August mornings in the south are warm even at 6:00 AM, so the windows were down on the late model sedan speeding along the curving country road. The woman sitting behind the steering wheel let her short curls blow and swirl about her face as she hummed along with a familiar tune playing on the radio. Pale blue light filtered through the tall pines - bathing a dew shrouded world with an ethereal glow. Now and then the sweet perfume of Night Jasmine and Morning Glories drifted in the open window; and she would inhale - savoring the aroma. A sense of home invited visions of the past. Memories of all the days and events that defined her life flashed across her mind like snapshots from an old family album. She felt content...at peace; yet a whisper of melancholy shadowed her sense of serenity.
"Things have changed so much," she said on a sigh as she began a conversation with her passenger. "My place is beginning to look like somewhere else." For some reason she felt betrayed by this fact, as though her life no longer mattered. The notion that she didn't seem to fit her life anymore was troubling and a little uncomfortable. "I guess I just miss the land of my childhood...the way it used to be...before there were so many houses...but...life and the world change. I guess we just have to remember to be thankful for the good things...Right?" She asked her passenger.
"Yes. Absolutely." Her passenger responded. "However, it seems that most of the time we miss the fact all of our days are seasoned with good. We just have to pay attention in order to notice and appreciate that truth."
She nodded her head in agreement. After a short silence she said, "You know summer vacation will be over in three weeks and all the kids will be back in school. Yesterday I would have said I was more than ready...I was just so tired," she confessed in a whisper. "Taking care of children is harder than it used to be. My heart is willing, but my body isn't. The truth is I would rather not be a player anymore. I just want to sit on the sidelines and watch the game...or maybe take a nap." She felt guilty saying that because she had never allowed herself to just be an observer in her own life, or take a nap just because she felt like it. There was always so much for her to do. Now she wondered if she had missed something important along the way.
"I think about my life sometimes and wonder if I made the right choices...you know...did I follow God's plan for me or did I just plow ahead pulling choices out of a grab bag never thinking about my destiny?" She ask the question with a note of concern because she knew she had never even considered the possibility of having a destiny other than the one she was living.
"Do you ever wonder if your life is the life you were supposed to live...I mean are you fulfilling your destiny...the one God intended for you?" She asked and glanced over at her passenger.
Her passenger paused for a moment. "I guess I probably wondered about it once, but then I figured if life had been different than what it is, I would probably still at some point ask the same question. However, I feel certain that ultimately everything will be as God intended no matter what we do."
" Oh, I suppose you're right." She said and for a moment thought about her passengers words. "I think - for the most part - I have always tried to make sure that God was in the center of all my decisions, but I know I failed - a lot. I Guess that worries me a little, " she confessed with a slight shrug of her right shoulder.
The morning sun was beginning to crest the pines and bright shards of light pushed through the trees and illuminated the gray asphalt ahead, 'It's a new day, with new possibilities.' She thought, and not for the first time; still it was comforting, sort of like and old friend.
"That is one of my favorite songs." She suddenly announced. I love this station. They play the old stuff - when music was music. I remember when this one was popular. I danced to it with once a tall stranger. He smelled of men's cologne and Wriggley's Spearmint gum. He wore a soft blue sweater that made me feel at home as we danced. I never saw him again after that dance, but I have never forgotten him, Isn't that strange?" She assked with a slight shake of her head as though puzzled by the memory.
"Have you noticed how blue the sky is and how green the trees are today?' She asked as she ducked her head to look up under the windshield. "And did you see all the yellow buttercups along the road side as we passed? I don't remember seeing them yesterday. Of course the car was full of kids auditioning for Barnum and Bailey's," she laughed. "I was a little distracted."
"Do you know that early morning is my favorite time of day?" She asked her passenger as she turned her head briefly to the right.
Her passenger, who had been silently watching the expression of delight on her face, smiled.
"Yes I do know that about you."
