As the silly season that is our Presidential Election campaign is upon us, it seems appropriate to talk about promises, commitments, and memory. Especially since I made a promise to myself that in this new year I would be better about getting more of this stuff out of my head and onto paper, or bits or blogs or whatever you want to call this. As you can see by the fact that its now mid-March, I haven’t done a good job of keeping my promise.
Politicians seem to be able to make promises that nobody really expects them to fulfill, and then our collective memories are pretty leaky.
All of us spend a lot of time doing things, going places, meeting people, but unless something really spectacular happened, we don’t remember much of it.
All this came to mind recently while I was helping my parents clear out their house in Kingsport. I came across a tiny book called “Stockwell Ranche Book, Sept – June 1884”. I knew that I had a great-grandfather named Stockwell who had owned a ranch in Kansas, but that was about it.
As I thumbed through the little pocketbook and asked my parents for more details about its author, I began to piece together a much more nuanced picture of this man. His brother was a banker in Cleveland, but he left civilization for the endless plains of Kansas, where you could stake a claim literally by driving stakes into the ground, if you could hold on to it – and if nobody else challenged your right to it. He had been trained as a surveyor, so his skills at mapmaking were in great demand to help establish his and others’ claims to land.
There were lists of expenses, things bought at various stores. He traveled quite a bit in the course of making maps, and he kept track of his customers and their details. He braved sub-zero weather trying to keep a herd of cattle alive. And he went to the opera, somewhere, for only fifty cents.
Its amazing how the littlest details from this man’s little book help fill in so many gaps and paint a picture of a place and a time, and a man I never even saw a picture of. Its almost as if I were looking over his shoulder as he thought about what to write.
And that got me thinking about what I might leave behind that someone in the future might be interested in finding. Chances are nobody’d be interested, but then again, I doubt my great-grandfather ever thought somebody would be reading his words 128 years later!
We’ve all become spoiled by everything being digital. Music, TV shows, emails, blogs, news… its all bits stored on…. what?
Where exactly do the bits that you’re reading right now exist? And is it reasonable to assume they will still be there in another 128 years?
We think it its digital its immutable, permanent. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These words are stored on a hard-drive in a server farm in Dallas. If I stop paying my monthly fee, they will no longer be accessable. If i write them to Facebook or make a YouTube video, where does it say they will always be there into perpetuity? If I record them to a CD or DVD, guess what? Eventually molecules of Oxygen will penetrate the plastic disc and the metallic or organic layers holding the bits will oxidize, leaving the data on the disc as intact as Swiss Cheese.
So that brings me to the next article I have been saving up words for. At last I’ve found a medium I can store my bits on that will still be around in 128 years – if anybody can find a DVD drive that still works. In fact, its guaranteed to be readable for 1,000 years!
So that will be my next installment.
For now, enjoy looking over my great-grandfather’s shoulder and think about what you’d like to leave for those people in the future that just might find your life and times as interesting as I’ve found his.
UPDATE 3/24/2012: This new info from my Dad:
It was by Orison Lincoln.
[We just called him Grampa Stock]
he was known locally as “OL”
Family legend sez he:
a) came West in ’81 – only business there was
the cattle business.
b) came West looking for traces of his
younger brother [Albert Gould ??]
Never did find any. [the great plains
swallowed a lot of people then — especially
c) I heard mention of the fact that OL lost
$60,000. in his “brother’s bank in Cleveland”
during the 1929 Crash.
The 19-pager shows OL’s youngest brother
as “Trust Officer” in a Cleveland Bank, which
lends credence to that part of the story.
$60K was whole lot of money back then.
d) Wealthy Easterners were acquiring land in
the Wild West about then. One of the
Rockefellers established this HUGE ranch
South of Greensburg near a wide spot
named Belvedere (even ran a RR Spur down
to it so visitors could come and go in comfort)
It was on this ranch that OL was hired as Foreman,
and where my mother was born. [AND where Mom baked
her biscuits that the ranch-hands nailed up on the barn]