Musty Letters. Dusty Memories

Feb 2021
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I don’t remember much about that night, the night of the accident. I was only four-and-a-half years old. My father was working the night shift, and my mother and I were on our way to pick him up. As mother always did on those nights, she laid a snuggly-warm, patchwork quilt on the back floorboard of our 1949 “Shoebox” Ford. Holding tightly to my feather pillow, I drifted in and out of sleep as our old Ford puttered along Beach Boulevard toward Keesler Field. Suddenly, the car swerved. Mother screamed for me to stay down. I only remember the screeching tires and something hitting the front of the vehicle. My dear mother’s life would never be the same.

Today—February 22, 2021—is the 2nd anniversary of Mother’s promotion to Glory. Since then, I’ve cleaned out closets and emptied old trunks of musty-smelling letters, old utility bills, and the dusty memories of a lifetime. My mother was a sentimentalist. She kept little things that reminded her of family, friends, and times that were either happy or bittersweet. She carefully tied stacks of old Christmas cards, Valentine’s cards, and Birthday cards together with silk ribbons. She saved scraps of satin, brocade velvet, and lace. In a little wooden box, I found two sterling silver spoons, blackened with age, and a delicate Wedgewood teacup professionally mended. I have no idea where they came from. And then there were the scrapbooks filled with fading snapshots of loved ones long gone, friends long forgotten.  

As I decided what to keep and what to burn, one of the letters called out to me in a frail, dusty voice—Please read me. I did. And in so doing, the night of the accident came rushing back to me. An accident that—if memory serves—was never mentioned in our house, its memory hopefully buried. The letter, dated September 26, 1956, was from our former pastor of Biloxi’s Trinity Baptist Church. As I unfolded the letter, a yellowing newspaper article floated to the floor. I picked it up, read it, then read the letter. The newspaper article listed the details of the accident and stated a fatality had occurred. The pastor’s letter was a loving attempt from a caring pastor to console one of his former grieving church members.

It was then that I remembered something about the accident. Not necessarily it but an incident that followed it. In a spirit of sincere Christian concern, my parents went to the deceased man’s house to speak to his widow. They went there to offer their condolences in person, back in a kinder, more well-mannered time. They left me in the car, I guess, with a stack of my favorites, Golden Books, and a coloring book. I heard the woman screeching obscenities at my dear parents, especially my mother. I guess they were obscenities because even at that age, I knew her words were “bad words.” She was inebriated, as was her husband the night of the accident.   

In the weeks leading up to my dear father’s passing in 1997, I did ask him about the accident. He told me that the man was a habitual drunk and frequented the trashy bars and dives that dotted Beach Boulevard in those days. The night of the accident, near present-day Veterans Boulevard, he staggered out in front of our car. Mother only had time to slam on the breaks before slamming into him. When the police arrived, my mother was not charged in any way—the man’s death could not be avoided. 

My father also told me that Mother, being very sensitive, had difficulty resolving the death that had occurred that night. In the weeks that followed, she had a mild, nervous breakdown, took to her bed, and cried a great deal. That I do remember! Only with God’s grace and the prayers of those she loved did Mother put it behind her. Or so it would seem.

The mind is a twisted creation, completely disintegrating some bad memories while shoving others into its deepest recesses to be recalled later. In the days before Mother passed away, she ofttimes “spoke” to things unseen. There were times when she looked upward, smiling, her fading blue eyes dancing—perhaps seeing Heaven and the joys therein?

But once, only once, the smile faded, and the eyes stop dancing. In a frail voice, my mother—my kind, loving Christian mother—mumbled, “…killed…forgive…me…” She drifted off to sleep. I was stunned. Distant thunder rattled her bedroom windows. Rain peppered the glass. The clock chimed the hour. Tears drifted down my face. 

After all the passing years, was Mother reliving that night again? Reliving the mental anguish and the physical pain? And in her disoriented state, was she asking, once again, to be forgiven for a death that happened on a cold September’s night over sixty years ago? A death that was now just a dry, dusty memory? However, imagine the joy she experienced when that dusty memory was quenched by the words of her Savior, “Welcome Home, my good and faithful servant.”  

Miss you, Mama. Miss you, Daddy. But hopefully one day soon…

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