"Early morning is such a beautiful time of day. I love the mist that sometimes hovers like a dream over the woods and pastures - diffusing the warm glow of dawn and softening the edges of reality. Everything feels so fresh and new...it's almost like a rebirth." she breathed in awe. "It is the only time I feel real, as if my being is not an accident of some kind. Does that sound strange? My mother once told me I was strange. She was always telling me to 'get my head out of the clouds'. I was such a day-dreamer. Maybe I was a little strange. I always felt different...out of place, but not on the outside looking in as people say but rather trapped on the inside looking out...not really part of the world I was observing...like an Alien in the wrong skin. See - my mother was right - I am strange.
Suddenly her eyes fixed upon the scene passing on her left. "Well my goodness,"she exclaimed, "the old Murry place is burned to the ground. When could that have happened?" Not really expecting an answer she continued. "I know the place was ancient - barely a pile of sticks, but...it had a story." And that story washed over her mind like the flood waters over Seven Bridges back in 56.
The Murry house was the highlight of Halloween for most of her childhood. Every year a group of neighboring kids would meet up in front of Ed Bickels feed store around six o'clock then walk the quarter of a mile to the Murry place. Along the way they would try to outdo each other with scary stories and silly pranks. When they got there they would stand in front of the house and try to remember whose turn it was to knock on the door. She would always volunteer. For some reason the old woman who answered the door seemed more endearing than scary. The wrinkled face framed by long gray hanging past her stooped shoulders might look like a witch to the rest of the kids, but just reminded her of her grandmother. Mrs. Murry would stand in her door wearing an old frayed dress, leaning on the cane in her left hand and clutching a few peppermints in her right as she extended it forward with a toothless smile. The smell of warm smoke and Vick's Salve would seep past the door, pulling her closer to the old woman. She would return the smile and say thank you before turning and walking away. The memory brought a smile to her lips and a sad - sweet longing.
The others however, had convinced themselves that she was a witch and might turn them into a hoot owl, like she did Little Dicky Summers one Halloween. Everyone knew the story was true, because after Little Dicky disappeared a hoot owl flew into the Summers' barn and lived there for years. It was told that old man Summers would go into the barn everyday and talk to that old owl... he even called it Dicky...well...that was the story the kids liked to tell. The truth was little Dicky just disappeared one Halloween night - never to be found - at least not for seventeen years. His skeletal remains were discovered after a torrential rain storm washed them up in Gilly's pasture.
George Gilly was a solitary man - a troubled man, without family or friends. He did not like company or trespassers, and he was known to chase people off his property with his prized Gewher 43 rifle - a souvenir from the war. Even so, everyone was shocked when he shot himself in the head one year to the day, after Little Dicky disappeared.
Now - Little Dicky was not little at all. He was a 200 pound, 6 foot tall, 14 year old boy who was mentally challenged. Normally Dicky was easy going and compliant, but he could be hard to handle when he had his mind set on something. Halloween was usually a bad night for old man Summers, because Dickys' love for candy always created some sort of scuffle and a call to Sheriff Whitaker.
When Little Dickys' remains were discovered and the investigation was over, Sheriff Whitaker's official statement was that Gilly was probably having some sort of flash back from the war when little Dicky knocked on his door dressed in a Halloween costume. Gilly tried to run him off and Little Dicky probably began to behave badly. Gilly, already confused and scared, shot him thinking that he was the enemy. He buried little Dicky out in the pasture hoping no one would ever know what happened. But Gilly couldn't live with the guilt and shot himself in the head with an old German Luger he always kept close at hand. It was all so tragic.
"Do you remember little Dicky Summers, and how all the kids thought for the longest time that Mrs. Murry had turned him into the hoot owl that lived in the Summers' barn?' She asked.
"Yes." Her passenger replied softly. "That was a very hard time for Mr.Summers, and a sad time for Mrs. Murry. Mrs Summers and Mrs. Murry had been best friends since they were children, and she was very fond of Little Dicky. She knew that all the kids called her a witch and believed that she had turned him into a barn owl." Her passenger turned slightly toward and continued. "Sometimes it would make her cry, but every night she would say a prayer for each and everyone of you."
"I didn't know that." She said and wondered why that was true.
