Think Outside the Camera – Letters from Boot Camp

Are there special moments in your life that are missing from your family photo album because they were not captured with a camera?  Often when this happens, I add a snapshot of the person(s) associated with that moment, even though it is not a picture of the moment itself, and journal about the memory.

Recently, I experienced one of these moments.  This moment, however, was a collection of many spanning several weeks that I desperately wanted to preserve for my son.  I had to think outside the box, outside the “camera,” if you will.  I had an idea that I ran by one or two people that said, “Nah.  That would be really hard.”  But hard never stopped me before!

The “moment?”  My son, William, joined the United States Navy and left home for boot camp.  During the next eight weeks, we were only allowed two very short phone calls … one of them less than a minute long.  Most of our communication was through written letters.  A lost art-form in my opinion!  My son is such an amazing writer, telling detailed stories and painting a picture through his words.  When his letters started arriving in our mailbox, the time that my husband I sat together in our now empty-nest as I read William’s letters from boot camp aloud became treasured moments, much anticipated treasured moments.

In addition to the stories of boot camp, he began sharing about letters he had received from family and friends and how they lifted his spirits, giving him renewed energy for the next day.  My mom, his granny, called me one day in tears sharing that she had received her first letter from William and was so excited to read it!

Somehow, someway, I wanted to preserve all these memories for my son.  I wanted to preserve not only the stories sent home from boot camp, but the stories sent to boot camp as well.

I started texting all those that were writing to him.  Grandparents, sisters, aunts, mentors, and friends.  Asking them if they would mind scanning the letters they received from William and sending them to me for this project.  THEY ALL SAID YES!  I was so excited to preserve the letters in a way that would be special to William.

In the few hours we had with our son after his Navy Pass-In-Review (boot camp graduation), he handed me a mesh bag filled with the many cards and letters he had received during the two months in Great Lakes, IL.  He had saved them all!  I was so excited.  My plan was coming together!

I got busy scanning and adding the pictures of the letters in chronological order onto the pages of the photo album.  Both those sent and those received.  I was privileged to read the wisdom offered to William by mentors and friends, and the stories he shared with his friends.  I laughed at so many things, cried at others, and was incredibly blessed by every word!  Ninety-nine pages later, with very few pictures included, “Letters from Boot Camp” was complete.

When the album arrived in the mail, I cried.  I cried again as my son opened the album Christmas morning and a tear rolled down his cheek.  Ninety-nine pages.  Minimal decorations.  Treasured stories.  The pictures?  Simply scanned letters.

I encourage you to think outside the “camera.”  What memories and moments are missing from your family albums?

Carol B. Smith




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52 Responses to Guest Blog: Letters From Boot Camp by Carol Smith

  1. Terry Vachowski says:

    What a wonderful story and idea to make a book for him! So awesome!

  2. Avril Lawson says:

    What a beautiful story Carol, and what a great way to do it. That will be a book of very precious memories for your son.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you so much Avril! I love every album I put together … but this one is very special! Thank you for reading the blog. I hope it has inspired you!

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