All of the years I was in college and law school, I received financial needs aid scholarships. But that money did not pay for everything. Most summers I worked at the Allied Chemical and Dye plant in South Point. My father and my maternal grandfather worked there. But sometimes I could not get on there.
However, I could always work at the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Huntington. The owner and his wife were friends of my benefactor high school teacher and her husband. Loading Pepsi trucks did not pay as well as the Allied Chemical job, and it was harder work, but the job was always available.
I was working there the summer before my last year in law school. The empty trucks started rolling in around 5:30 PM. The beds of the trucks were constructed of shelves, two cases deep on each side. We pulled the cases of empty bottles off of the trucks and stacked them on pallets that the forklifts moved to the washer turntable. The employee running the turntable would pull the bottles from the cases and then place them on the turntable to feed into the washer. Out of the washer, they moved in single file on a conveyor belt past a light where another employee examined them to be sure they were clean enough to refill.
After they were refilled, the bottles came off the conveyor belt onto another turntable where an employee put them into empty cases and stacked them on pallets. Summer nights were hotter than hell in that plant, and the air was always sticky with sugar. After we had finished unloading the trucks, we broke for dinner, about 8:30 PM, then after dinner we reloaded the trucks with full bottle cases. We would usually finish a little after midnight.
During our hour-long dinner break, we usually walked a few blocks to a bar where we drank beer, ate cheeseburgers and fries, and if you left a nice tip, the waitress would let you grind out a slow dance with her.
That summer as I walked down to the bar the first evening at work, I noticed a pretty girl sitting on the front porch swing of a house across the street. I could hear she was listening to music. On the other end of the porch, a middle-aged woman did needle work as she rocked back and forth in her rocker.
One night, soon thereafter, I remember it was warm, the sky was clear, and there was a slight breeze. I saw her sitting there in the swing as she had been the past two nights. I couldn’t walk on. I stopped and, as I looked at her, she turned, looked directly at me, and smiled. I told my friends to go on, crossed the street, and walked over the grass to the porch railing by the swing.
“Hi. My name is Doug. I hope you don’t mind. I just saw you and…what are you listening to?”
“Angel of the Morning.”
“I love that song.”
“Me too. My name is Shawnee.”
“Really?” I looked at her in the sunset afterglow. She had a smooth, soft, tawny skin that was natural, not the result of a tan. Her eyes, almond shaped and grey-green, caught the fading light. Her straight, dark auburn, almost black, hair fell to her shoulders. Her cheekbones were high and prominent. Her lips were full. She wore only a simple thin cotton sundress, pastel pale green in color. Her feet were bare. She wore no jewelry.
“Yes, my mother named me that because I am one-eighth Shawnee Indian on my father’s side, or at least that is what he told my mother.”
“I’m sorry. Is your father dead?”
“I don’t know. I have never met him.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had always been that way with girls to whom I was attracted. So, I did what I always did. I shut down and withdrew. “Well, I’ve got to get back to work. Can I come over and talk to you again sometime?”
“Sure. That would be nice.” She smiled. I felt like she somehow knew what had happened. I felt like she was thinking, “It’s OK. Don’t worry. I understand.”
The next night she was there again. I crossed the street and stood by the rail. We talked. I learned that she had just graduated from Huntington High School and had obtained a job in the women’s shoe department at Anderson-Newcomb. She was saving her money to buy a car for her and her mother, who worked across town at a bakery. I complimented her on her appearance. Actually, her thin cotton sundress revealed, rather than concealed, her toned body. She wore it sensuously, but innocently, with no calculated artifice.
We talked about the best used car for her and her mother to buy. We talked about our favorite songs. Hers was “I Say a Little Prayer.” Mine was “This Guy’s In Love With You.” We never spoke about anything personal. We just couldn’t. It was so awkward with her mother listening to everything we said. Finally, I asked,
“I am off tomorrow night. Would you like to go out to dinner with me?”
I saw Shawnee glance at her mother, who nodded her head “yes.”
Shawnee looked at me, smiled, and said, “Yes.”
I told her I would pick her up at 7 PM.
