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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Nearly two years after selling our company, our family is resolved to open every drawer, empty every filing cabinet, and purge ourselves of all the unnecessary “stuff’ we have accumulated during the past 44 years. The target date is the end of 2020, just three weeks away.

In the past two years, following Hurricane Michael, Mary Lou and I have moved furniture from two homes we sold, and moved into a new house in Auburn. Boxes have been packed and unpacked. Furniture has been moved once, twice, and even three times.

Just as the end of the tunnel seemed near, we realized that the last 10 percent of the “stuff” at our office and shop needed to be disposed of, once and for all. In some ways, this is the hardest exercise of all. I have delayed decisions about what to keep and what to toss on the difficult things, sort of like kicking the can down the road.

As we opened the boxes that had been put off until the very end, we have been rewarded by some of the most unexpected treasures. How do you throw away a letter from your former fraternity housemother that was sent when she was 91, almost 40 years ago?

Over time, the strangest things have wound up in the boxes, closets, and storage buildings of Ponder Enterprises. I have no idea how I came to be in possession of the 1917 annual catalogue of Donalsonville High School, and the 1920 edition as well.

I recovered an autographed baseball from the 1954 professional team in Donalsonville. I remember purchasing it in an online auction because it was the year I was born.

I had the opportunity to review what is likely the single largest collection of Hardee’s memorabilia in the world, which includes 42 unique coffee cups with the Hardee’s logo. Hundreds of items with nowhere to go but with a lingering memory of each purchase.

Old political signs, lots of them, from my first race for the legislature remained neatly stacked in a warehouse, apparently in the very unlikely case I would choose to run again.

Photos appeared at the bottom of drawers, including my oldest child, Catherine, being held by her namesake great-grandmother, Catharine. Elizabeth and Catherine as kids, the way part of me will always remember them.

Photos of President Jimmy Carter visiting the Webb House before it became our office. Pictures of Charlotte Thomas Marshall as a small toddler at her home, which later became the Annex to our offices. Four generations of the Hay family, which owned our office before the Webb family.

There was a collection of the handbooks of the Donalsonville Garden Club and the Donalsonville Woman’s Club, both going back for decades. The original Seaboard Coastline Railroad sign from the old depot, along with the tool cabinet that was the only original piece of furniture left in the depot when we bought it from the railroad.

Many of these treasures will be donated to the proposed local museum, which will hopefully give pleasure to citizens and visitors alike.

At the same time, the shredder has been working hard destroying things that no longer have a purpose in my life. Old lawsuits by people trying to make a quick buck the easy way. Legal files, payroll files, and construction files. Bank loans that were paid off thirty years ago. They were part of the fabric of our corporate life, which usually included much more than cooking burgers. Good riddance to the unglamorous part of running a big company.

My wife, Mary Lou, thinks I am a hoarder, only half in jest. I view myself as a historian, clinging to the building blocks of my journey, remembering the moment that each one played as I moved through life.

It is finally that time, however, to let it all go. I am embracing my new life, remembering fondly my old life, and letting go of all the “stuff” that I thought I could not part with, but which in fact has gradually become clutter.

Nevertheless, the painful final parting of 44 years of memories gave me a chance to revisit so much of why I loved Donalsonville and Southwest Georgia. I still love this place, and all the people, friends, and associates that touched my life along the way.

Parting with my remaining treasures has not been easy, but it has been rewarding. Thanks for the memories, and if you need a Hardee’s coffee cup, let me know.