Keeping connected with time and distance


From: Marian Carroll

Every few months a large envelope arrives in our mailbox. It contains an expected treat -- one I've been receiving for many years. This time it came in the midst of the Christmas cards.

Almost 50 years ago my family started a regular communication between members whose lifestyles have dispensed them literally across the globe. It began before the Internet, before e-mail, and it was an effort to keep a big family in contact with one another.

There were nine children in our family, plus our parents who were alive at that time. Geographically, we always seemed to live all over the world. Several were poor correspondents. Demographics included two who belonged to religious orders; a third was a career Navy man, and I wasn't yet married.

We decided to call our letters the Round Robin. The way it worked is this. You wrote a letter directed to the whole family and sent it to the next younger one in the family. Initially, Joan, the real orginator (and third oldest) wrote her letter and sent it on to John. John included his and sent them both on to Dick. And so the cycle began. Whenever you receive the RR, you read the accumulated letters, take out your old letter, insert a new one and send the packet along. Informal rules suggest getting it on its way within two weeks.

Today it takes about two months to make the circuit, traveling through Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Minnesota, but there have been deaths in the family. Both my parents have died, as have one sister and two brothers. The letters keep us all informed on what's going on in each other's families and lives The envelope of letters includes an updated address list and another envelope of pictures and newspaper clippings.

I wish I had kept all of my letters. (I started to do that in 1989.) Fifty years of history would be included, as well as records of many hardships and joys. Items like brother Neil being wounded in Korea; Sister Joan's assignment to Bolivia (Joan is a missionary nun;) Father John's (John is a Jesuit priest) tales of being a chaplain on a cruise ship and sabbaticals in Europe while teaching at Creighton University; Don's Navy assignments to Puerto Rico, etc.

In 1957 when I received the first RR, I had just graduated from college and was beginning teaching. I introduced my husband-to-be to my family and him to the RR. Little did we think it would survive so long! We didn't know then that he would have to substitute for me during two heart surgeries. Occasionally, other substitutions have been made along the route. With each of the sibling's deaths, someone has stepped in to take the place. My oldest sister was replaced by her daughter; my Navy brother was replaced by a daughter, and another brother's widow has joined us.

Nationally, we went through the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and Mid-East Crises. We discussed the Energy Crisis, escalating oil prices, a presidential scandal, and on personal notes we've celebrated births, adoptions, anniversaries, graduations, and supported each other through cancer, heart, and diabetes scares. There was a suicide, a couple sudden deaths, and a leg amputation. My parents would have applauded our strength in difficulties and our support through prayer.

This year the letter got held up in Florida during two hurricanes. Once it was lost, but only a couple of letters and the pictures were never found.

We think the RR's longevity is remarkable. Once we tried to start a similar letter in my husband's family (which has 13 children), and it never made a single round. Another started among our children died a quick death, owing to the disparity in ages.

I think the reasons my family's RR has been successful is that we have always lived a long way apart. We all write interesting letters and have led interesting lives. We tease one another and have political squabbles. And we have two months or more to get over slights or hurts. We sympathize when things go bad. Getting the letters after one of these times is like gettting a big group hug. And because the family is now in the elder citizen group, we all had developed letter writing skills before becoming addicted to short e-mail excuses for writing. (Many don't even have computers!)

Many times our mailbox contains nothing but bills and catalogs. It's such a bright event to spot that large envelope and its bulging contents even if it's with the Christmas cards. I know it's my gift from my family.


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