Friday night, dressed in clean clothes, with a fresh shave and shined shoes, I picked her up in my father’s car that I had spent hours detailing for the occasion. Shawnee looked like a dream. She wore low heel brown leather sandals, a pale pink sundress, and nothing else. She smiled shyly when I held her hand as we walked to where I had parked the car on Third Avenue in front of her house.
I opened the passenger door of my father’s blue 1966 Impala. She got in. I walked around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel. Shawnee smiled at me mischievously then slid across the bench seat until she was sitting next to me. I expected her to ask where we were going to eat, but instead she excitedly confided,
“I have a surprise for you. I will tell you when I get to the restaurant. I can’t wait.”
We drove in silence. I stole glimpses of her. She looked so exotic. She wore no jewelry. It occurred to me that diamonds and pearls would only cheapen the innocent sensuousness of her natural beauty. I noticed her hands, her long graceful fingers, as she turned on the radio and tuned it to her favorite station. I wondered if she played the piano. My mother played the piano. I drove in silence, enjoying her singing with the radio, “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” I thought, how wonderful to be with her.
I am ashamed to admit this now, but before I picked her up, I went to the restaurant. It was one of the nicest restaurants in Huntington, and I tipped the valet to say, “Good evening Mr. Mann” when I returned. I tipped the Maître d’ to say “Good evening Mr. Mann. It is good to see you again. Would you like your usual table?” Lord, I was so stupid. I didn’t realize that I was doing exactly the wrong thing. I was so pleased with myself. Shawnee seemed impressed.
We were seated at a dimly lit table in a back corner. The waiter brought us a bottle of red wine. “Compliments of the restaurant owner, Mr. Mann.” He poured us each a glass then left.
I help up my glass and offered a toast. “To Shawnee, a vision of beauty.”
“I am sorry, Doug, but I don’t drink. I am only 18. How old are you?”
“I am 24.”
“Really. I had no idea you were that old. You should know better than to do what you did.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You can’t afford to eat here regularly. You paid them to say those things to impress me. Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed that you went to all that trouble and expense. But it wasn’t necessary. I like you for yourself. It’s just that simple.”
I was shocked. I said, “I am sorry. It’s just that I really wanted you to like me.”
“I do like you.”
I reached across the table and took her left hand. I pulled it to me, turned it over, and then involuntarily recoiled at the sight of her palm. A round scar the size of a quarter had been burned into the fleshy pad below the thumb. She jerked her hand back and put it down in her lap.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing” she said.
“No. I really want to know,” I demanded.
“It’s not important. It was a long time ago. One of my mother’s boy friends wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do. I’ve forgotten all about it.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” she said. “Here is the surprise I have for you. My mother’s first cousin is the supervisor of the night shift at the Pepsi plant. He has always been nice to me. I guess its because I don’t have a father. Anyway, I am sure that if I talk to him he can get you a better position with more money and less hard work. Wouldn’t that be great? And I was thinking that I could fix you dinner every night and you could eat with me. That would save you money. You need to start thinking about getting ahead. And don’t worry; I will get rid of mother. “
“Shawnee, thank you. That’s very kind.”
I looked down at the table as I hesitated. I knew she was eager to hear my answer, but I also knew it would not be what she had expected. It’s funny what you can instantly realize. Shawnee was a poor, working class girl. Yes, she was smart and she was beautiful, but she was pure and she was innocent. All she wanted was a poor, working class guy to love her and share her world.
I prayed “Dear God. Please.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Shawnee, I don’t need a better job at the plant. I am a rising third year law student at one of the top-rated law schools in the country. This time next year I will be practicing law.”
Shawnee looked at me incredulously. Then I saw it in her eyes. Disbelief turned into belief, followed by a look of horror, then betrayal and sadness. I watched helplessly as she covered her face with her hands and started to cry. Through her tears, she pleaded, “Take me home. Please take me home.”
We left the restaurant in silence. We drove in silence. When I stopped the car in front of her house, I reached over to touch her, but she recoiled from me, flung open the car door, and, still crying, ran across the yard, up the steps, and into the house.
I could hear my father say, “Rich people are not happy. Anyone who has money got it by exploiting the working class. The only purpose of higher education is to obtain a license to steal. If you associate with rich, educated people, they will corrupt you. There are no lawyers in heaven.”
I cried. I thought I cried for Shawnee. Then I realize I cried for me. I had left the working class, but it had not left me, and so I could never be middle class. I was lost. I knew I would be lost forever.
