One of the great treats that comes from my job as a writer are all the wonderful, handwritten letters I receive. Few are typed, and though I receive many emails, these scripted letters are always the most joyous.
Take the one, for instance, written by Darlene Love of Camden, S.C. For years, she has read this column in the Chronicle-Independent. Since she knows so much of my life and story, she decided to share hers with me.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, going through mail when I found her letter, the envelope addressed in a pretty cursive script. By the third line, I was hooked.
Her story is simple, but, quickly I was absorbed in life from her perspective. When I finished it, I read it again, and that’s when it hit me fully why so many people enjoy this column: it reminds people of a simple, Southern life where we pause to listen to the breeze rustle through the leaves and we regularly check the rain gauge that is plopped in a good place for a serious reading.
Aunt Ozelle, daily, knew to the raindrop how much rain had fallen. And, she had a big thermometer; vintage is what people would call it now. Though she had it for decades — it advertised some food company long out of business — it worked and that’s all that mattered to her.
Miss Darlene wrote that her father was a Christian who was very devoted to his church. “Like your father, he would not stand for anyone to place anything on top of his Bible. Also, he would not shop at any place of business unless it closed its doors on Sunday. Every Saturday afternoon, he would make sure the gas tank of his car was filled because he would never put himself in the position to have to purchase gasoline on Sunday.”
Such respectful men, her father and mine. Too, Daddy rarely let his gas tank get under three-quarters full. I, like many, would let mine go to empty, squeezing every drop from a tank.
“I keep that tank full because, what if I got an emergency call and I had to go to Atlanta in the middle of the night (an hour away)?” he’d thunder. “I want to know I have enough gas to get there.”
Of course, that was back in the days when all stations closed by 10 or 11 p.m. One night, I learned Daddy’s lesson. It was late on Friday night and Mama called to say he was bad sick and asked me to come immediately. My car was almost empty. I made it to their house then took Daddy to the emergency room in his car that had a full gas tank.
Writhing in pain in the back seat, he was well enough to say harshly, “What’d I tell you about keepin’ gas in your car?” That never happened to me again.
My favorite part of Miss Darlene’s letter read, “Daddy worked at Hermitage Cotton Mill in Camden, and vacations for all employees consisted of the week of the Fourth of July and the week of Christmas.” This was in the days when mills shut down for two weeks so their employees could rest or get in their summer gardens. Every year, Darlene’s family went to Asheville, N.C.. for summer vacation.
I was struck most by “Until I was married, I had never viewed the mountains in their autumn splendor.”
I kept that letter on the table for two months, rereading those simple times when the South was filled with mills; people took a job there and stayed until retirement; a week off during summer and Christmas was enjoyed and appreciated as were the retirement checks.
Darlene’s letter is true to what I always say: People don’t like to be reminded of a harsh world. They like to remember a kinder one.