A few days before Christmas, I was contacted by a fellow who had purchased an older house that had not been lived in for quite some time and had fallen into serious disrepair. That and the fact that it was located on a power line easement left few options: he donated the house to the local fire department for training purposes.
However, before the former home was set ablaze, the rooms were checked for items of significance or sentiment. He found a packet of letters and reached out to me thinking I might find them useful. He stated, “I hate to see them destroyed.”
I retrieved the letters that same day and in between errands in town I began to read.
The letters were written from a son to his mother over a period of about eighteen months in 1967-’69 after the young man had enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
There was nothing profound in the contents but in some ways, that is exactly what makes them worth saving. The thoughts contained on the military stationary were ordinary- just like most of us.
He writes frequently and always to his mother: “Dear Moma,” inquiring about her health, that of his Daddy’s and offering advice to his younger brother.
He never fails to update the family as to how he is getting along, the nature of his daily routine, class work and the quality of the food.
As an African American he makes only a couple of observations about being Black stating in one letter that discrimination is still around.
He talks openly about being homesick, wishing he were home and especially missing his Moma’s applesauce. Yet, he never complains, instead he talks about how it really is not so bad. “You just have to listen and do what they tell you.” He advises his little brother to work hard in school and then to consider joining the Navy as he has done.
A few weeks prior to setting out for boot camp, the young man had graduated from high school but had left prior to receiving his diploma. It was a worry for him. In several letters he questions his mother as to whether his diploma had arrived. He expressed both relief and satisfaction when informed it had been received. This coupled with his apprehension about the written tests he had to pass as part of his training shed a glimmer of light on his thoughts about education and gave motive to his regular admonitions to his brother regarding his diligence in school.
Though he was thousands of miles away from home, he often acted as an intermediary for other family members, relaying messages between them. It was evident that he had become a spokesperson for the family.
It was my intention to find him or a family member and return the letters to their rightful place by Christmas. A cousin in Ohio told me that he, his wife and his daughter had all died. I was even more driven to find his brother.
The young man’s name is Howard Creed Lawson, Jr. born in Fauquier County, VA in 1949 and lived with his family in Amissville, VA until he enlisted. If anyone knows of a relative, please contact me.
Until next week, be well.