“Did you find our letters?”
They were the first words out of my father’s mouth when we returned from scouring the back shed that evening.
He had somehow misplaced the file labeled Family Papers (it isn’t hard to guess which parent bequeathed my ADHD), which held passports, birth certificates, social security cards…the whole bit. They had looked just about everywhere, but up til then, the files from two drawers of that old black filing cabinet we emptied the previous summer were nowhere to be found.
Mom was exhausted from all the searching–and frustrated with memories made foggy by the ECTs in summers prior–but I was determined to help them find their papers.
It was cold and wet as we trudged through the fallen leaves toward the dilapidated old barn building, and I can’t say our thoughts were much more cheerful than our surroundings. The door creaked open to reveal piles of items, accumulated from years of any of the six of us not taking the time to purge old memories. Whether for sentimental reasons or in pure avoidance of the anxiety that accompanies throwing anything away when you’ve been raised in poverty, I cannot say.
We searched through boxes piled on old furniture from my now-deceased grandmother’s house. Shuffling through old opaque plastic bins, I was careful to avoid both rat droppings and anything that smelled suspiciously like my sister’s dog and half-blind cat marking their territory back when she lived in that apartment they tore to pieces.
Finally, at the bottom of a stack of old brown boxes, nestled behind an upturned and unused kitchen table (my sister’s, I believe) I came upon two white boxes that looked to be just the right size to house file folders. I looked through one and handed one to my mother.
“Are the family documents in yours?”
“No… Looks like we found the boxes that came before and after that drawer, but no Family Papers.”
Baffled and disappointed, I followed Mom inside.
“Did you find our letters?”
To my surprise, at this question from my father, Mom cracked the biggest smile I’d seen all day. “We sure did.” Relief and, for some reason, unmistakable joy, were readily apparent on Dad’s face.
My parents met in college in the early 1980s. Smitten, they were soon engaged and then married when my mother was 19 and my father was 22. For the last semester of his pastoral program, Dad had to do missionary work in France; my mother, however, remained in Nashville. This was of course before the internet, and long-distance calls certainly weren’t cheap.
They wrote to each other at every opportunity, each keeping every letter from the other. And now I learned that, even through the many ups and downs in their more than 30 years of marriage, those love letters had been kept tucked away in a sneaky little folder in the family filing cabinet, unobtrusively labeled “Notes.” We may not have found the all-important personal documents we trudged out to find that evening, but for my parents, we recovered something much more precious.
Their love may not be perfect, and it may never be preserved in lore, Legend, or epic poem, but for their children it is a testament to the fact that “true love” does exist. And it is a choice, each and every day.