I looked for her the rest of the summer but she never came out onto the porch again. I never saw her again. But I have thought of her often down through the years.
The following is from Vol. 19, No. 2 of The LRE Circuit For Friends Of Law-Related Education In Georgia. Fall, 2007:
"Marlene Melvin, curriculum and activities coordinator of the State Bar of Georgia's new Journey through Justice Program, announces the selection of Douglas Mann of Mann Bracken, LLC, as the recipient of the program's first Docent of the Year Award. Journey through Justice is a four-hour, interactive law-related education experience for kindergarten through high school students.”
"'Mr. Mann has committed to our program since its inception,' remarked Mrs. Melvin. 'In fact, he has generously donated over 105 hours of his time since February.' Mr. Mann demonstrates a unique ability to impart respect and understanding for the judicial process in a creative and inspirational manner. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.’"
Well, I must tell you, it wasn't a lot of work. It was a lot of fun. Most of the children attending the program were African American. They treated me with respect and appreciation. I tried to be worthy of their opinion.
One day the mother of a student attending that day's program approached me and asked me if I would come to her child's school to talk on career day. I told her that I did not feel qualified but was honored she had asked. She said she noticed that the children listened to me and that was all the qualification I needed. I agreed to speak. How could I refuse?
The night before career day, I sat up for hours and thought about what she had said and what I should say to any high school students who might actually listen to me. I knew what was expected of me but I also knew what I really wanted to say.
The school was located in a nice midtown neighborhood. The houses were brick ranches. Looking at the yards, the equivalent of checking out a man's shoeshine, revealed them to be neat and well kept. The school itself was large, brick, of modern design, and practical but comfortable.
Through the many-door entrance, the school opened onto a large, deep foyer. Upper school students milled about, talking. They were all African American. So much for effective integration. The students were all well dressed and appeared to comport themselves respectfully. I was impressed. Signs everywhere provided information about career day.
I thought about how I must look to them. I was an old, at least to them, white man wearing a suit, dress shirt, and tie. I felt conspicuous. I took off the tie and stuffed it into my coat pocket.
When it was my turn to speak, I walked to center stage through a chatter of small talk, but before I could begin, a boy called out, "Hey mister attorney. If you want me to listen to you, tell me how much money you make a year." I saw him sitting near the back of the room, handsome, cocky with a hot girl on each arm. I speculated that he was The Fonz of the senior class. I knew that he was in his element, at the top of his game, but I also knew that he had reached the zenith of his life and would soon and forever, be looking up to view his memories of glory.
I wanted to go whisper in his ear, "See that nerdy kid over there, the one sitting alone, reading his calculus book. Be nice to him. Some day you will be working for him. And when your not-so-subtle Lolitas are but tawdry reminders of their too brief desirability as ripe, low hanging fruit, the nerdy kid will be dating...where is she? Oh yes, back there in the corner, the skinny one in tortoise shell, horn rim glasses. He will be dating her when she is in town between modeling events. And those glasses? They will be all the rage. Every woman from porn stars to European princesses will be wearing them."
Then, I noticed one of the teachers, all of whom were spaced around the room, make a beeline for this kid’s seat. Temporarily forgetting that I was not addressing one of my employees in my downtown Atlanta high-rise law offices, I said to the teacher "It's OK. Let him alone." The teacher stopped, shocked by my audacity. All of the students had turned to look at him. He nodded to me, turned around, and left. They saw that. They turned back to me, expectantly.
Looking directly at the smirking student, I admonished him with a calm, controlled intensity that simulated a full body slam. "Never ask a man how much money he makes or a woman how old she is. It's bad manners. However, are you familiar with the BMW M6?"
He and several other boys and girls responded with vigorous nods. I replied, "It's the blacked out, custom wheeled beast parked right out front, unless it got towed. I parked it in a no parking zone." Some smiled, some laughed, some cheered. Then they all got quiet. I had gained their respect and their attention. They wanted to know what I knew that they didn't know.
I took my time looking around the room, making sure all eyes and minds were on me. They were a good-looking group, well groomed, well dressed, and with that confidence found only in the young. It occurred to me that I was about to address a future mayor of the City of Atlanta.
