Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.
At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.
I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.
There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”
I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”
The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.
My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.
The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.
I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.
We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.