Donna Murray Hines

You Are Loved

    My “Gus” story may seem a little strange and I guess in some ways it is.  I am 35 now, have lived all my life in Russellville, Alabama.  When I was 18, the summer I graduated from Russellville High School, I saw an article in the Franklin County Times, which Gus worked at when he was a teenager.  The article was about Gus and Full Metal Jacket and said if anyone from his old hometown remembered Gus to drop him a line.  I cut the article out of the paper and kept it on my dresser for days, contemplating writing to a man I didn’t know, but found intriguing from just a short article.  The fact he was from Russellville and he had written books was the initial attraction to writing him.
    So finally one day I did just that.  Days later, I received a three page letter back.  That is how it started.  Then I got another letter….so I wrote him back.  We began writing weekly.  At the time, I worked at my mother’s small video store, and Gus would call me at 9pm on the nights I worked, when I would be closing the store, and stay on the phone with me, saying it was dangerous for me to be there alone at closing time.  He would give me time to get home and call to see if I made it okay.  He always called, or if he was going to be away, he would call me earlier to tell me.  Gus was extremely caring…he sent me gifts, cards, and we talked on the phone frequently.  For seven years.  He kept planning to come back to Alabama, to visit Shiloh again, and was amazed I had never visited Shiloh, and said he’d take me.  He offered me a plane ticket to California…but I couldn’t get away.  Looking back I wish I had.  There always seems to be “more time” in our lives and we forget that more time is never guaranteed.  When he moved to Greece, I remember he’d be packing as we talked on the phone.  He said he’d be back…but I never dreamed something would happen to him there.
    I began to worry when I got my last postcard from him in November before he died.  I just figured he was busy writing, but I still worried.  Of course later I learned he wasn’t doing well.  The way I found out that he had died was the same way I first come to meet Gus….that same little local newspaper.  My mother had called me early that morning and ask me had I seen the paper.  I ran outside and picked it up and couldn’t believe I was reading his obituary.
    For the seven years we had been talking, he never told me he had any health problems.
    As I sit here writing this, I can still hear his voice, his funny laugh.  For months after he died, if my phone would ring around 9pm at night, for a split second I would think it was him.  I had a video tape Gus sent me of himself, and I had put it in the VCR one day and it unraveled.  It was ruined.  I cried.
There was one bittersweet moment when the mailman delivered boxes from Gus’ brother, some things that he had in Greece with him, and I unwrapped a clear paperweight with Gus’ name on it, that I had given him years before.  I noticed Gus had put a clear piece of tape along the bottom of it, to keep his name protected.  I’ve had it on my desk ever since.
    Gus’ grave is only about a thirty minute drive from Russellville.  I stop by whenever I’m out that way, and I do think his headstone speaks the truth….”You Are Loved”.

Written by Donna Murray Hines
Russellville, Alabama
May 2004

Donna Murray Hines, 35, lives in Russellville, Alabama.  She and her husband, Shawn, own Hines Tire Center in Florence, Alabama and have a small Llama farm.  They have five children, three boys and two girls.

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