Then I began, slowly. "I am not going to talk to you about the law or what it's like being a lawyer. You can get all of that from TV and movies. I am going to talk to you about how you can become a lawyer or anything else you want to become.
"It's really basic. It's really simple. You can't lie, steal, or cheat.” I paused and looked around the room again. There was a lot of eye rolling.
"I know you boys think you are tough and tell your friends that you can do the crime and, if caught, you can do the time. You girls think you are too smart to get caught. But you are all missing the real issue here.
"The real issue is not the injury you do to others. The real issue is the injury you do to yourself. If you think you must lie, steal, or cheat to get what you want, then you think that you are not good enough to get it otherwise. You think that you are a loser. And if you think you are a loser, you will be a loser.
"Think about it. Michael Jordan has the ball in his hands. He sees the basket. Millions of nationwide spectators hold their breath. You and they watch in amazement as he swishes the basket for another three-pointer. How did he do that? It's simple. He saw in his mind the trajectory of the ball. He saw it sail through the basket without touching the rim. All he did was throw the ball into the picture in his mind. Swish.
"Stand up straight, look people directly in the eye and smile. Be open and honest. You are a child of God, created in his image and beloved by him. No one has any power over you unless you give it to them. You are a winner. Keep that image before you at all times, in all things, and never ever, never ever, ever give up. Do that and you will be a winner.
"In addition to knowing that you are a winner, it will be helpful to keep an open mind and think creatively. Let me give you an example.”
It seemed like they moved in unison, leaning forward in their seats.
“One day my marketing director excitedly came to me with good news. She had acquired a new client for the firm. The client would provide us with a large volume of work and pay a premium fee. I figured we would need an additional 30 new employees to handle the work. I sent for my HR director. I told him to hire 30 new employees. He said we did not have workspace for even one new employee. We were at max capacity.
"I sent for my bookkeeper. I asked him what was the cost percentage for overhead. He said it was 80% total, broken down into 60% labor and 20% all other. The net profit was 20%. I thought I could rent additional space and still make a profit. So, I called our commercial leasing agent. He said he would get right on it and call back to advise the next morning.
"The next morning, he called back to say there was nothing available. I called an immediate meeting of all department heads. I explained the problem and then asked for possible solutions. There was silence for a while and then one volunteered, as all of the others nodded in agreement, that it was impossible, that it couldn’t be done.
"I quickly and confidently replied, ‘No, I don't believe that. Nothing is impossible. The only question is whether it is cost effective. Now say the first thing that comes into your head. It doesn't matter if it sounds crazy. Just do it.’
"One skinny young man said, ‘Fat people take up a lot of space. Let's fire all of the fat people and replace them with skinny people.’ He got booed but I said, ‘No. That's good. Let's keep going. What else can we do?’
"A young woman spoke up, her voice strained, ‘Well, we have tall ceilings. We could build platforms above the desks and have people work up there.’
"She got booed until they heard me say. ‘Yes. That's it. You have solved the problem. We rent this space and equipment 24/7, but we only work 12/5. I want HR to find me 30 employees who can, and are willing to, work nights and weekends, when we are not normally working.
"And to that young woman, I said, ‘Congratulations. You not only solved the problem, thus retaining a major client, but you turned that 20% profit client into a 40% profit client by eliminating the need for additional space and equipment overhead.’
I looked out at the assembled teenagers, and said, "So, remember. You are a winner. You don't need to lie, steal, or cheat. And, if you also think creatively and never give up, you can accomplish anything.”
As I walked off the stage to weak, sporadic consolation applause, I noticed many of the students talking quietly. About my message? Did anyone hear me? Do I get any karma points if no one heard me? I don't care. If I reached only one, it was worth it. I felt good.
I walked out of the school. It was a beautiful, warm Atlanta day. I got into my BMW M6, which my administrative assistant called the Batmobile. I sat there for a while, thinking back to when I was their age. I thought of Burlington and the many African American friends I grew up with there. We played together and we took care of each other. We were honest. We were black. We were white. We were poor. We were naive. We were blessed. We were so, so blessed. And we didn't even know it.
