It seems there’s a website called Future Me. It’s a place where you can write yourself an e-mail letter to be delivered to your Inbox in a year, or two years or three. As the two guys with day jobs who dreamed this up explain it — you can send your future self words of inspiration, or give him or her a kick in the pants, or predict where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing when the e-mail is delivered.
I learned about Future Me from a young man with the kingly name of Edward Hotspur, whose WordPress post described how — with the help of Future Me — he had written his future self two letters, spaced apart, predicting where said future self would be in future, and what he would be doing. [It seems he guessed wrong about everything except the really important things that were already in place when he wrote the letters. That’s what you get for trying to predict the future!]
Normally, I wouldn’t be messing around with such a young man, even if he was experimenting with time travel. But what got me about his post was the old cliche — that there’s really nothing new under the sun. In December 1944, when I was thirteen and a half, I too wrote a letter to my future self. There were no websites then, and no e-mail, and no guys with day jobs to take care of any of it for me. I didn’t even own a typewriter of my own yet. My father would lend me his on the infrequent occasions when I needed to type something for school.
I did not discuss this handwritten letter with anyone, and took care of it all by myself by putting it in an envelope, sealing the envelope, addressing it to myself with an admonishment that it not be opened before the date specified on the front, which was two years away, and then sliding the letter between the pages of my journal. (Yes, I also kept a journal — not a daily diary, but a brown-covered notebook to which I had recourse with my sorrows when I felt no one understood or loved me, which was about once a month.)
Having been reminded of this ancient letter by young Hotspur, I couldn’t wait to get down to the basement again to find it. Much of my early self remains in the basement — as does yours, if we speak metaphorically. I have an actual basement, but we all have “basements” of one kind or another — in the garage, the guest bedroom closet, the area behind the cellar stairs or — the metaphorical basement –in our heads. I even once had a friend who, when we talked about our childhoods, used to refer to my early self as “the kid in the basement.”
I hadn’t re-read the letter in more than half a century. Of initial interest was the discovery that, unlike Edward Hotspur and the devisers of Future Me, my thirteen-year-old self did not want to predict the future. It seemed too far away! What chiefly concerned her was that her future self should not forget her present one. In a friendly, conversational tone, the letter set down the details of her life at the end of 1944 that she deemed important.
Reading it now, at first I thought, “What a little prig I was!” Then I reflected. In December 1944, there were no computers, no internet. No YouTube, no Netflix, no streaming. No television. No cell phones, or texting, or digital cameras, or tablets, or devices of any kind other than a landline telephone, almost always only one per household. [Outside of big cities, some households were still on a party line.] There was no Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or any other distraction. Not even tape decks or Walkmen. Electric typewriters were still a few years down the road.
We did have a radio. It was in the living-room, where my mother listened to it in the evenings when her housework was done. If I wanted, I could come listen, too. We also had a phonograph, also in the living-room. (And many classical records that still came in boxed sets of five records per symphony or concerto; every three minutes you heard a “plop” as the next record fell from the spindle to the turntable.) There were movies, but they were in movie theaters several blocks away, and even if I had had the money, I was not allowed to go out after dark without an adult, even in the company of another thirteen-year-old friend — much less to a darkened theater where who knows what bad man might be lurking in its unlit interior.
But there were books, and all five boroughs in New York City had excellent public libraries that were adequately funded. The subway into Manhattan from Queens, where I lived, cost a nickel (5 cents). A Standing Room ticket to the Metropolitan Opera matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays was $2. The museums in Manhattan were free. My parents somehow managed to pay for piano lessons for me.
So perhaps I wasn’t such a little prig after all. It was a different world. And since Edward Hotspur copied out his two letters for his followers to read, perhaps you will indulge me if I copy out my single one. I do wish my young self hadn’t felt she had to boast about her grades. Although if you’re telling yourself about something, is that boasting? Slaying Shakespeare is still too much, though. Maybe I was kidding.
December 29, 1944, 8:30 p.m.
You really are a lazy thing! Here is half your vacation over, with not another in sight till Easter, and you are dilly-dallying away your own precious time writing yourself a letter. Don’t you realize you have a Biology report on the Museum of Natural History to write AND your Biology notebook AND your Civics notebook to do? Ah! I wonder if you will be so lazy two years from now when you open this letter.
Let’s see! You will be in sixth term then (if you don’t flunk) and only will have one year till you will be out of high school & ready for college. And now you are a little freshman wondering about the future. Two years ago you wondered about the future, too. Little did you dream of what was to come.
Then you were in 7A [next to last year of public grammar school], blissfully unaware that in two years time you would have skipped 7B, made a whole new set of friends, quarreled with Dione [a girl who lived two floors down in our apartment house] & weren’t on speaking terms with her for a whole year, would have tried for Hunter [High School] and would be admitted in the highest class, would have graduated from public school as Valedictorian with a 98.5 average, would have gone to high school for almost a year, and made another complete change of friends, would have been to Atlantic City, changed music teachers and in other words made a complete change of life, except for your apartment.
You had solemnly vowed not to use lipstick till you were sixteen but broke the vow on your thirteenth birthday & have been using it ever since. Just think, two years from now you won’t be sixteen yet.
Your reading tastes have changed enormously. Two years ago you were devouring love stories from magazines, avidly read Little Women, thought Jane Eyre terribly dull. Now it is one of your favorite books. Two years ago you had never known of the Brontes, except vaguely of Charlotte as the author of the dull book. Now undoubtedly you know more about them than any other girl your age, with the possible exception of one living in Haworth; you have read almost every book on them in the Queens Public Library.
Your latest “Biographical passion” is Shelley, having accidentally discovered him two days ago while reading about Byron, with whom you are disgusted. You hesitantly admit you are intrigued by illicit love, say you would like to try it, but probably would be scared to try, if offered the chance.
Your warm feelings about movies have cooled considerably (you haven’t seen one in 10 weeks, and don’t miss it) and in place of it has appeared a strange burning passion for opera, aroused by a recent visit to see Aida at reduced rates through the school. Ambitiously, last Saturday you saw Tristan & Isolde, tomorrow are going to see Traviata (both at standing room). You are still working on your parents to let you go see Norma this Saturday. You go to the opera with a different friend each time; none of them know of the other times with other friends. [Nobody wanted to go as often as I did.]
You are rather tired of watching your friends ooh and a-h-h-h over sexy books in dark corners, having already passed through the stage yourself. However occasionally you read one especially recommended by your “nudist-colony” [??] minded friends. Two years ago you wanted to be an actress; then you were sure you were intended for the medical world. A course in First Aid quickly quenched your hopes. Then you were going to be an engineer, build the “Raginsky Bridge,” marry a French Engineer and re-build Europe together. At present your hopes are intent on writing. You are sure you can slay Shakespeare. You secretly wish you had lived about 150 yrs. ago; you are sure you & Shelley would have been a perfect literary couple; you wouldn’t have let him go boating and get drowned.
You are on a self-imposed diet that isn’t working wonders. You are still no slim beauty but earnestly resolve to try harder this coming year. For the remaining three days you are allowing yourself to go on a rampage respecting food. You admire Byron if only for his will-power in keeping on his “suicidal diet” despite his love of food. You wish you could do the same.
This is you today. What will you be two years from now? Only time can tell. Please write when you know. In the meantime please tackle your report or one of your two notebooks.
Finished 9:15 p.m.
Are you old enough to have grown up in a different world? Do tell us about your Kid in the Basement. We can compare!