Yesterday, I visited the Sand Mountain Flea Market, about forty miles from Huntsville, just south of Guntersville, Alabama. I’m not a flea market person but on a whim I decided to check it out, hoping that I would find a small trunk to store manuscripts in. If you've priced a new trunk, you know why I thought it would be worth a little of my time to try to find one in a flea market.
To make a long story, and I do mean a long story, since I was in the flea market for almost two hours; I didn't find a trunk, but I did find an old Army footlocker. It was the first footlocker I've seen since I mustered out of the Army in 1968 and it brought back a lot of memories.
The footlocker was padlocked with a commercial grade combination lock. I asked the old woman who seemed to own it, along with a small, former, U-Haul Truck, full of other items (no two of which were the same) if she had the combination.
She looked at me like I had just asked for the key to her truck. “Hell, son, I don’t know the combination.”
I was flattered that she called me son, since I suspected that I was at least twenty years older than she was, though when the sun hit her full in the face, I began to reevaluate the possible age difference. She squinted her right eye half shut and focused her left eye, which seemed to be slightly out of control, somewhere between my right eye and the top of my head, and added, “That’s why I have it priced at $15.00.”
Noting that I was struggling to connect the two statements she explained, “There might be something real valuable in there.”
After wandering around the flea market for almost two hours, I think fatigue might have had something to do with what I did next. Staring as best I could, at her now totally out of control eye, I said, “I’ll take it.”
Two minutes later, with the footlocker on my shoulder, I found my Honda Element, now surrounded by a mass of pickup trucks that lined the highway for a mile in both directions. I unlocked it, dropped the tailgate and started to set the footlocker inside when, for some reason, I turned it on its side; something I hadn't done when I initially examined it.
A weathered piece of masking tape was stuck in the middle of the bottom panel. Something was written on it, but it was too faded to read. I leaned closer and closer, until finally my nose was almost touching it and I read – Combination 16-8-29.
I opened the lock on the first try.
The top tray was intact and empty. I lifted it out and sat it inside the vehicle. The box itself was full of clothes, lightweight, men’s clothes. There were pants, hiking shorts, short sleeve sport shirts and a few plain t-shirts. Everything was well used but clean and neatly folded. I took the garments out, one at time, looking for some clue to the identity of the owner. There was nothing, and I finally decided there wouldn't be anything.
Then I pulled out the last pair of hiking shorts. They were khaki with large cargo pockets on each leg. There was a large bundle of letters in the right pocket and some worn maps in the left pocket.
I started to open the bundle of letters but thought better of it. There were a lot of people close by, and I felt like I might draw some unwanted attention if I began exploring what I already thought of as my treasure.
I packed the letters, maps, and all the clothes back in the footlocker, closed the tailgate, and began working my way out of the minor traffic jam that I found myself part of.
An hour later I was back home. I put the footlocker in the middle of the living room floor and in short order I untied the string that held the bundle of letters together. Originally, I had thought there might be twenty or maybe thirty letters there. Being a Virgo, the first thing I did was count them. There were sixty-one of them. Some felt like they contained only a single sheet of paper, others two or three. The hand writing appeared to be the same, and they were all addressed to the same person, Marissa Winbush, c/o The Inn by the Sea, 420 Del Rio Way, Cancun, Mexico. The return address on each letter simply read, “Jake.” Though the writing instruments varied from a number 2 pencil to a wide tipped black marker, they were all neatly written and completely legible. I suppose Jake was on the move as he wrote the letters since they had been mailed from Mississippi, Alabama, and Mexico.
I was hesitant to read them, and it took a couple of hours before I actually read the first one. Now I've read the first ten of them, and in a way, I feel like I’m reading a private diary, but I can’t stop because the letters tell an amazing story – a story of love, adventure, and for lack of a better term, I’ll say a story of the supernatural.
In any case, I’m going to share them with you, and you can decide if they are as special as I’m beginning to think they are:
Tuesday Feb 20, 2007
I just knew that today there would be a letter from you and you’d say, “Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I've been laying on the beach at Cancun for the past two weeks, and I haven’t been able to check my mail.”
There was no mail from you, so you must still be on the beach at Cancun. Don't misunderstand. I’m not envious; in fact, I think one of us should be there. I will point out though, that if it was me in Cancun, instead of you, I’d at least send you a postcard and maybe even one of those junky tourist t-shirts.