I have been a lifelong reader, but it is only since I started listening to audiobooks while taking long walks that I realized the number of chapters different books have. Some will have 70 chapters and some just a few. There is not a right or wrong way to write a book, as they are all different.
After spending the past three weeks at Compass Lake, a considerable amount of that time in a hammock contemplating life, I wondered how many chapters would be in my book. The book of my own life.
There is my life in Cottonwood, divided into kindergarten, and elementary school. There is my time in Dothan, beginning in the seventh grade and continuing through high school graduation.
The chapter about my time as a student at Auburn University would come next with sub-chapters on fraternity life and my education. Like most young college students on their own for the first time, that education was not all in the classroom.
The chapter in the middle would come next and would be the longest in the book. That would be my time in Donalsonville, Seminole County and Southwest Georgia. There would be several sub-chapters here, ranging from the peanut business, Hardee’s, politics, church, two generations of friends and of course, raising a family.
Auburn comes back into the picture 45 years later. The roots were already there from the past, but the current branches and flowers are different. Early sub-chapters might include our involvement in the Gouge Performing Arts Center, athletics, and a budding re-connection with my ties to the academic world. There is also the blessing of making new friends at a later stage in your life.
Like any good book, the chapters overlap. Some people, friends, and family are in some, even all the chapters. Some friends were friends in passing, important at the time before changing circumstances caused you to drift apart. This in no way diminishes their role in your book. People move away, change jobs, and have other life-changing events. You were friends in the moment which was good for you both.
Other friends survive those transitions. They touch your life and remain a part of it no matter what evolves. We all cherish those friends you can call after years of not speaking and know they will pick up the phone, no matter what.
These thoughts kept evolving in the hammock and I began to realize the people I had communicated with over the past few weeks from those different chapters in the book. A text with a guy I went to kindergarten with at Mrs. Kelly’s. Multiple posts in a Facebook group that is comprised of my elementary school classmates.
There was a Zoom call with my Dothan High School friends as we continue planning our 50th high school reunion scheduled for next Summer. We may be tired of Zoom, but how else could I connect with high school friends that are literally scattered all over the world?
I had a telephone conversation with my first college roommate just after a weeklong visit with my second college roommate. Those were some of the most formative years of my life and many of those friendships endure almost 50 years later, no matter where life’s paths have taken us.
I spent this past weekend back at Compass Lake with two couples from Donalsonville. They were the last of our Donalsonville friends to visit Compass Lake before Hurricane Michael and the first to see the restoration after all the damage.
Their visit and our time together reminded Mary Lou and me why we chose to live in this small community for 43 years of our married life. They, along with many others, were part of the fabric of our lives as we raised our children and built our business. We all talked about our grandchildren proving that friendships can extend for generations.
We were at the lake for three weeks, except for one single night when we came back to Auburn for a neighborhood block party. It was just a few hours after we arrived back in Auburn tonight when our neighbors walked over to “catch up”. We talked and laughed on our front porch for over an hour. The current chapter is off to a great start.
As I finish up tonight, listening to the rain yet again, I am feeling good about my book of life. The chapters do not really end so much as evolve. Thanks to friends and the relationships we build, we relive those old memories even as we make new ones.
Old and new memories. Old friends and new friends. New chapters added the book. Just keep reading. I still believe the best is yet to come.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]