Libby wrote a letter 46 years ago and it arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago…
This Thursday March 25th marks the seventh anniversary of Libby’s passing, I can remember the events of that day as if it were yesterday, because the truth is, I don’t ever want to forget.
I often tell the members of our Griefshare class that getting through grief doesn’t mean we stop hurting and forget about the person for whom you are grieving; it’s about hurting less as you continue to live, serve, worship and, yes even love again, while remembering and being thankful for their impact on your life.
Seven years is a long time and I think I’ve made progress: I don’t cry every time Libby’s name comes up in a conversation and I can even tell stories about our time together. Our Granddaughters have a photo of “Gibby” in the room where they stay when they visit, thanks to a very thoughtful GiGi (Jane) who makes sure they all know the difference between Gibby and GiGi.
I am getting used to the feeling I get when I hear about a friend being diagnosed with a Breast Cancer, or I hear an ambulance approaching or even notice Libby’s mannerisms in our granddaughters. Old memories, photos and stories about Libby rarely trip me up anymore but receiving a letter from Libby in the mail a few weeks ago was definitely unusual.
In reality, it was not a complete surprise because I did get a call from my sister-in-law, Janet Gilley, to say that she wanted to prepare me for the fact that I would be receiving a letter in the mail that Libby wrote during high school. Two days later I received a letter from a friend addressed to me and tucked inside the envelope was an unopened, faded envelope had no return address and no stamp in Libby’s handwriting:
Back to the strange letter; Libby’s dad was the pastor at Flintstone Baptist Church where the Willis family attended during her junior high and high school years. Libby’s’ Sunday School Teacher, Curtis Long, decided to try an experiment one Sunday morning to get his students to think more about their future. Mr. Long asked each student to write a letter to themselves explaining where they thought they would be in ten years; his plan was to mail those letters back to each student in exactly ten years so they could see how their real life compared to the life they thought they would have.
Time past, life happened and the letters were misplaced and/or forgotten and their planned return to the original authors was complicated by Mr. Long’s Alzheimer diagnosis and subsequent death many years ago. Most recently, Mr. Long’s wife, Mildred, found the unopened, un-mailed letters in her husband’s desk drawer. Which brings us back to the present day and the circumstances for Libby’s letter in our mailbox at the end of our driveway.
Keep in mind, this letter was written in pencil 46 years ago, and although Libby had a very neat handwriting, she wrote with a lot of flourish and her cursive handwriting had lots of loops and curls, making it very difficult to read under the best circumstances, so I transcribed it below to make it easier to read.
Libby would have been 16 years old when she wrote this letter in January of 1975 turning 17 just two months later on March 3rd, she had already been working at the Red Food Store in Rossville for over a year in order to purchase her old green Nova with a “three on the tree”. Although we were friends in high school, Libby and I never dated until after her freshman year of college, with one exception:
Our one date/not date happened during our senior year of high school, in the fall of 1975 when Libby had been nominated as a homecoming queen candidate and so she asked me to escort her during half time of the football homecoming game. Libby was dating a guy from our high school named Vic Smyth who had already graduated and she wanted everyone to know that just because she asked me to escort her at halftime, it was DEFINITELY NOT A DATE. The school had a rule at the time which stated that homecoming court escorts must be currently enrolled in the high school. Her boyfriend at that time planned to be on leave from the Navy so he could attend the homecoming game and Libby’s one condition for our “NOT DATE” was that if, in that one-in-million chance, she was elected to be the homecoming queen, I was definitely not allowed to kiss her…….
Friday night at halftime (as our team was well on their way to another crushing football defeat) Libby was elected the Chattanooga Valley High School homecoming queen and she was probably the only one in the entire stadium that night who was shocked by the results of that student body vote. It is probably not a shock to any of the readers of this blog that I disobeyed her one demand for our DATE (NOT DATE).
Again, back to the letter. Unfortunately, the letter itself is rather anti-climactic and far less intriguing than the story of how it ended up in my mailbox just few days before, what would have been, Libby’s 63rd birthday.
So, except for the fact that she never lived in Florida or Hawaii, she never really taught special education, she never served in the military, she never attended Georgia, West Georgia, Samford or Berry, she had more than one child and she never married Vic, she did get a few of her predictions right.
This is the letter that I found in my mailbox:
In January 1975 I was in Sunday School studying a series of lessons dealing with time at Flintstone Baptist Church. The teacher was Curtis Long. The people present were David Cornelius, Starr Marshal, Vicki Eaves, Jimmy Cash, Johnny Speck, Johnny Prescott, Carole Stansifer, Miles Jackson and myself. We concluded with a projection of our lives 10 years from this date. I am now reading what I thought my life might be. How close were your predictions? However close, let God direct you.
Will I be married? Yes
Where will I live? Florida or Hawaii
Where will I work? In a special education school
What will I be doing? Being a wife and mother
Will I have served in the military? Maybe as a teacher on base.
Will I still be in church? YES
Will be a Sunday School teacher? Probably
What college would I attend? Georgia, West Georgia, Samford or Berry
Will I have any kids? Maybe one
Who will I be married to? Vic Smyth
- Johnny Spec is having his first date with Becky Smith
- Today is mother’s birthday! She is 39.
- Clara is coming home.
Goal to achieve: To be the best wife, mother and special ed. teacher I can and leave all else to God’s will forever.
Although, at sixteen years old, Libby had no clue how her life (or obviously, even the next ten years) would turn out, I think everyone who knew Libby would have to agree that she over-achieved her final goal written in this last sentence:
Goal to achieve: To be the best wife, mother and … teacher that I can and leave all else to God’s will.