“Life was as delicate as the paper held in her hand.”
The above is a line from one of my stories and I’ve had people comment they thought it, “Beautiful.” I remember the flashback memory I had when I wrote it and how very true it is. It’s particularly appropriate, I believe, this time of year.
As a teen one of the jobs I had was in an antique store. The owners would buy things from estate sales all over, often in large lots and sometimes wouldn’t know if they had bought “trash” or potentially “treasure” until they received and went through piece by piece. One day, unloading a new batch of things they had brought in, I found an old trunk.
I had personal need of something like that trunk and though old (don’t know how old) it was still sturdy with solid wood, good hinges and even a lock with the key still in it. I asked the store owner if I could buy it or work off the purchase price if they didn’t want to keep it for re-sale. He checked it out and decided it was nothing special. All it had in it was some old scrap newspapers. I think I bought it for $10 and worked an extra three hours or so to pay for it.
I took it home and that evening as I cleaned it up and out… I saw the newspapers were from New Orleans and dated late November 1918. Of course the major news was still about the Armistice and end to World War 1. Wrapped inside a wad of newspaper I found several letters written in French. I took them to my high school French teacher and she translated them (she had a hard time because they were on thin paper, some brittle, and the ink had blotched and faded. They were love letters from a French soldier; the last dated 30 October 1918. On that letter’s envelope someone had written, so hard there were little stabs and tears in the paper, “Il ne reviendra jamais…”
“He’ll never come back.”
When I wrote the line I gave you at the beginning I flashed back to when I held those letters in my hand. Obviously someone had written them out of love… and the slashing comment on the envelope out of bitterness… and in pain. But they couldn’t bear to throw the letters away. Maybe part of them couldn’t give up their love for the man. Though the man was lost they couldn’t leave them and their love behind. Perhaps over the years they took them out and remembered him. Or possibly not… maybe they were something that “was” but no longer “is”… stored in an old trunk.
This time of year lends itself to reflection and the Thanksgiving holiday makes me reflect more than any other. I think about all the things I have stored in my “old trunk.” Like with most people there are many memories. Bits and pieces, large and small, of a life full of experiences, bad and good.
Down deep are: pain and misfortune experienced; opportunities squandered or lost; misplaced love or a sad facsimile because I’d yet to discover true love; anger and its life-eating ways. Those are the dusty, faded, cobwebby things at the bottom I rarely take out. Never to dislodge from their resting place but still part of what made me who I am.
Above that is the good stuff: joyful experiences; things I did right; true love found and a more even-keeled temperament.
And on the very top, the things I take out frequently to cherish that renew me and give me spirit: thoughts of my wife, daughters and appreciation for a life well-built despite all those things at the bottom of the trunk.
I think about those letters I found decades ago in that old trunk; the love, loss and pain they signify. And I think about my life today. There are so many things for which I’m very thankful.
- Mending the broken pieces of me… (dennislowery.com)