!

    • kleinsaucer February 21, 2013 at 8:02 am #

      Thanks Dan, and I would wager that you were #11. Thank you also for updating your blog about Jeff from a couple of years ago to include the full text of his email to you guys in 2010. I was hopeful that my post would prompt people to look for their own email and text treasures from him. All my best to you.

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