Grandma Explains Email — Listen Up

Do you think you’re hip? My grandmother was hipper. I have resigned myself to a life where in I will never be as hip as my grandma.

My grandmother was Jazz Age. She was a Flapper, a Charleston champion who flunked a course rather than miss a golf game, a Virginia Slims prototype who was kicked out of college for smoking on a train. (You read that right, not on campus, on a train. Feminists, take note.) When she was sent home in disgrace, the only words her lawyer father had for her were, “Well, Margaret, if you’d been graded on dancing, golfing and necking, you would have been a straight A student.” Case closed.

Being a modern woman, she got a clerking job at the county courthouse where her photographic memory made her queen of the records room. In a pre-digital age, she was a human search engine. That’s how she wound up with a front row seat at a sensational murder trial.

Did I mention she was a raconteur? She loved a good yarn, especially one which conveyed a lesson.

It was summer in the Roaring Twenties, and sheiks and shebas amused themselves at the local lake. Speed and bathtub-gin were the intoxicants. Long, sleek Chris-Crafts and Hackers carved the water’s surface, beautiful people enjoying a beautiful day.

Tragedy struck. A boat drove into a swimmer, plowed him under. Bronze propeller blades carved his body. He was killed.

Was it an accident, or was it murder?

An investigation followed, unearthing a trove of steamy love letters exchanged between the boater’s wife and the deceased. The unsubtle missives became the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case. Private desires were laid bare and became the fodder of gossips. It was murder.

My grandmother, in her unconventionality, had but one take away:

Never write anything in a letter you wouldn’t want to hear read in court.

Her theorem of correspondence, the proof demonstrated by her tale, became axiomatic in our household.

Though Grandma was from an era of fountain pens, her advice has served me well in a digital age. You can burn your letters, but email is forever.