“In 1940, the population of Mooreland, Indiana was about 300 people, in 1950, 300 people, 1960, 1970, 1980 and so on. One must assume that the number 300, while sacred, did not represent the same persons decade after decade. A mysterious and powerful mathematical principal was at work, one by which I and my family were eventually governed. Old people died and new people were added, and thus what was shifting remained constant. I got to be new there. I was added and shortly afterward the barber named Tony was taken away.”
– Haven Kimmel, “A Girl Named Zippy.”
Sometimes life is full of amazing little surprises, though it takes a bit of looking to find the best ones. For those of you who have read my column for many years, you might recall that my family endured a house fire in the winter of 2000.
Busy preparing for Christmas one night, I smelled smoke in our upstairs hallway. When I opened a closet door in my daughter’s bedroom, flames jumped out at me.
I was wise enough to close doors behind me, and while I worked at getting our children safely delivered to our neighbor’s home, Doug called for help and worked at getting our dogs to safety. So much was lost.
When boxes were returned to us months later, many were opened and then closed with disappointment.
“This one is filled with old pans,” I remember saying. “This one is old cartoon tapes the kids had outgrown.”
So, when we moved from that home to this farm, way too many of those boxes were stacked in our extra building here. It was way past time to go through them all, donate what we didn’t need, and clean it all up.
Yesterday, while reaching the very bottom of one of those boxes, I was stunned to find my leather portfolio that I once carried everywhere with me. I often gave speeches while working as a newspaper editor, and it made a great way to carry what I needed.
I had figured that item was long gone, damaged by fire, smoke or water. And here it was — clean, dry, not a hint of smoke from the fire, prompting me to wonder where it had been on that frightening night.
The very first thing I found when I opened it was the most wonderful surprise of all. Inside a crisp envelope with a 22-cent stamp, postmarked Feb. 27, 1986, was a hand-written letter to me from Carl Somerlade.
I had grown up with Carl’s youngest daughter, Kathy, and felt connected to the Somerlades as though we were family. Carl often stopped by our farm at Dad’s request, as Carl worked with the soil and water conservation district, and my father respected his sage wisdom on all sorts of matters.
The letter begins with compliments on my Feb. 17, 1986, column about our hometown.
“I concur 100 percent with you on your choice of people mentioned in the article and of course I go back a little further than you on great people in Jeromesville. You know, maybe more like your Dad’s youth which of course you know wasn’t so long ago. Ha!”
But the real crux of his letter was intended to encourage me to save my writings and one day turn them in to a book, the same thing my father was urging me to do.
Carl wrote, “You could title the book, ‘Great to be Young’ (referring to my maiden name). Just some suggestions from a nut,” he penned. He mentioned another writer he enjoyed from the farm paper because “he is from the old school of SCS and he can write from his experiences and not from canned articles from State office.”
I saw shades of Kathy’s cursive handwriting in his, making me wistful for the wonderful art of handwritten letters.
Our roots of connection went so deep that Carl even made reference to my maternal grandfather in closing.
“Please keep up the good work and I know you will. And it makes Mom and Dad very proud and I know that Grampa Tucker is saying to St. Peter, ‘that’s my granddaughter, isn’t she great?’”
Since the day Carl wrote the letter to me, so many things have changed. He and my dad have both joined St. Peter. They left and my two children were born.
And the mysterious and powerful circle of life marches on.