I’m sitting in my ratty fold-up chair out by my shop. I prefer this view to the TV. Supper is finished. Max is woofing at something down by the creek. The fading sun is peaking through the open woodland that rises above the horizon in the last few fleeting minutes of the day.
I have become more reflective these past few months. A complete and unexpected change of status can do that to a man. Life walks right up to you and steals your deck of cards and tosses all 52 of them into the air. And suddenly you find yourself sitting out in the yard at sunset more days than you can count. Sitting there on a perfect spring evening trying to figure out how to pick them all up again.
I have gathered up most of my cards by now. I am settling into this different season of my life. A few of my cards, the wind keeps blowing beyond my grasp each time I reach for them. Like a plastic bag on the ground on a windy day. Just when you bend over to pick it up, a stiff breeze stirs up and rolls it just out of reach. I’ll settle for 48 cards for now.
Stopping to reflect on life gives perspective, I suppose. We spend so much time dealing with what’s right in front of us. Paying bills. Cleaning up the kitchen. Rushing around to meet deadlines. Filing taxes. Wishing the jerk in the checkout line in front of us would fall into the abyss and disappear. The immediate things tend to drive us a little crazy.
I’m sitting here trying to allow the last 65 years to inform the present. I have vast resources to draw upon in the dusk of evening. This is why a 25-year-old doesn’t have the capacity to deal with life in the same way the old guy does. He just doesn’t have that much history behind him. Not enough experience with heartache and triumph and loss and blessing. The pool is shallow when you’re 25. Living on the deep end is far better. An old guy can think for a long time and never reach the bottom.
I’m thinking about a couple of friends from our days up in Cartersville who came to visit Callaway Gardens last week. They reached out to me ahead of time and we set up a date for supper at San Marcos. Mother and daughter.
We were that wet-behind-the-ears couple in our late-twenties back in Cartersville. When our first child came along, our friend Marie took care of our little girl while we both worked. She told me the other night, “Laura was like our first grandchild.” That’s why she doted on her and spoiled her. “It broke my heart,” she reminded me, “when y’all drove away in that moving truck.” That was nearly 35 years ago.
When we sat down at our table, Marie handed me an envelope. “These are letters Beth wrote to me over the years. I thought you would enjoy having them.” I knew that they stayed in touch, but I had no idea these letters even existed. Men are idiots that way.
When I got home and settled down in my chair, I opened the envelope and spilled the contents out in my lap. What I read was the story of my wife telling an older woman all about the mysteries and discoveries of being a young mother. The simple everyday things of watching a two-year-old being stubborn and cute. The excitement of pregnancy number two and three. The passing of our lives together through struggles and joys. Her words unearthed things for me that I knew but did not know fully.
Those letters were a gift and the basis for a lot of sunset reflections over the last week. I am passing them along to my girls who are now where Beth was then. I think that in their efforts to be as good of a mom as she was, they will see that they are not so much different. I’m pretty sure they will find their own self-doubts and their own special moments right there in those pages. It should reassure them that they’re doing just fine. I can tell you this much; they are great mothers.
Holding Beth’s handwriting in my hands has allowed me to pick up a few more of the cards scattered to the wind. I don’t discount my loss, but I am reminded of how incredibly fortunate I have been. I smiled and I laughed out loud as I turned the pages and reached into the next envelope. The memories washed away the loneliness.
We burned up the interstate back then as often as we could. Making trips home to see the folks and to let anxious grandparents hold on to our children for a few too short days. We had no idea then what moving 750 miles from home would mean. If my kids did that now, I’d just shoot ‘em and keep the grands. But life was full of adventure then, and we followed it.
The trips at Christmas were crazy. We’d box up presents and ship them south because there’s only so much room for two adults and three rambunctious monkeys in an Oldsmobile Delta 88. The trunk was huge, but full of circus trunks. I took a piece of plywood and turned the back floorboard into a bed across the hump in the middle. Beth and I took turns behind the wheel for the 11 hours to Hampton, or the 13 hours to Selma.
In vivid technicolor, her words spoke of a time that seems like it was a hundred years ago. Or was it just yesterday? She wrote of Laura’s fierce independence. She wrote of anxious moments waiting on the results of Marshall’s heart-cat. She wrote of Emily’s love for popping the packing bubbles that come in boxes.
Reading her letters has been like watching a movie in my mind. So many details I hadn’t thought about in decades. I used to come home for lunch a lot back then. All of us around the kitchen table. Andy Griffin reruns on the little 12” black and white TV with rabbit ears. Toys scattered from one end of the house to the other. Chicken Pox passed from one kid to the next. First words. New discoveries. All so long ago.
Today is a good day. I’m grateful for old friends who came to town bearing gifts. Grateful that the little babies in those letters have grown up and grown into their own lives which are not 750 miles from home. I am so thankful that words written 30 years ago over a decade’s span of time have found their way home.
Well, the sun is almost gone. Bats are starting to circle overhead as darkness falls. This is enough reflection for one evening. But what a nice evening it’s been.
I stand from my chair and yell down toward the creek, “Max. Come on boy. Let’s go inside.” He runs up the porch steps beside me.
Another day is done.