When they stopped at the edge of the dark forest, the overhead canopy ended and Henry could see ahead a huge rock outcropping protruding out over the Ohio River Valley. The lead brave cawed like a crow and was answered in a similar fashion. But from where? It was then that Henry saw a brave sitting cross-legged on the hanging rock, watching the Ohio River to the east for miles upstream, and the rich forested valley through which it ran. It was the most impressive sight he had ever seen.
Henry understood that the brave on the hanging rock was a lookout sentinel. He thought, What a perfect location on the Ohio River Valley. Their village must be nearby.
The chief was dressed like the other men of the tribe, except that he wore a royal blue, wool coat, trimmed in gold braid. It was probably a gift from a French general. But also by the respect and deference shown to him, he was clearly in charge.
Thanks to the artist, Mary Louise Holt for allowing me to print a copy of her impressive painting, “Ambush from Hanging Rock.” Mary Lou is an extremely talented artist. You can enjoy visiting her website, marylouiseholt.com, where you will find many more beautiful and moving authentic paintings of the Shawnee in southern Ohio, as well as other fine paintings of interest.
ABOUT THE CHURCH
“Randolph what do you think are you doing? We don’t have enough supplies left to feed us until Christmas. Why are you building a church?”
“They worked for our master all of their lives. Upon his death, he set their bodies free. But freedom is fearful. The chains of fear now bind them. All of their lives they have been cared for, but also all of their lives have been structured by work. Now they have no structure, they have no work, they don’t know who will care for them, and they are afraid. I have just given them work. I have given them structure. I have given them hope. Now they will work for the Lord. Their work will set them free.”
During the day, the Macedonia Ridge Missionary Baptist Church appeared slowly growing out of the ground, pushing heavenly as surely and strongly as the risen Lord. Word spread far and wide that the freed slaves, fearless in the face of the coming Ohio winter, were praising the Lord, devoting all of their time to the construction of a church. It was said that Ed Mason was supplying the lumber and nails. It was further said that Mayor Wallace had promised upon completion to adorn it with the best pews and pulpits of any church in the area. It was even rumored that Randolph, the head Negro, had seen angels at the site. Negroes from Burlington and whites from miles around drove their wagons to the top of Macedonia Ridge. They came with all of their tools. They came with all of the food they could spare. They brought their wives and children. They set up tents and lean-to shelters. Under Beulah’s direction, they all sang the Negro spirituals as they worked together. And when they returned home, they emptied their pockets. The church, when finished, was not only debt free, it had $106.35 in the bank.
Randolph had conceived of the church and had ordered its construction to save his people. But what he did not realize was that others wanted to be saved, too. He had unknowingly created a local shrine, the destination of an area pilgrimage. Negroes, whites, men, women, young, and old wanted to be set free by working for the Lord.
On the day of the dedication of the church, Randolph spoke to the gathering of over five hundred. They were expecting a long sermon filled with many Bible quotes, but his sermon was the shortest of his life. He could see the people assembled in the church, and through the open windows and doors, he could also see the multitude assembled outside. He and the five hundred could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of them. When he walked to the pulpit, a hush fell over the crowd and the concentration from those there magnified the Holy Spirit in him five hundred-fold. His walnut skin glistened with a translucent glow. From behind the pulpit, he took a basket and then stepped to the side to show its contents. Inside were five small loaves of bread and two small fishes. The crowd waited expectantly. Then he said simply in a voice that came not from him but through him, with a calm peace that passes understanding, "Go forth and feed God's people."
There was silence as the awesome and mighty power of the Holy Spirit flowed back out of Randolph and into each of the five hundred in full-magnified strength. Some shouted "Praise God." Some cried. Some dropped to their knees and prayed. Then Negro spirituals arose spontaneously throughout the crowd.
That afternoon, many plans were conceived and many promises were made. Not all came to fruition, but enough did so that, as a result of Randolph's six-word sermon, eight other churches were founded in nearby southern Ohio and what was to become West Virginia, and thousands of God's people were fed for years to come.
Thanks to Wikipedia for allowing me to reprint this photo. Please go to the Wikipedia site and find out more about the church.
THE SOUTH POINT PLANT
“In 1942, the Buckeye Ordinance Works plant was built in South Point, Ohio to produce ammonium nitrate explosives for the military. In 1946, Allied Chemical acquired the plant to produce fertilizers. It was a massive living organism, humming, vibrating, and sparkling with lights. It never slept and was constantly attended by hundreds of men who swarmed in, over, and around it like agitated ants.”
