wist·ful – adjective \ˈwist-fəl\
: having or showing sad thoughts and feelings about something that you want to have or do and especially about something that made you happy in the past;
: full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy;
: inspiring such yearning;
: musingly sad
I almost missed them, the two little postcards tucked in a cardboard box full of “me” from the past. For a long time I’ve been meaning to transfer all of the old letters and school papers and photographs and yearbooks into more durable plastic tubs. With a few spare minutes last night, I washed off the four large containers, then hauled them upstairs and set to work.
The school memorabilia I found was no surprise to me. Over the years, I’ve reminisced through the old undergraduate newspaper stories and masters-level research papers. I’ve condensed dozens of projects into just a few binders, though I kept two sets of 3×5 quote cards. And I’ve refused to part with my graduation tassels, the two now twisted and tangled together like my high school and college memories.
But I had forgotten about the box full of cards and letters, years of correspondence now stuck together with age, written to addresses I barely remember. I opened a couple of the envelopes – a college graduation card from my friend Drake, a get-well card signed with names I don’t recognize. Then, I saw the postcards penned in a familiar script. Whose handwriting it that? I wondered.
When I noticed the picture on the front of one card, the memories flooded over me: The Chatham Breakthrough. Cape Cod. Of course, it’s Marcia’s writing. Marcia, who along with her husband Dave, ran the Hawthorne Motel, where I worked during the summer between my junior and senior years of college.
I wasn’t supposed to be in Chatham that summer. Not even Massachusetts. I had left Indiana for a summer ministry in Maine, my second summer working in a small beach town. But when I arrived, nothing was ready. The church hosting me had failed to gather a team as they expected. Funding was tight. They were willing for me to stay, to do the best I could. I knew I had to go.
To where? I ended up staying in an office-turned-bedroom at the home of a college friend and his family. Going back to Indiana would have meant no hope for a summer job. Staying in the Boston area would afford more opportunities. Temporary jobs kept me busy for a couple of weeks. Then, I learned about the chambermaid job in Chatham.
After all that had happened that summer, I ended up staying in Cape Cod only three weeks, filling in through the end of the high season for an employee who had left. I spent mornings cleaning motel rooms with the other college students who worked there. We all lived together in a converted room near the motel laundry. In the afternoons, we sunbathed on Marcia and Dave’s upper deck, walked along the beach, drove inland for movies, or took side jobs cleaning local rental homes. I fell in love with hydrangeas that summer and wood shingles and fudgesicles and beach roses.
The postcards from Marcia weren’t about that summer, though. When I left to go back to school for my final year of college, I had decided that I would move to New England when I graduated. When February came around, I sent out hundreds of resumes to every newspaper I could find from Maine to Rhode Island. I had a couple of interviews over Spring Break, but come April, when I still didn’t have a job, I decided I would go anyway. I called Marcia and Dave to ask them if I could work for them again. The postcard said, “Yes!”
Only, I never went back.
Oh sure, I stopped by for a quick visit the next year when I was in Boston staying with the college friend whose parents had taken me in that summer. But rather than follow my heart to Cape Cod, I followed my ambition to a job offer at a daily newspaper far away from the hydrangeas and wood shingles and right smack dab in the middle of my home town. For years I wondered if I had made the right choice. Last night, as I hugged the postcards close, I thought about how different my life might have been . . .
Shaking off my wistfulness, I finished packing my memories back into the plastic tubs, stacking them neatly in the corner of the closet. That’s another project I can check off the list, I thought lugging the old cardboard boxes down to the garage. What have you been up to, my husband asked, noticing the boxes. Just putting all my old elementary, high school, and college stuff into plastic tubs, I told him.
But the postcards, they are still here with me. At least for now.
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