THE OLD TRUNK - A Vignette from Dennis Lowery

The Old Trunk (FREE SHORT NONFICTION)

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees, and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.” –Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“Life was as delicate as the paper held in her hand.”

The above is a line from one of my stories, and I remember the flashback memory I had when I wrote it. And how true it is.

As a teen, one of my jobs was in an antique store. The owners bought things from estate sales all over, often in large lots and sometimes wouldn’t know if it was trash or treasure until they received and went through piece by piece. One day, unloading a new batch of things they had brought in, I found an old trunk.

THE OLD TRUNK - A Vignette from Dennis LoweryI needed something like that trunk and though old (don’t know how old) it was still sturdy with good hinges and even a lock with the key still in it. I asked the store owner if I could buy it or work off the purchase price if they didn’t want to keep it for resale. He checked it out and decided it was nothing special. All it had in it was old scrap newspapers. I think I bought it for $10 and worked an extra three or four hours to pay for it.

That evening, at home, as I cleaned it up and out, I saw the newspapers were from New Orleans, late 1918. The major news was still about the Armistice and the end of World War One. Wrapped inside a wad of newspaper I found a young woman’s French passport and several letters to her written in French. I kept them, and a couple of years later, when I studied French in high school, I brought them to my teacher, and she translated them. She had a hard time because they were on thin, brittle, paper and the ink had blotched and faded. They were love letters from a French soldier, the last dated 30 October 1918. On that letter’s envelope someone had written, so harshly there were little stabs and tears in the paper, “Il ne reviendra jamais…”

“He’ll never come back.”

When I wrote the line at the beginning, I flashed back to when I held those letters in my hand. Someone had written them out of love… and the slashing comment on the envelope was made out of bitterness… and in pain. But they couldn’t bear to throw the letters away. Maybe part of them couldn’t give up their love for the man. Though the man was lost, they couldn’t leave them and their love behind. Perhaps over the years they took them out and remembered him. Or possibly not… maybe they were merely something that ‘was’ but no longer ‘is’… stored in an old trunk.

Over the years, I’ve often thought about what I found that day, and what I learned from it. And when I reflect on my life, I think about all the things I have stored in my ‘old trunk.’ As with most people, there are many memories. Bits and pieces, large and small, of a life full of experiences, bad and good.

Down deep are: pain and misfortune experienced, opportunities squandered or lost, misplaced love or a sad facsimile because I’d yet to discover true love and anger with its life-eating ways. Those are the dusty, faded, cobwebby things at the bottom I rarely take out. Never to dislodge from their resting place but still part of what made me who I am.

Above that is the good stuff: joyful experiences; things I did right, true love found and a more even-keeled temperament.

And on the top, the things I take out to cherish that renew me and give me strength: thoughts of my wife, daughters, and appreciation for a life well-built despite all the poorer things at the bottom of the trunk.

I think about those letters I found decades ago in that old trunk; the love, loss, and pain they signify. They taught me a lesson about appreciation and that there are so many things for which I’m very thankful.

Some reader comments:

“Dennis, you amaze me once again! You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but every story is better than the last! Thanks for the great reads!” –Cristie Brewer

“This really made me think about things… about my own ‘treasures.’ I believe we all have treasures of some sort if we look hard enough. The question we have to ask ourselves is which ones are really worth holding on to.” –Brenda Church

“Truly beautiful. I love it!” –Sherry Thompson

“I found this piece of written wisdom to be touching and beautiful.” –Margie Casados

“As usual your stories never disappoint.” –Bernice Joe

“A very enjoyable read and nicely put in words description of how we store away parts of life.” –Michael Koontz

“I love this, so, true! Life is not always wonderful for some. It’s ugly, brutal and unbearable. But, it’s always wise to count your blessings, over and over again!” –Susan Gabriel

“Awesome.” –Jennie Wilson

“Beautiful.” –Damian Trasler

‘Toward the Light…’

Head still down, she looked at the vines that started under the dead leaves lying before her. Following the green of their winding on the trees that lined the path brought her eyes up, climbing their height as the vines did. They were life; growing infinitesimally and breathing as she looked at them. And as her head lifted she saw in the distance an opening through the trees at the crest of the hill she’d labored to climb but was only halfway there.

Of a Death and a Life - A Vignette by Dennis Lowery

Of a Death… and a Life (FREE SHORT NONFICTION)

My mother called me the day before she killed herself.

