Not long ago someone in my life made the philosophical statement that happiness was not a state of being but rather the ability to capture and rejoice in the special moments life puts in our path. Although this seems a rather simplistic view of what others deem a complex personality and social issue the idea stuck with me and I’ve become more conscious of moments and their impact. I couldn’t resist trying to get this one down.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
I put the car in reverse and backed out onto the road. A quick shift into drive and we were off. As the designated driver my first responsibility was to ensure my passengers’ comfort and safety. We were 5. It was a girls’ day out and the group included my two sisters Joanne & Marcia, Mother, 90 years of age, and her best friend Evelyn, 75. Evelyn, recovering from a recent knee replacement and with considerable mobility issues, was automatically given the front passenger seat. We had minimally a 2 ½ hour drive to reach our destination in Stratford, Ontario and were going to see the play Oliver. My son’s girlfriend had a starring role and we were meeting her for lunch first. It took awhile for everyone to settle down and gain confidence in my driving skill as a fine shower of snow was falling, the first of the season, and the roads were a bit slick.
Joanne asked about my chosen route and I suggested she look at my Google Maps, located in a slim bag behind her head. She reached back, pulled the bag down and quickly found the maps. In doing so she saw there was more in the bag than maps and whatever was there had a dank smell, rather mold-like and offensive. As she was reaching in for the offending papers her “what the hell have you got in here” comment was not unexpected. It didn’t take long for her to recognize what she had in her hands.
It was letters. It was letters written by each of them to me in the late 60’s when I was living on the West Coast.
They all knew about my find. A few days earlier my husband had broken the lock on an old trunk of mine stored in the garage. I calculated it had been locked for some 35 years and the contents were a total surprise. It contained my life up to about 28 years of age. Every letter I received, diaries, cards, memorabilia, posters, pictures and trophies from my days of ballroom dancing. For several days I was totally absorbed in a very personal trip back through time. It was amazing how much of my past I’d forgotten and how different reality was from my perceptions of the past. How or where the trunk came from I have no clue. It was an old steamer trunk, made for the peasant class, probably dating back to the early 40’s. I can’t remember when it came into my life but obviously I used it as a catch-all and for some inexplicable reason it survived all of my life changes, moves and even marriage. Somewhere in the back of my head I thought one day I’ll have time to clean it out, but that day never came.
What Joanne had in her hand was a sampling of my find. I suggested they each read their own letters and so it started. Marcia went first, then Joanne and then Mother. It was like entering a time capsule and each letter added to the illusion. They all started out with some form of suggestion that I should be more responsible in my letter writing. In one letter my Mother commented she had doubts about whether she would ever hear from me again. That was a little over the top but each letter was a variation of that message. Marcia reminded me Dad’s birthday was coming up and Joanne put her two cents in regularly. The letters didn’t mention that I called frequently and sent tapes with updates. I learned that from other letters. Marcia wrote about a birthday party she was attending. Her gift to her friend was a ticket to see the Beatles. She had a ticket as well so they would be going together and she was obviously excited. Joanne wrote to me while sitting in class. She was in Nurse’s Training and not into the material being presented. She was describing her first week in the Psychiatric Ward of a Mental Hospital. She could have been a writer. It was a masterpiece of descriptive prose and wit. Mother wrote about her efforts to save Andy. It had taken me awhile to figure out who Andy was but eventually I got it. Andy was my pet bird. I left him with my parents when I headed West.
It wasn’t long before we were all in stitches. The only time I can remember laughing that hard was years ago watching some of the “I Love Lucy” skits. They were so ridiculous they would set me off and I’d be hard pressed to catch my breath. This was no different. The tears were running down behind my glasses and I was having trouble staying focused on the road. Luckily the rain/snow had stopped and the roads were at least dry. The reading was coming in gasps. A few more words and we’d be off again.
“I’d forgotten” was the most common exclamation and so much of what was being read triggered other memories. Mother had totally forgotten her skill at letter writing. She found it difficult to believe she used to type them and they were very chatty. I remembered being close to my maternal Grandmother but had forgotten we wrote to each other. There were samples of her letters as well and Mother was anxious to read those.
Too soon we were half way to our destination and desperately needed a pit stop. All the laughing was taking its toll on us and no-one had any makeup left on. It was time to regroup and rest before hitting Stratford. I found a Tim Horton’s and stopped. Nobody moved when doors opened and the cool air hit. We all felt it. We all knew we had just shared something so special we didn’t want to change anything. This blast from the past had generated such a warm feeling of being one with each other. It was one of those moments in time we would never forget.