"There is Blue Creek," she said distractedly. "Have you ever wondered who named all the creeks in this state, and why they gave them the names they did?" she asked, and then declared with an air of disbelief "There is nothing blue about that creek."
Her passenger turned to look at her with an amused expression and softly chuckled.
She glanced briefly in her passenger's direction with a quizzical narrowing of her brows as she drove on in silence - her mind trying to sort out...something...something that refused to materialize before evaporating into the sun like the morning mist.
"It's funny the things you remember and the things you forget as time goes by. Some things I thought I would always remember, but I didn't; and some things I hoped to forget, but they are still stuck in my mind like old scars that have become the symbols of passage from one part of life to another. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yes." He passenger replied. " I believe the parts of life that are difficult and painful are the parts where you grow. They prepare you and teach you that life is fragile and fleeting - a precious gift not to be wasted. Your scars should remind you to be grateful that you have been given a another chance."
"What a lovely way of saying that the pain in life should be a positive experience and not a negative one." She acknowledged with a little grin.
"I remember a day when I was about eight years old and we were visiting my great aunt Shug. The adults were setting on the porch chatting with each other. For some reason Aunt Shug called out to me, but instead of calling me by name she called me spider legs, I was rather skinny at that age. I was also devastated. I loved my Aunt Shug, I could not understand why she would she be so unkind? I immediately fell upon the ground kicking and screaming. I threw a tantrum that embarrassed my parents and made my aunt feel ashamed. When I stopped and looked up at her face I saw the hurt in her eyes. Suddenly I became ashamed. I learned two very good lessons from that little experience. One, is not to take yourself so seriously that you are easily offended, and the other is always think before you act, because you can't undo what's already been done."
"Yes I remember that day." Her passenger said.
"You were there? Why don't I remember that? " After a moment she shook her head and said, "Oh well, I really don't remember everyone who was there that day."
She pulled the car into a parking space in front of a gray brick building. "Here we are," she announced as she unlatched her seat belt, and got out of the car. She stood and looked at the front of the building as she waited for her passenger. "This is really strange. I can't imagine why we need to be here."
Her passenger stepped closer and took her hand. "Let's go inside and maybe it will come to you."
"OK." She agreed reluctantly.
She walked hand-in-hand with her passenger into a rather cool beautifully furnished room, through a set of double doors, and down an isle toward the front of another room. At the end of the isle was a white casket surrounded by an assortment of lovely flowers. They came to a stop and looked at the woman nestled peacefully within the white crepe interior. She was an older woman. Her hair was partially gray, and her face was laced with the lines of many years.
She studied the woman's features for a few minutes. They were familiar - like the image of someone she knew long ago, in an old faded and worn photograph. Recognition dawned gracefully and her eyes slowly traveled from the woman's face to the eyes of her passenger.
"When?" She whispered.
"Wednesday afternoon at one twenty three."
"But I don't remember knowing about it," she said.
"It will come back to you," her passenger kindly assured her.
"At one twenty three." She repeated and paused to remember. "I was taking a nap...oooh," she said on a knowing breath. "I didn't wake up did I?
"No, not as you once understood it, but you are awake."
"Yes," she greed. "I am awake, but..."
"I know. Tt's time for us to go now."
Her passenger took her hand once more as they turned away from the casket and began to walk back toward the double doors; but suddenly she paused at the end of a pew and looked at the tear stained faces of the men,women, and children seated there.
"Will I miss them?" She asked her passenger.
'No, you will not miss them, for you will never be far from them, just as I have never been far from you."
She looked at her passenger and smiled. "Yes, you have always been with me."
She moved away from the pew and continued toward the doors with her passenger.
"This truly is a new day, with new possibilities," she said, marveling at the wonder of it all, and the discovery of her true destiny as she walked into the brightest light she had ever seen knowing that true life was just beginning.
This little story is one I started several years ago and could not finish because I could never see the passenger - untill recently. Well, here it is my amazing forever friend. I hope you like it because I am dedicating it to you. Sorry it took so long.
For Judy with Love.
The names and events in this story are fictional although some may be inspired by real life situations.