I’d like to say I remember every word of our conversation.

I’d like to believe it was chiseled in my memory forever. The sound of her voice something to lessen the pain of how I still miss her. How I wish she had been a longer part of my oldest daughter’s life and could know my three daughters born after she died, could read the stories I’ve written of them and about being their father and how my life’s become so much more than I ever imagined.

I’ll always carry the sorrow of how my daughters will never know her.

When world-shaking events take place, and you see or hear of it the first time… you remember that day and details of where you were, who you were with and who said what. You remember. But that call from my mother didn’t come on a life-rattling day, and I don’t. It was just mom calling to chat, probably asking about my—then only—daughter, soon to be five-year-old Karen.

That Saturday, August 28, 1993, I didn’t know I would never talk to her again.

Two days later I got the call I remember.

Shock is too thin a word. The hardest hit to the most sensitive part of a man doesn’t come close to conveying how I felt when my brother called me at work and told me my mother had shot herself the day before.

She was only 61.

Of a Death and a Life - A Vignette by Dennis LoweryA death like that is a void that never fills. An emptiness that still hurts.

But it gives me context.

One of my clients told me something once that surprised me though I’ve heard similar statements before from those I work with. But not with the depth of meaning behind this one. It touched on something I feel about my mother’s death. She—my client—said, “You helped me fight my demons and win because you showed me the way with your kindness and patience and most of all, your compassion. How do I ever repay you for giving me a reason to appreciate what I have and look forward to what the future will bring?”

Moved, I replied, “I gave you only what you deserve… the people that care for you do so because of who you are. You’ve earned their love and respect because you’ve fought your inner battles, and while doing that you gave to and care about others. That’s not a character trait that appears… it’s something there all along. A strength that is a wonder to behold and you telling me you’ve ousted those demons… that’s the best ‘repayment’ I could ever hope for. The future is bright; brighter still because you will be part of it!”

You may ask yourself why am I sharing this with you.

This woman—my client—had dealt with challenges and adversity most people never face. And through it, all strived to provide for and take care of her family as best she could. Though in the twilight of her life she still cared for and gave to others.

The regrets and recriminations we heap on ourselves can sometimes be too much to bear. That sense of futility… that your life just does not matter… can overcome even the strongest of wills if they are fighting the battle alone (even when that is not reality). But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The past can be painful to write about. But I know it can also be cathartic and carries with it the power to heal and resolve lingering issues from the past.

In a TIME magazine article by Mary Pols titled:… The best memoirs of loss and tragedy teach us universal truths. The worst just teach us suffering. The article starts with a question, “At what point does an individual’s grief move from the chaos of misery to a vessel of wisdom worth passing along?”

It’s a question a writer of a memoir needs to ask as it pertains to the intent of the book It’s about context. There are lessons and those universal truths to pull from even the most tragic of lives. Crafted into a story that becomes redemption or healing for the person the book is about.

That is what I wanted my client to understand; I wanted her to know her life was not a waste and sharing her story was important.

A redeeming quality of humanity is there are those who work through challenges and adversity and never let them bring their life to a permanent stop. The beauty of the human spirit shines when people continue their lives—despite heartache—despite obstacles and tragedies, despite when their life takes a dangerous turn for whatever reason. Their stories resonate and can be the catalyst that enables someone they don’t even know, a reader, to carry on and not give up. That books have changed lives goes without saying. Most, if not all, of us, have been moved by something we read. Stories that lift those who need help and move them to take a step forward, then another, and another…. making their way to a better attitude, a better place, and better life. Countless books have done that for people.

My mother had a difficult life; it was hardscrabble for much of it. I never realized how dark her thoughts, how tired of it all she was. How I wish she had had someone that touched—reached—her… to convince her life was worth carrying on. I failed to do that as her son, but I’m blessed with her compassion and the spirit that existed in her before its final surrender lives on as part of me. And that spark has helped me with my writing and publishing, and those efforts sometimes make a difference in other lives. I think it helped save someone.

Life can be hard and is often a grand experiment. For those of you who have ever thought of someday telling your story, pursue that and make it happen. Don’t give up and never surrender.

Stories and books can make a real difference in people’s lives. If you have a story in you… write it, let it be told… it can make a difference.

My client who told me what I’d done for her, is living proof of what that means.

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