Two Months Today...

Sometimes you've just got to wander...

My friend, Ellen, and I set off this morning for the outer reaches of Siler City. We were off to see the Fruitcake Lady at Southern Supreme. That's where Ellen goes every year to buy fruitcake...and loads of other yummy goodies.

And she gets lost every year, which drives her nuts because she goes EVERY year and grew up nearby, so she figures it shouldn't be that hard...

We made it as far as the landmark with the insurance company and somehow, the right road just wasn't there.

Maybe it was because we were talking about our sons and how on earth we were going to let go of them next year when they leave for college. And what we would do without those boys to mother.

I offered to share my youngest with her but it's not quite the same as having your own, right there, on site so to speak.

When the railroad signal arms fell down over the tracks and we realized the road on the other side wasn't a road, well...we decided to take a possible shortcut.

But we were talking about finding inner happiness, which really did have something to do with the Fruitcake Lady because she started baking fruitcakes in her garage (which isn't where I keep my oven, but then, who am I to judge?) She loved making fruitcakes and people loved eating them, so by doing what made her happy, she became successful.

This took us through a small town so tiny it only had a building that used to be a store/post office and on into outer Bear Creek where a red tin-roofed building seemed to appear out of nowhere in a field.

"Oh good," Ellen said. "No tour buses. Usually there's tour buses and the place is packed. I only see one church bus."

Which meant the line for the restrooms was only 4 deep with little blue-haired ladies moving v-e-r-y slowly. We scandalized them by using the Men's room. "It's really not like most men's room's," Ellen explained to the ladies still waiting as she emerged. "It's clean and doesn't smell too bad at all."

I don't know if this swayed them. We were already moving on to the Tasting Room.

And I would tell you all about it except that Southern Supreme was by no means the highlight of our day.

See, Ellen and I were both born on August 8th. We share the same first name, even though she goes by her middle name, and we share the same skewed view of the world as well as an inability to have one conversation at a time.

We always have two or three stories going at a clip and happily skip from one to the other just as we rove from one spot to the other. So it made sense to turn out of the parking lot in the opposite direction from where we'd arrived.

"You're not in a hurry, are you?" she asked.

Which is how we came to wander every back road Ellen could find on our way from Caswell county to Guilford county. Along the way, Ellen opened a treasure chest full of memories, characters and stories as she seems to know something about every old house out in the country.

We ate lunch at a great diner called Brownie Lus (I think) where the artificial Christmas tree was already up and trimmed with white hand-crocheted ornaments. The regulars all got kidded by the waitresses and we got called "Hon." The barbecue sandwich was terrific even if the man sitting behind me did seem to have T.B or some other consumptive ailment that caused him to hack and gasp for air every few minutes.

But of course by then we were talking about hypercritical parents who ride their almost-perfect children and other parents who seem to forget they even have children and what we'll do for Christmas and how Thanksgiving went without Dad.

We were back in the little red truck and headed back out onto the open road by 12:30. I know this because I looked at the clock and suddenly realized, Dad died exactly two months ago that very minute.

I started to say this to Ellen but didn't. I mean, what do you say? "My dad died this very minute two months ago?" Well, yes, probably I should have, but then what do you say? I didn't even know exactly what I thought or how I felt about it. So I let it stay with me for a little while, sitting between us like a quiet visitor.

We drove through the warm autumn day with Ellen telling one character's story after another. There was Junior Jones, (or some name like that with two J's) who made his fortune first in a rock band and then by digging a big hole which he filled with water, added a water slide at one end and called Lake Juno. It made possible the wild hacienda-styled ranch house he erected in memory of his beloved Mexico and the winters he spent basking in that country's warmth.

Ellen told about an old woman who lived in the lonely wooden house we passed near a crossroads in the middle of a nowhere cornfield. According to local lore, this old lady would stand at her bedroom window late at night and stare out at the nearby cemetery. If she saw a light, she watched, waiting until it came to rest on a family's plot. She said the light was foretelling the death of someone.

Of course, Ellen and I had to wonder if the old lady saw the light land on her own family's plot, and if so, did she have time to tell anyone or did she just wake up dead?

Ellen's stories washed over me, coloring the already beautiful afternoon with the warmth and affection she has for the place and people of her old hometown. Somehow the pang of acknowledgment of Dad's death eased as Ellen told her stories. They were like a salve and I didn't figure out why until this very moment.

Ellen was remembering...those who went before and those who were still living but who had rich and colorful pasts...She was not forgetting and in not forgetting she was unconsciously pointing out the truth of memory.

Marking the passage of time after someone dies doesn't diminish or add to their importance or worth in our lives. The people we love will always linger in our hearts.

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