Lee Harris called me recently, then left a picture of a paper bag in our mailbox. I’m almost certain that’s the first time that’s happened to me. It was a copier photo of a small brown bag, five inches wide and ten inches long. It wasn’t any different from a million others, except for a hand-written note dated July 27, 1998.
The bag and the message had long escaped my memory cells. It was almost 20 years ago when I sent it to my uncle, Claude Bowen. He was hospitalized at the time. The note read as follows:
Dear Uncle Claude,
I wanted to get you a nice card, but with the dry weather had to rework my budget. Did you know the hospital won’t accept collect calls? I told them I was your nephew, but that didn’t help. Perhaps you can talk to the administrator? Glad to hear you’re doing better. Best wishes from all of us for your continued recovery. Neil, Jane, Erin, Seth, & Carrie
P.S. I meant to enclose $20, but had already sealed the envelope before I thought of it.
Lee went to see Uncle Claude during that hospital stay. He said there were Hallmark Cards lining the room, but what Uncle Claude most enjoyed showing his visitors was the brown paper sack.
For anyone reading this who is under 20, you should understand that paper bags were in common use in 1998. They were used by grocery, hardware, and other retail stores of just about any description. For a few years the checkout clerks would ask if you wanted paper or plastic. Now it’s mostly plastic. I’m not complaining, but plastic is hard to write on, and I’m almost out of paper bags.
The late Reverend Doug Fullington deserves credit for the P.S. For a long time he pastored First Baptist Church in Pinehurst, plus he and his wife, June, ran The Fullington House restaurant. He also performed a humor routine throughout middle Georgia and beyond. He dressed up in overalls and a tie and pretended he was clueless about life. He would tell some funny stories, easily drawing laughter from the crowd, then close by reading a letter from home, a letter from his mama.
The letter would explain that she was writing slowly because she knew that he read slowly. It would be filled with other such clever little jewels, then end with that P.S. about the twenty dollars.
Brother Doug would come to the Bank of Dooly, where I worked, on Monday mornings. He’d visit with me a few minutes, quite often sharing something from the weekend. On one of those visits, he told me he had preached Sunday morning and then gone straight to the restaurant as usual. He worked hard for over an hour, helping take care of the bustling lunch crowd.
Brother Doug was tired and his feet were sore. He sat down at a corner table in the dining room to take a short break. Karlie Ingram was five years old, and was there from Vienna with her family. She walked over to Brother Doug. “Don’t you have any friends?” she asked. He smiled and said, “It sure doesn’t look like it, does it?” Then Karlie made him a really sweet offer. She said, “I’ll be your friend.”
He thanked Karlie for her kindness and told her he was just resting a bit. He was still smiling the next day when he shared that story with me. We both understood that Karlie had set the compassion bar rather high for the rest of us. We talked for a minute about Isaiah 11:6, “And a little child shall lead them.” Brother Doug’s hair had been silver for a long time, but Karlie taught the lesson that day.
Lee Harris reminded me of more than just a paper bag. He reminded me that small things can make a big difference. It can be as simple as writing a note, making a call, or leaving a picture in someone’s mailbox. It can be as tender as a child offering friendship to someone who is sitting alone. Sometimes we need to do big things, the kind of things that take a lot of effort. But the small opportunities are the ones that surface every day. They’re the ones that we have no good excuse to ignore.
That brown paper bag brought back memories of Uncle Claude, Brother Doug, and a young Karlie Ingram, delightful memories that I’m glad could be rescued. If I’m ever again given the choice of paper or plastic, I’ll take paper. I’m pretty sure that paper is where the best memories are kept.