Teen Ed Mason worked at the Allied Chemical and Dye plant, Nitrogen Division in South Point, Ohio, as did his father and as did his maternal grandfather. His father was what they called an operator. That was a union job and he was one of the union leaders. His mother's father worked in security. That was a non-union job.
It was during a strike one winter years before, when he was a young boy. It was nighttime. The bonfire blazed high on the railroad tracks outside the locked chain link gates at the rail entrance to the plant. They first heard it and then, when the engineer turned on the light, they saw it. Everyone froze in the headlights as the train appeared out of the darkness inside the plant, gathered speed, and bore down on the gate and bonfire. Then men started shouting and running in all directions. Ed noticed two men running down to the track switch.
It was magnificent. That massive, powerful black beast, pulling an endless stream of loaded cars out of the darkness, burst through the locked chain link gates like tissue paper, scattered the bonfire like a gathering of fire flies, and then derailed. Men ran to the engine where they saw that the engineer was all right and then helped him down to the ground. As they walked him back to the fence, back to the other side, one of the men gave him a drink from a thermos. Presumably coffee.
Later, when Ed worked at the plant, he was assigned to the pebble tower one summer, the highest perch for miles around. The endless view was breathtaking, including the summer night lightning shows. He had been previously assigned to work as a janitor, but his work was not appreciated. He put signs up over all of the urinals: "Please don't throw cigarette butts in the urinal. It makes them soggy and hard to light."
This picture of the plant is reprinted here courtesy of Craig Cox of Cox-Calvin & Associates, Inc. who assessed and remediated the 610 acre Superfund site, receiving a “ready for reuse” certificate from the US EPA in 2004. Thanks, Craig.
Someone recently asked, “If you were raised in Burlington, Ohio and then practiced law for 40 years in Atlanta, Georgia, what are you doing living in Meadows of Dan, Virginia?” That’s a good question.
Years ago, I took a few days off from my law practice in Atlanta and drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit my brother in Meadows of Dan. I stayed here for a few days, and during the stay I looked at a piece of property that was for sale. I was walking the property when suddenly I stopped in shock. For years, a picture of a fenced pasture with mountains in the background had hung in my home office. When I stressed or worried over law practice matters or altercations with my wife, I used to look at that picture and it gave me peace. Why I had stopped in my tracks was because I stood on the exact spot where that picture had been taken. Needless to say, I bought the property, all 32 acres.
After I returned to Atlanta, I was nagged by the question, “Why did you do that?” Then one day I realized “Oh my God! You are going home. YOU ARE GOING HOME!”
That made no sense to me then. Now it does. I was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. All of my people stretching back for hundreds of years were born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. And for hundreds of years, the changes to that area were cosmetic, not substantial. But after WWII, the changes seemed somehow different, somehow larger alterations. But Meadows of Dan did not change. I once asked an area resident how long his family has lived here. He answered, “I am not sure. We bought our property from George Washington’s father.” Another time, I asked an old farmer what it was like living here during the Great Depression. He answered, “We heard a lot of talk about it, but we didn’t really notice any difference.”
Before I built my house, I built a hand-hewn log cabin. I thought I would live in the cabin, enjoy the peace and beauty of Meadows of Dan, and die. I was proceeding according to plan when one icy January day, my brother called and asked me to go down the mountain with him to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, because his wife had a hair appointment and was afraid to drive. I protested that I had on dirty, old work clothes, and, also, I didn’t really want to see anyone because one of my front teeth had been knocked out. Just a minor accident. But he insisted and so I finally agreed.
Because of the harsh weather, Mt. Airy was a ghost town. There was no one on the streets and some of the stores were closed. After going into several stores, we went into a clothing store, called Meadows of Dan Trading Company. It wasn’t too long before I saw her. She literally took my breath away. She was about 5’ tall, had a beautiful face framed by a wild riot of wavy black hair, and was dressed in jeans. She looked perfect, just perfect. I wanted to hide, but I didn’t want to stop looking at her. Her name was Lorrie Riccitello. I learned that she was divorced and owned the store.
