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From: Gavin.O.Kentch@directory.reed.edu
Date: 25 Oct 1999 05:44:23 PDT
Subject: early morning message

Good morning! My week thus far: Sleep 2-4:30 a.m., eat breakfast, go down to sports center for ride to rowing which never materializes, send student van driver a short note inquiring if rowing really is continuing or she simply overslept, decide that, so long as I have my mail open, I may as well send you a message, if for no other reason than that it will likely show up in your inbox as being sent at 4:40 a.m., and that may set a record even for you dedicated lawyers. Just an update on what is already promising to be a very sensible day [next project: go back to bed].

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From: Gavin.O.Kentch@directory.reed.edu
Date: 14 Dec 1999 07:28:42 PST
Subject: Re: countdown

Okay, this won’t be overly profound, but I wanted to tell you that I did get your message, and that I’m doing just fine. I took the math test yesterday and it actually went extremely well; we knew going in that as many as 3/4 of the problems were going to be lifted verbatim from either homework or old tests, and our study group on Sunday spent five hours reviewing just these, so most of the problems I did were actually pretty familiar. We had a full three hours for the test and I finished in a little over an hour, quite pleased with myself and the world and ready to move on to study Greek. After my time spent on that last night, I’ve moved from trepidation much closer toward some mean between shaky confidence and unbridled surety, so that should go fairly well (that’s later this morning, starting at 9 and going to noon). I have the afternoon off (i.e., time to nap and reread The Oresteia), then dinner at Nathalia’s house in the evening, followed by the HUM final tomorrow afternoon from 1-5. After that I clean out the bathroom, the fridge, my study desk, and much of my room, and try to do all this before I collapse for the evening. Hard to believe that I’ll be home within 36 hours.

Thank you for the story of your friend who got drunk on apricot brandy as a model of what not to do during one’s HUM final. I had slightly less exotic plans of fueling up with coffee, then taking the exam on my laptop at my desk. My largest problem is likely to be printing at 4:55, when everyone in the IRC is likely to be trying to do just the same thing ... I think that if I figure out the technology I actually don’t have to go down there, that I can commandeer an upstairs ethernet port and get into the network that way, without having to fight for an open computer in the lab itself. This is remarkably less colorful than enthusiasm as a result of copious amounts of apricot brandy, but such is a sign of the times.

So I guess that’s my schedule and my thoughts. I’m off to a quick breakfast, then a last hour of review before the Greek test. See you soon.

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Sharing all but the tears

When he was a freshman, I sometimes sent clippings from the local newspaper to keep Gavin apprised of recent events, but as his college years progressed, I learned that it was easier and faster to type “check the Anchorage Daily News online for a story about the new ski trails.” In return, he’d send a link to something he’d read, a recent photo from a digital camera (rather than waiting until he came home at Christmas to get a roll of film developed), and even a paper he was especially proud of (something he’d never have done if it required a copier, an envelope, and a stamp).

The Cyber Age helped us share a lot. And because Gavin saved our exchanges, it has provided an archive tracing his development as a classics scholar — from an excited note after the inaugural Hum lecture to his first translation of an Ancient Greek sentence to his selection of a thesis topic. Thirty years later, I enjoyed a second Reed education. We used to joke that he did all the hard work in a linguistics class, for example, then shared the insights he gained about how languages work. I got the best anecdotes and most important points without logging the hours.

Email also enabled us to share stories and feelings in a timely fashion, more directly than mothers and sons might be able to do face to face or on the phone. There was no week’s wait for letters to crisscross the continent or awkward hesitation about confiding. He could tell me about Renn Fayre exploits or ask my advice on a major life issue, and I could answer with almost the immediacy of a dialogue. I could share some of my triumphs and disappointments and clue him in to low points in my life without choking up or crying. The emails chronicle remarkably open and honest exchanges about death and breakups as well as joy and successes.

I used email to check in when I was worried because I hadn’t heard from him in a week. Typical end of semester emails from me read, “Hi, are you alive? Are you surviving? Hit reply and say yes, then get some sleep and write more when your papers are finished.” And he would dutifully type a reassuring sentence or two in reply and promise more details later. Once, when his end-of-semester projects coincided with a major work deadline of mine, I was still at the office in the wee morning hours, while he labored in the Reed library. The emails in this instance moved from my casual search for life (“are you there?”) to mutual consolation to instructing one another that it was time for bed.

Not that email has totally eliminated the need for the postal service. Both Gavin and my younger son, Dylan, who followed him to Reed in 2003, think one reason that mothers exist is to send them something they left in Anchorage and cannot live without, like a favorite sweater or the other bicycle. Dylan in particular became the master of the email that read, “You’d be the world’s greatest mother, not that you aren’t already, if you could possibly go into my room and find the (fill in the blank) and send it to me.” So the package clerk at the post office and I are well acquainted.

I sent unsolicited packages too, especially at the end of the semester when I thought a treat was in order. I’d wander the aisles of my favorite yuppie store and buy high quality chocolate or tension-tamer tea and ship them to Portland. When each son moved off campus and started cooking for himself, I sent exotic curry paste and odd-shaped noodles. There’s not much in Anchorage that isn’t also available in more cosmopolitan Portland, but student life gets busy, and being saved the hassle of shopping seemed to mean that even something ordinary in the mail was appreciated. Sometimes you don’t need words to say, “I love you and I hope you’re doing well.”

Susan Orlansky ’75 is a partner in the law firm of Feldman and Orlansky in Anchorage, Alaska.