Debra and I have moved on average about once every seven years. Every time we move, we go through things and decide what to keep and what to discard. (I am very grateful that thus far she has chosen to keep and not discard me.) This time around we have managed to get rid of some things that we have been carting around in boxes for over three decades.
There are things, though, that will move with us one more time, even though they are of no practical use to anyone and are of no sentimental value to anyone besides us. At the top of that list are two plastic containers filled with letters and cards, all of which were written in the summer of 1977.
That was the summer during which, on an August Saturday afternoon, Debra and I stood on the bank of the Towaliga River below High Falls and agreed together that we would become husband and wife, an agreement marked by her acceptance of a ring; ten months later we followed through on that agreement and now, almost thirty-seven years later, here we still are. That weekend of our engagement was one of the rare times that we were together that summer, though; Debra spent those months working at Harvey’s Peanut Company in her hometown of Leary, Georgia while I spent them in Macon working at Sears and housesitting.
This was in olden times before there were such things as cell phones and home computers so if we wanted to stay in close communication we had to do it the old-fashioned way—the only way available to us: by writing letters. So we made a commitment to write each other every day during that summer. That was the closest we could come to having a daily conversation about what our day had been like and about whatever else was going on in our lives or was on our minds.
(Once a week I would go to a pay phone either at the convenience store up the street from where I was staying or on the Mercer campus and call Debra collect; we would then repay her parents for the cost of the calls. If she wasn’t at home when I called, her mother would refuse the charges, which made practical sense but which she seemed to me to enjoy doing a little too much. That was probably my imagination. Probably.)
I don’t know that we’ve ever actually gone back and read what we wrote during that summer. When we came upon the letters the other day, Debra said that we probably ought to read them so we’ll be prepared for what we’ll have to deal with one of these days when one of our children finds and reads them. I’m not sure that’s an issue since I see no reason for that to happen until we are dust in the wind. That’s probably when the letters will be discarded—after our children have a good laugh and then see no other reason to keep them.
I think Debra and I should read them and not just for the smiles they would inspire; I think we should read them because they tell a story. They tell the story of those three months of our lives and tell by extension the story of the lives that touched ours and that our lives touched. They tell a small but significant part of the story of us, a story that is in the context of time and space a small one but still a significant one.
Still, the important artifacts and the most meaningful record of that period are written not on paper but in our hearts. The letters and cards are mementos of our memories. The mementos are important to us; that’s the reason that we hold onto them for no good reason. But it’s the memories that really endure.
As I prepare to begin my new job with Smyth & Helwys Publishing and as we prepare to move to my family’s farm, Debra and I look forward to making new memories and to acquiring additional mementos. As we prepare to leave Fitzgerald and the First Baptist Church, we are deciding which mementos to take with us but we are taking all the memories that we have accumulated. They will be added to the mementos and memories from Augusta, from Nashville, from Adel, from Louisville, and from Macon. They will be added to the ways in which we remember our lives, which is in the final analysis the only way that we can keep our past with us …