Out in the truck my brother said, “Well, what do you think? Are you going to ask her out?” My reply was, “Are you crazy! She’s at least 20 years younger than I am. She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She owns her own store. Why would she go out with me?”
My brother thoughtfully replied, “Well, you’re not too bad looking, you’re smart, you’re overly educated, you’re exotic, and I told her you normally have a front tooth.” Suspicious, I asked, “What does exotic mean?” He replied, “Let’s face it. You’re weird.” We both had a good laugh and then left to pick up his wife.
During the next few weeks, I often thought about Lorrie Riccitello and wished that I were younger, better looking, and had a way with women, you know, like Cary Grant. But I didn’t. That was just wishful thinking. Then one day, I was in the office of a local real estate agent, just talking to him, when she walked in. I got up to leave, but she said, “Don’t go. I won’t be long.” I sat back down, and she sat in the chair beside me. I don’t know how it happened, but after a while, I realized we weren’t talking to the real estate agent, but were talking to each other. Then a little while later, I realized that we had been sitting in front of his desk talking to each other for over two hours. I took a deep breath, summonsed my courage, and asked her out to dinner Saturday night. She said, “Yes.” I said, “I will pick you up at 7.” She countered, “I will meet you at the restaurant at 7.”
I don’t remember what we ate. I don’t remember what we talked about. All I remember is looking up at the restaurant owner who stood by our table when he said, “I am sorry, but you will have to leave. We are closing.”
Years have passed. I still don’t remember what we eat or what we talk about. And she is still too young, too beautiful, and too smart for me. But she makes the sun come up every morning, and when she brings me hot tea she says, “I love you.”
I am home.
Now that I am recognized as a writer, several people have asked me "How does the world appear to a writer? How does your mind differ from that of a non-writer?"
I didn't know how to answer that question until recently. I was talking to a young friend. (He is in his thirties and that is young to me.) He was saying how much he missed his cousin, Mark, who moved to Boston a year ago. I said "I know you miss Mark but be happy that he and Maxie found each other. They are perfect together. Were you there when that magic moment occurred?"
He replied "No. What happened?"
I told him "Well, as you will recall, Mark was managing a restaurant in Roanoke, but he had always been a genius with computers, and so it came to pass that a Boston firm specializing in internet marketing offered him a job for what was an obscene amount of money compared to what the restaurant paid. He took the job, not for the money. He still lives modestly, but for the challenge. You know Mark, so you know what I mean.
Anyway, he really liked the restaurant staff he managed, and so he threw a farewell party at the the restaurant the day he was to leave for Boston. It was a bittersweet occasion. As the party concluded, there were a lot of tearful farewells, except for the one young woman who stood back. Just before he left, he turned and looked directly at her. His eyes betrayed his sadness. His eyes betrayed his longing. She met his gaze for a moment, involuntarily flushed, then quickly turned away.
"He had walked across the parking lot to his car when it happened. Something inside of her fell apart. She started to sob uncontrollably then she screamed out his name as she raced across the parking lot. He turned just before she fell into his arms. He held her tightly, tilted up her face, and kissed her. He said 'I will come back for you.'
"He had loved her from the first day he met her. But she had never shown any interest in him. She was a single mother. She had once completely loved and completely given herself to a man, the father of her little girl. But he abandoned them just before the baby was born. That rejection was so cruel and devastating that she completely walled herself off from everyone except her little girl. That is why Maxie didn't know she loved Mark. She didn't know that she had loved him, too, from the first day she met him. It was only when she was one minute away from losing him forever that a crack, and then a breach, allowed her to push through the wall, fly into his arms, and with her tears and her kiss, declare her love for him.
"True to his word, Mark came back for her and her little girl. They moved to Boston and, as you know, he is so much in love with them that he is obnoxious. I remember I once said to him 'Enough with Maxie and her little girl. Get a life.' He said, 'I have a life and it is perfect.'"
My young friend said, "Mark never told me about that. Is that really true?"
I looked at him thoughtfully before I paused and said,"Maybe."
How many worlds are there? How many realities are there? As many as there have been minds to conceive them. People who are readers are blessed in that they can experience the worlds and realities of others. But people who are writers are blessed in that they can not only share their worlds and realities, but they can also create worlds and realities to share. And if they are good enough you can't tell the difference...or maybe you just don't want to.