Saturday, September 08, 2018

Long Distance Family

One of my blogging friends, Julie Zickefoose, has been writing on Facebook about long distance separation from her daughter.

Which set me to thinking about some of my long distance family connection experiences. Herewith some of those thoughts.

When I was around 2 years old, my parents went to southern Africa as missionaries. Their families, who lived in Pennsylvania, had only one way of staying in touch with my parents, and me as a grandchild. LETTERS. In fact, old style aerogram letters.  Also, of course, regular mail. To keep my grandparents up to date, my parents would send photos of me to my grandparents. In turn, they sent birthday cards. It was not until 7 years later, when we returned to the United States, that I saw these grandparents again.  For my paternal grandparents, I was the first (and for a while the only) grandchild. I know how much my grandmother Emma longed to be with me.

Then, after a year, my parents, along with me and my brother, returned to southern Africa. So another several years of being absent from family relatives. When circumstances arose that caused my parents to return to the United States, I was 14. And once again, I got to see my grandparents.

Fast forward to early 1960, when I was 15, my parents once again went to southern Africa, but this time I stayed in the United States to finish my high school years, and begin college. Of course, as a 15 year old girl, I thought that was totally cool.  But it did mean returning to long distance family contact--still at that point letters. 

Of course, there were a few other means of swifter communication than letters then--cablegrams, for example. But that mechanism was laborious and brief.

One feature of letters and cablegrams is that such is asynchronous communication. Send a letter, one side of the conversation. Wait for a return. Another side of the conversation -- and so on, back and forth. Not exactly conducive to interactive communication , i.e. synchronous, that is the hallmark of good communication.

In September, 1956 the transatlantic telephone cable was laid. So, then, it became possible to make telephone calls, and have a conversation...sort of. 

I had a singular experience with a transatlantic telephone call. When I was a sophomore in college, and apparently acting quite morose, some of my dorm mates collected money for me to make a call to my parents.  It was a most cumbersome process. First, I had to submit a request to make a call, in order to be given a time when I could call. Of course, I had to factor in time differences. I recently checked to see how such a call would have been made. In 1963, the time of my call, here's how it worked --

"TAT-3 was AT&T Corporation's third transatlantic telephone cable. It was in operation from 1963 to 1986. It had 414 kHz of bandwidth, allowing it to carry 138 telephone circuits (simultaneous calls). It was 3,518 nautical miles long, connecting Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, England to Tuckerton, New Jersey in the United States". Source--Wikipedia

And that was just to get the call from the United States to England. I have no idea how the call then made its way from England to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).

So, on the day of the call--as I recall, at a cost of $25 for 3 minutes--I called my parents. And after the various relays, I could talk with my family. Now, factor in a bit of delay for the transit of those signals, and you get the sense. I would say something...hesitation... then get a response. And so forth.

I recall my mother passed the phone to my brother, who breathlessly rushed into telling me about school, violin lessons, and playing cricket (or soccer). Then she passed the phone to my sister, then about 5 years old, and I could hear my sister saying "NO"...
Then back to my mother briefly, and the call was over.

Fast forward to the year 2000. I was now a mother, of an 18 year old daughter, who was launching out of her own to work in London, UK, for several months. By now, there were computers, and there was email. And a kind of text messaging--with AOL messenger. Again asynchronous communication. My daughter could write something, I would answer and so forth. At the time, we began signing off with "love you to the moon and back."  And, there were telephone calls--via a public telephone box. So, she would call from London, dropping coins in the phone, and we could talk. In the background I could hear the London street noise.

So, we arrive at the present. I now have my two children some 8,000 miles apart. One child in California 3,000 miles from where I am, and one child in London 5,000 miles from me.  And they in turn have children--so I now return to the long-distance grand-parenting. Only this time, I am the grandparent.

Communications, of course, has once again changed. We now have text messages instantly back and forth. Plus we have FaceTime (or Skype), and Snapchat. So now, I can see them, talk with them, watch them play. Of course, it's not the same as being together--kind of difficult to hug them). But it is far better than the old type of long distance parenting, or grand-parenting.

Looking forward to teleporting, a la Star Trek.