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Texting can't beat that personal touch ... or last as long

Have you ever experienced this scenario? It's the weekend, or maybe a day off, and you're lounging around in your pajamas, even though it's 1 p.m. You're suffering from a wicked case of bed-head, when the door bell rings. It's a friend — or a least she used to be your friend — who just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought she'd drop by for a chat.

Oh, the horror!

This is just one example of how our culture in Minnesota has changed as we've evolved from an agrarian and mostly rural society, where people — who often lived miles apart and were isolated from one another for weeks at a time, especially in winter — welcomed surprise visitors, to a society that fears surprise visitors nearly as much as we fear an audit from the IRS.

It's a strange cultural juxtaposition. On the one hand, we can't stand to be alone, at least in a virtual sense. We sleep with our cell phones within arm's reach of our beds. We check and respond to our email 47 times a day. We check Facebook, so we can keep up with where some guy we used to know in high school is spending Christmas this year. We read Twitter updates about the Vikings' latest loss from second cousins who are at the game. We can't go to a movie, concert, ballgame or dinner party without checking our incoming texts every few minutes.

On the other hand, we turn off all the lights, flee to the basement and pretend we're not home when one of those same people we can't go an entire day without texting shows up at our door unannounced.

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There was a time, believe it or not, when drop-in visits from friends and family were cherished in Minnesota. Folks would invite their surprise guests in and brew up a fresh pot of coffee. Sometimes the guests would even stick around for dinner.

My dad writes about this in a 33-page memoir about his life growing up on family farm in north-central Minnesota. He's given copies of it to his children and grandchildren as a Christmas gift.

He writes:

"If a carload of relatives was spotted just turning into the end of our road while Sunday dinner was being prepared — it happened with some frequency — we just killed another chicken."

Looking for a meaningful Christmas gift for your kids or grandchildren that they'll appreciate even after you're gone? I'd suggest following my Dad's lead and writing down the memories of your formative years and beyond. Memoirs are trendy these days. Authors write about everything from overcoming addiction or cancer to the torment of growing up the child of an abusive parent.

But you don't have to have experienced extreme adversity to write a memoir. You don't even have to have a writing background, like my dad does. Have someone interview you, or interview yourself, with a digital recorder and then simply transcribe it.

I've heard a lot of the stories in my dad's memoir. But there are many I hadn't heard. At 76, he's the youngest of six children. Two of them, including his sister — the family historian — have passed on. So, it's nice that someone has taken the time to write from firsthand experience about my great grandparents, for example.

Here's an excerpt about his paternal grandparents, Frederick and Sophia Sellnow, whose families emigrated separately from Germany in the late 1800s and settled in Scott County, near Belle Plaine. After getting married, they saved their money to buy land in Saskatchewan, where Frederick had journeyed to find property.

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"They made a down payment with their savings and were set to begin a grand new adventure," Dad writes. "It didn't come about. There was drought in Saskatchewan the year they were to move and the wheat crops failed. Sophia refused to go, and their down payment was lost. They decided to head to northern Minnesota instead, where land was up for grabs under the Homestead Act."

I know my dad — who, after growing up on the farm, became the most well-known and well-traveled person to have grown up in Stowe Prairie Township — has another memoir in him. The sequel, if he chooses to write it, will include his years as a journalist, professional horse trainer, boxing coach, cattle rancher, mountain trail ride guide and business owner, among many other things.

If he never writes that sequel, though, it'll be up to his writer son to take it from here. I'll bridge the gap between a time when folks caught up on family gossip in person around a kitchen table and a time when most informal conversations are conducted remotely — with our thumbs.

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