Why Are They MAD? A Keepsake Story

Simply transfixed.

Miller and Debbie Harrell explain the meaning behind an old shirt—a very special keepsake.

Miller and Debbie Harrell explain the meaning behind an old shirt—a very special keepsake.

I was simply transfixed as I read Miller and Debbie Harrell's keepsake story at the end of November last year. With all of the fine storytelling elements—passion, love, separation, tragedy, despair, reunion, and resolve—their story is one of those rare love stories that the Hallmark Channel makes movies about. In fact, as I read the words, I saw their lives unfold in my mind's eye like a film. It was quite an emotional ride.

They share the origin of an old t-shirt and all of the memories that flood their minds when they see the shirt. They also submitted a photo of the yellowed tee surrounded by a dozen or more photos of the couple, as if they are cradling a moment in time. You can tell a lot from photos, and the Harrell's photos show two people deeply connected and devoted to one another.

Their story won honorable mention and praise by the judges of the 2014 Project Keepsake story contest. They sent two titles for their story—"The Energy of the Moment" and "Years Have Given Life to the Letters." I like both titles. Which title do you prefer? Leave a comment.

Early in the year of 1982 brought significant change in my life, one you never see coming, especially as a teenager; you think it’s just another day and just another boyfriend.

We met by chance in a passing sort of way in our high school hallway, but we knew something was unique upon first glance. Immediately we became inseparable and the feelings were like nothing else I had ever experienced. I remember thinking “shoot me now,” as I looked into his eyes and felt an instant soul connection. We were, and are, more than just the love of each other’s life; we quickly knew that we are each other’s only love. Something special that transcends time and space.

“You were hauntingly familiar to me when we met. The closer we became the more I felt the sensation that this was not the first time. You were exotic, cosmic and strange, though somehow familiar as your soul, my soul, our soul, was reunited,” (Harrell & Harrell, 2014) are the words my husband, Miller, used when asked to describe our relationship. When I read these words for the first time, it all felt so surreal to hear him describe in almost exact detail the way I feel for him.

Our time together was sweet and special and we couldn’t stand to be apart. It was as if we didn’t need anything else to fill our days, but due to unforeseen circumstances our time together was to be thrown off course. I was sent to live with my dad in another state, and to compound the situation, I found out I was pregnant shortly after the move. My family’s response was to immediately cut off all contact between the two of us, it was devastating!

Dealing with the separation but knowing I had to focus on the baby, I threw myself into being the best mom I knew how to be, trying to eat right, lightly exercising and maintaining as much calm as possible under the stress and strain. All seemed to be good, the baby had a strong heartbeat and by all indications was developing well. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as expected, and by January of 1983 our first daughter had been born, well stillborn actually. I felt as if a piece of my heart died that day, along with any simple teenage innocence that I perhaps once had. Those pregnancy moments that we moms typically complain about, you know the uncomfortable kicks or stretch marks, these are the memories I cherish because they are all I have of my daughter, being unable to give her a name or to hold her. The pain of the losses, our baby girl and the lack of communication with Miller was more than I knew how to bear at such a young age.

I had never felt so alone or empty inside before. It was a time of remarkable transformation for me; I became a completely different person with an entirely new worldview. In the moment of her birth, I learned to never take life or people for granted ever again, there are no guarantees. The loss of our daughter helped me to see how important it is to live in the moment. It brought this idea to light in an exceedingly tangible and incredibly palpable way to me. The desire to express what I feel to those important to me was so intense; I wanted to get lost in that awareness and sensation of love.

In time, I went back to live with my mom and Miller and I were reunited again, but it all had taken a toll on us; we were both wounded and hurting. The fear of losing each other was strong and our desire was to never have to feel the pain of that kind of separation again, so excitedly we eloped during spring break of our senior year of high school. After all that we’d experienced by being separated and in the shadow of the loss of our daughter, finding ways to outwardly show and express our love for each other had become important to us.

As fate would have it, walking through the mall one day as enamored teenagers, an opportunity presented itself in the way of a t-shirt kiosk. They make your shirts on the spot, whatever you want on it, we were ecstatic, so we discussed it and came up with “We’re MAD.”

It was perfect, as people would ask what we were mad about we could share how “MAD”ly in love with each other we were and share that it is also an acronym for our names, “Miller And Debbie.”

Perhaps silly and corny, but that’s us. That t-shirt is worn thin and yellowish in color today, but what makes it sentimental and special will never wear thin. The significance and importance of being in the moment while getting that shirt made is going to always be in my memory, and now what was a simple fun trip to the mall for two lovestruck teens lost in their own world, who had the desire to create a unique gift that only they could share, has expanded into a lifetime of depth and meaning beyond measure.

The threads, seams and special letters of that t-shirt hold the love, energy and memories of years of laughter, tears and joy. To this very day, we still use the acronym MAD in a countless ways; it is very special to both of us. But what no one probably knows is that this t-shirt and MAD brings to mind so many memories and represents so many things to me, the first of course is that special day coming up with the idea for MAD and having the shirt made with my beautiful man. The second is the daughter that we lost when we so very young ourselves, and the desire to honor her memory and to always live in the moment like we did on that fateful day, because that is what she taught me in her very short time on this earth.

In her memory, I will always strive to cherish each and every moment and live life to the absolute fullest every single day. The letters, MAD, have become an “intellectual” keepsake for us now. I look at the t-shirt and those simple letters, and I’m flooded with beautiful memories and reminded to focus on what is really important and to always be grateful. Peace, MAD
— Miller and Debbie ("MAD") Harrell, 2014
16.99 18.99

Miller and Debbie Harrell of Aurora, Colorado describe themselves as two free-spirited soul mates that met in high school and never looked back. They see their daily lives as opportunities to grown, experience and enjoy life to all its fullness. And perhaps they launched the supercouple nickname fad. After all, they created MAD years before Brangelina, Kimye, and Billary emerged as unity names.

Thanks to the Harrell's for sharing their story, and thanks to Beyond Your Blog for steering the Harrell's to my website via their tweet about the Project Keepsake contest.

What about you? Do you have a keepsake story? I encourage you to share your story with family and friends. Share the origins and histories of the most special keepsakes in your possession. Write down the stories that matter. Keep storytelling alive!

To read other stories about keepsakes and the memories they hold, please purchase a signed copy of Project Keepsake by clicking the link on the left. It's on sale now with no shipping and handling charges. And by the way, it's a great gift for a loved one, especially when paired with a keepsake.

If you live in Northwest Georgia, buy from one of these small businesses—Dave & Pauli's Art Emporium in Dalton, Cottage Treasures in Ringgold, Blue Willow Antiques in Cave Spring, The Lighthouse in Calhoun, the Harris Arts Center in Calhoun, or A Gift of Season in Calhoun, and the Payne Farm Vegetable Stand in Lily Pond.