The task of emptying what remained from my mother's hope chest yielded more surprises. One item was a lovely handbag, round, with ribbons for drawstrings at the top. Both the top and bottom edges were trimmed with seed pearls. I had forgotten all about that: it was the purse from my own wedding - the first one.

In looking at it, I was a little amazed, because I had designed and sewn it myself. Now, I cannot imagine me having the patience, much less the talent, to complete such a thing. It is not easy to sew things that are supposed to turn out with a round top and bottom. And sewing on each of those little seed pearls, one-by-one, and by hand, had to have taken forever or at least seemed like it.

The biggest surprise was two bundles of what were labeled "Love Letters." I guess there were two bundles because there were so many they wouldn't stay together in one much bigger bundle. These letters were all in their original envelopes and represented just a few short months in my former married life. They were letters from me to my then-spouse and vice versa. The time period was when he was at boot camp, having just enlisted in the U.S. Navy. I thought I owed those letters and the past a read-through, at least part of them.

So I have spent some time re-reading them, and not only was it a surprise to find them but there were also surprises when reading them. First, I sorted them into the ones from me to him, and another stack of from him to me. And I put them into date order, thinking that would help re-create the scene, so to speak, and it did.

It seems I was doing some babysitting for friends of my parents, and when they asked me how much I would charge, I asked for 35 cents an hour. Since I was there for two and a half hours, I asked for 85 cents. They gave me a dollar, and as I told it in the letter, I was pretty happy. Wow, things have changed.

I do remember we did not have a lot of money, nor did we get help from parents for the most part. So, not surprisingly, a lot of our correspondence was about money. Rather than buying stationery, I wrote on anything I could find, such as a tablet, old cards, leftover school paper. That way I only had to buy envelopes.

I had a little windfall when I got back the $1 deposit by turning in my band uniform. I used to sew some of my own clothes and I bought fabric for two shirts, one piece at 73 cents and the other at $1.20.

At one point I had evidently gone grocery shopping with my mother; she spent $32 on groceries and I was aghast!

When he finished with boot camp, I was going to join him and we were moving to Oklahoma for his next base. From reading these letters, I found that at one time we were talking about sharing an apartment with someone else when we got there. I did not recall that at all, but I guess, again, it was all about money. I do remember that did not happen, and of course now I don't know why not.

Money was sometimes a theme in his letters to me too. He evidently felt bad about spending 25 cents for a paperback to entertain himself and 40 cents for a taxi to go to a movie. It appears he felt bad enough that he sent me a whole dollar! He could buy Cokes for 10 cents. However, I don't recall that we ever worried a great deal about money, even though it was tight. I think it likely sounds worse now because of both my more advanced age and also inflation.

He thought the Navy food was great, and basically he just loved being in the Navy. (I do recall that was an attitude that remained with him throughout his enlistment.) He even thought marching was fun.

He talked about his new friends; he said that the majority of the recruits were "rebels" from the Deep South, and as a consequence he and others from northern states would re-fight the Civil War. He said the rebs sang rebel songs and cheerfully, and loudly, entertained the rest of the group.

I think that was great preparation for his fourth and last duty station when we spent three years in north Florida, which people told us was more like Georgia than the rest of Florida.

My overall impression was that these letters were pretty mushy, and that too was a surprise; I did not recall writing "love letters." The recurring theme in his were that he was so lonely, and he loved me so much that he didn't know how he would live without me if anything ever happened to me.

Reading those really made me wonder what happens over time in a marriage, because our separation and divorce for years was not amicable (as if any ever is!).

I'm glad I read them. But I can think of no reason to save them any longer. I am sure he would not want me to send them to him. A good thing about going through this hope chest's contents is that looking at old things has made me very aware of how much in my life has been forgotten.

For the most part, I think that is a good thing.