The thing that thrills me most about this collection is its ordinariness. Charles Lewis is not a celebrated war hero or even a particular trailblazer. He’s a normal man in a happy marriage, separated from the one he loves. He battles that separation anxiety and loss the only way he knows, by writing to Garnetta –- prodigiously. For every letter in the display cases on the third floor, there are four more in our archives! These are primarily Charles’ letters to Garnetta, who kept each of the letters through the many years between the war and the donation to NURFC. Though some of the letters are Garnetta’s to Charles, I imagine it was much harder for him to keep the bulk of her letters through the many moves required of him during the war, rather than Garnetta not writing to Charles as often as he wrote her.
The lesson I take from Charles and Garnetta’s story is one of perseverance and steadfast love, through the many obstacles life throws at us. Charles served during Jim Crow, and trained in segregated Georgia and Mississippi; yet, his letters are upbeat and focused on his love for Garnetta and his day-to-day life as a soldier -– his despair and frustration are with delays in receiving her letters or with not receiving them! We can all learn a lesson here -- love each other, no matter the obstacles, being solid in that love despite the battering the world gives us.
Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice