Six years ago my family moved. We were evicted from our rental house not because we were delinquent on rent but because the owner lost his own home in the housing crash. We understood, a bit reluctantly, we found a home to buy and moved. Now, as you know, moving is a total pain in the ass. You end up boxing up all your valuables and possessions and throwing away a metric ton of stuff you never knew you had.
When you finally get moved and unpacked, inevitably, you find that there are some items missing. In my case, a lot of my lost memories. My Navy records, my cruise books, my cruise jackets and more. Four years of my life gone in the blink of an eye.
I searched unpacked boxes, storage containers and tossed the house from attic to basement. It was a search that turned up nothing but dust bunnies and lonely memories. It took some time but eventually I came to terms with my loss. I understood that all I had left were memories and I enjoyed what fleeting thoughts the ether of life sent to me whenever it sent them to me.
Even when talking with old shipmates and languishing in the shenanigans of our youth I relished in their take on our adventures. In turn, I shared my own perspective with them. Yet all of us longed for physical proof of our internment with the United States Navy. Some shipmates had a plethora of evidence of their service, but most of us had nothing but some snapshots and our own skewed memories.
Until today. You see, my wife, who decided it was a good time to root through a mountain of boxes we keep in our spare bedroom, discovered a box with all of her high school year books and other early to mid-1980’s memorabilia. That’s when she called to me for help. I reluctantly trudged my way up the stairs to aid her. I did what she needed and then a flash of blue and red caught my eye. My heart leapt and my stomach plummeted. I knew these colors. I’d longed for these tomes. I reached my hand down to the bottom of the box quickly and felt the supple leather of the books and immediately knew my long lost past had somehow survived. I pulled the tomes from their dark home into the light and was lost in joyous thoughts of a less stressful and naïve time in my life.
Not only were my cruise books intact but my bootcamp book was there as well. As I looked up into my brides face I saw her concern for her own quest but I couldn’t help becoming self centered on my discovery. I turned to look back down into the box to see if any more treasures were waiting for me, but my gaze was stopped short of the box by a torn bag, a flash of color sewn onto wool stopped me from delving deeper into my treasure chest. Yes, I thought, yes, here is more evidence of my previous life. I reached into the bag and pulled out not one but two of my cruise jackets. Jackets adorned with patches of flags from countries I’d visited. Jackets embroidered with places I’d been. My brain was awash with long lost visions of a younger me filled with angst, pride and arrogance.
I took ahold of those garments in one hand, my books of memories in the other, kissed the cheek of my wife and walked away. I was so filled with nostalgia that I couldn’t bear to be so emotionally naked in front of anyone. I took my treasures to the dining room. Spread them out on the table and paged through them. Trapped inside the books were certificates and tattered paper that held trials and tribulations of a time long past. In the pockets of the jackets I found more patches of my excursions. I quickly took photos and texted them to the men I knew who would find them as amazing as I had. I then posted some of them on facebook.
After a while, I sat down on my couch and slowly flipped the pages of each book. Each page bringing forth a new long lost gem of my past. Showing me a facet of my life I’d forgotten long ago. Filling me with a longing for who I was and what I was doing. In other words, balancing me out for a brief period of time.
I remember, back when I first signed the order forms for each book and jacket that I’d never really need them, that these were frivolous items that would mean nothing to me in the future. Then again, those were the thoughts of a young man, barely nineteen years old.
Today, these items are invaluable. They are as precious to me as the first pictures of my daughter. I cherish these baubles of life and I can’t believe it has taken me almost forty-eight years to actually appreciate the past endeavors of my life.
But I am grateful, I am honored and I am overwhelmed by the memories of the men I served with and I hope that one day, in your own way, you too will be able to travel down the road of your life and be as fulfilled with your own memories in some tangible way.
Thank you Sue, for giving me back a part of my life I’d thought was lost in some landfill in a dismal swamp filled with flesh eating crabs and hillbilly’s.
Have a great week.