On three pieces of United States Navy letterhead, with its golden anchor in the top left corner, Bernard Mimms poured his heart out to the woman he loved.
He wrote about waking up at 3:30 every morning. About marching. And marching. And marching. About the beautiful California weather. And about missing friends back home.
He wrote about missing her.
“Sometimes it seems like I am not going to make it. But when that feeling gets in my heart, I just stop and pray.”
At the bottom of the letter, with red and black ink in his script of all capital letters, were the words:
REMEMBER MY LOVE!
He dated it 17/Sept-85, and postmarked it to Laura, his Nashville sweetheart.
Exactly 31 years later, he would marry the recipient of that letter.
But much would happen in between. The childhood loves would move apart, lose touch, marry other people, have kids.
And then, after not talking for more than two decades, they would reunite.
And fall back in love.
The story begins with two cousins and a football game in the field of a Nashville housing project.
Bernard Mimms grew up on a little cul-de-sac just outside the Gulch called Southside Circle.
An only child, “Wasn’t nobody at my house except me,” Bernard says. “That’s why I wanted to hang out with my cousin.”
On Saturdays, he would ride his 12-speed blue bicycle to the housing project where his cousin lived. The aunties there would make hamburgers. All the boys from the neighborhood would play football in the big field outside.
One weekend, a gaggle of girls also roamed the yard. One caught his eye. Dark haired with bright eyes, she wore jeans and a lavender shirt.
“I asked her cousin Ralph, ‘Who’s that?’” Bernard recalls.
“Aw, that’s just Laura,” his cousin responded.
But this girl seemed like much more than “just Laura” to Bernard. Finally, he got up the nerve to talk to her.
“Hello, I’m Lamb,’” he said, using the shortened version of his childhood nickname Lamb Chop.
He learned a little more about her. She was 9, to his 12. She lived in West Nashville and went to a middle school across town, but she visited her great aunt Ms. Peggy’s house on occasion. That great aunt, it so happened, lived right next door to his cousin.
After that, he didn’t know what weekend Laura would be there, but he tried to be there every weekend he could.
“I really loved her,” Bernard says, “Even as a kid.”
When he got his first car, he didn’t need to run into her at his cousin’s house anymore. He got her phone number, and they started dating.
When he graduated in 1985, he asked her to marry him. Of course, she was just starting high school at Whites Creek.
“We’re too young,” she said. “We’re just kids.”
She was right, Bernard agreed.
So, instead, he pursued another life-long love — airplanes.
Bernard’s dad was a conductor for the L&N Railroad, and Bernard grew up fascinated by trains and airplanes. He went to his first airshow in Smyrna at age 5 where he saw Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and everything else in the sky.
In high school, playing tailback for the McGavock High School football team, his eyes would sometimes stray from the field to an airplane crossing overhead. He could tell what kind it was by the vapor it left.
He wanted to fly fighter jets.
So after graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and headed to San Diego for pre-flight school. Laura was 2,200 miles away, but still close to his heart. He wrote her just that. But, as time passed, Laura’s letters became less frequent. She was moving on.
In one of his last letters to her, Bernard made a final plea: “I hope that you won’t forget me and remember that I do love you. Take care, and good luck in the near and far future.”
Time moved on for both of them, and life happened.
Laura moved to Texas, she married her college boyfriend, she and Bernard lost touch. He would visit her at her great-aunt Peggy’s when she came back to town, but eventually, he too found someone else.
When they reconnected again, 20 years had passed.
Laura was going through a divorce and had started a job with a company that had contracts with Metro Nashville Public Schools. The job required her to be in Nashville a lot.
On one visit home, while antiquing with her Great Aunt Peggy, Laura said: “I want to try to reach Bernard.”
“Well,” Ms. Peggy replied, “I will make that happen.”
Bernard, who had been discharged from the Navy after an old football knee injury prevented him from finishing pre-flight school, was now an engineer for CSX Railroad. He had just gotten off the train on a run to Chattanooga when his cousin called. He, too, was in a rough patch of his marriage. His job required him to be out of town a lot, on call at any moment of the night.
He was staying in the Days Inn that night. It took three calls before Bernard finally picked up the phone.
“Cuz, are you sitting down?” his cousin said.
“What’s wrong, man, who died?” Bernard said.
“What? No one,” his cousin said. “Someone is looking for you.”
“Who’s looking for me?”
He couldn’t believe it. “You give her my phone number,” he demanded.
Of course, he didn’t expect to hear from her, but 20 minutes later his phone rang again. On the other end of the line was Laura. They talked two hours that first night, and then again the next day.
Two decades had passed, but they had been through a lot of the same things.
“I was so broken,” Laura said. “And as I began to pray I knew I wanted to be in Nashville with my family in their circle of support. But I also thought of someone who loved me before. Who didn’t love me because of what I had accomplished or what I could do for them, just pure innocent love.
“And the person I thought of was Bernard.”
When they finally saw each other, Bernard felt like a little kid again.
He proposed to her on his birthday at Stoney River. “Life is too short to be unhappy,” he said. “This is meant to be.”
So it seemed.
Not long after Bernard proposed, Laura’s mom was cleaning and found some of her daughter’s things from high school — including three love letters from the Navy, still in their envelopes.
The last dated 17/Sept-85.
“That is our wedding date,” Laura said to Bernard.
They got married at Sinema restaurant in Nashville on Sept. 17, 2016. They walked in along a red carpet. She wore a ruched ivory dress, her dark hair cascading in rings down past her shoulders. He had on an all-black tux with a gold bow tie. One of Laura’s cousins sang “At Last.”
That’s when Bernard knew it was true.