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Unexpected surprise at Christmas

Ragged pair of shorts, dirty T-shirt, pair of worn-out shoes used for cutting the grass.

That was me during a couple of days off at home last week, puttering around the house.

Neighbors, hearing the power saw and hammering, dropped by to see about all the noise on such a blissful, balmy day.

Projects, I told them.

One of which was putting a wooden base under a two-drawer file cabinet in the garage.

Pulling the drawers out so I could lift the cabinet, I spotted almost 40 years of letters and cards, dating to the 1960s.

Letters and cards full of love from my mother, my grandmother, my little brother, who have all passed.

Letters and cards from my wife and children, from sisters, neighbors, friends. All written in their own hand, something we see so little of these email days.

Among the items from the vault was an invitation to a wedding at the 160th Signal Group Chapel in Long Binh, Vietnam, set for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 1970. That’s when Tran Kim Cuc and I were going to be married.

It didn’t happen that day because the Saigon police intercepted the car bearing the wedding party to Long Binh and detained everyone. Turned out to all be a misunderstanding, but it wasn’t resolved for hours, while I waited in the chapel wondering what in the world had happened. We were finally married three days later.

There’s a card from my hippie sister Sandi which says, “Hoping you and your lovely Cuc have a very happy first Christmas.” She sealed the envelope with the international peace symbol sticker, and wrote “congratulations” over it.

There was also a Christmas card from the girl next door in St. Augustine who asked how it felt to “be an old married man.”

There’s a card from my little brother, who was playing youth football in St. Augustine while I was in Vietnam, saying he was looking forward to meeting Cuc, who most folks now know by her middle name, Kim -- it’s easier to say.

Tony also talked about being on an all-star midget football team that played a Georgia all-star team to a 6-6 tie. Tony passed on in 2002. He would have loved Tim Tebow, who is from St. Johns County where we grew up, too.

There are also some mysteries in that file cabinet. There are exquisite Vietnamese greeting cards from Mr. Tan and Miss Thu, who worked for the U.S. Army at the brigade headquarters where I was assigned from 1969 to 1971. They were lovely, bright, hard-working people. I wonder what happened to them in the aftermath of the war.

Talk about a time capsule. I haven’t really started to dig in and rediscover all that’s in the treasure trove. Those drawers of old correspondence turned out to be a surprise early Christmas gift to myself.

To all who may read this, I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday. And take some time this next year to dust off your cursive and write someone a letter. Could be that they will appreciate it and treasure in ways that you couldn’t imagine.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet to @jajones1.