The Best Day of My Life
by Lorrie Mann
With an Introduction
by Doug Mann
The morning of October 13 was just like any other morning, or at least I thought so. As I lay in bed watching familiar objects once again become visible in the slowly increasing diffused light, I marveled as always at the gift of life. It is totally inconceivable.
Then I heard the sound for which I had been listening. It was a whispered purr. I turned my head slightly to the left and in the dim light could just make out the vision of a beautiful naked young woman lying on the bed next to me. Was she a dream? Yes, but she was also a dream that emanated a whispered purr. Moving slowly to not awaken her, I inched closer. Damn it. She is a light sleeper.
“Good morning darling and Happy Anniversary,” she said with her typical exuberance that occasionally causes me to wonder if she is otherworldly. From her nightstand she took a handful of rolled parchment, tied with a ribbon.
OMG! I had completely forgotten that six years earlier on October 13 in Paris, we had exchanged wedding vows. I said,
“I have nothing to give you.”
She replied, “I know because you have already given me everything I could ever want. Just stay in bed, read The Best Day Of My Life and I will bring you some hot tea.”
I watched her get out of bed and walk to her clo set --- I never can resist --- and then I read:
The Best Day of my Life
The forecast for the day called for snow. No surprise there since it was the nineteenth of January. The wintry forecast didn't faze me a bit, even though it probably would mean a treacherous and exciting drive down Squirrel Spur Road toward Mount Airy. I have gotten used to driving that curvy mountain road over the years, even in rotten weather, since I have been a die-hard fanatic about having my shop open exactly as the sign in the window says, announcing the store hours. “Ten to six...seven days a week, come hell or high water!”
It has just always really bugged me when I would be standing in front of a business, ready to spend some money, and the front door was locked even though the sign posted in the front window says they are supposed to be open. Twenty years before on the first day I opened my place of Outdoor Lifestyle goods, I promised myself that I would not conduct my business in such a lackadaisical manner. Just not my style.
This day was no different. I pulled on my dark denim jeans, my favorite gray cotton cashmere Henley sweater, the rugged black El Naturalista Spanish boots that lace up the side with the slip proof soles, and the Kuhl black fleece beret that has the interesting blue rickrack around the edge that the Kuhl brand is so well known for. Out the door I go, all geared up and ready to slowly creep down the side of the mountain that I know like the back of my hand. Even so, I give myself plenty of extra time, so I don't feel like I need to rush to be ready to greet any daring and eager customers that might be standing at my door at the designated 10:00 hour.
On a snowy day like this, that is totally wishful thinking, I suppose. Either way, that is how I work and what I believe in, and I just hate to let myself down. I managed to arrive plenty early so that by the time I unlocked the door at 9:59, I had the Putumayo World Music coming through the speakers, the Hazelnut Creme coffee prepared for sampling, and a lighthearted smile ready for any adventuresome person coming to join me in celebrating the awesomely beautiful snowy day.
There is always someone who needs a gift for the birthday or anniversary they came close to forgetting. I imagine this day will be no different. And then there are usually some crazies like myself that simply love the snow and want to walk to town and shop, while stopping to make a couple of snow angels on the way, just for fun. I guess I will never truly grow up, no matter how old I get.
Actually, my plan is never to think or act old, even when I turn 100 many years from now. On days like this, I tend to feel really festive, for some reason. I usually allow my employees to stay home, since most of them are big wimps when it comes to driving in the snow. And it is rare that I get to run the shop all alone, since it is a large and usually fairly busy place. But history has shown that days like this snowy Wednesday, one person working will suffice. I gladly elected myself to be the one.
It gives me the chance to be out front the entire day, merchandising the store and using my magic to create new and interesting displays to inspire big sales. I very much love this part of my business. But I equally love getting to meet and interact with the nice folks who wander through the front door. People, in general, intrigue me, so conversing with them as they sip on the small cup of coffee I offer them as they shop, makes me feel happy. They, in turn, feel welcome and at ease as they move around the store, not quite knowing where to look first as they comment on how it is almost like a museum. So many crazy and fun things to look at.
As I tend to expect on a day like this, I have far more time than usual to create some visual bliss. I simply adore coming up with new outrageous get-ups in which to don the mannequins. The more layers of interest the better. This day I constructed an outfit consisting of a lacy, dusty rose cami peeking out from under a black, tencel tee over an artsy looking, flowy floral skirt. Completing this work of art (if I do say so myself) is a pair of Euro-comfort leather ankle boots. The handmade long copper necklace really pops against the black top. And, as I generally do, I topped the outfit off with an open weave silk scarf from Italy and a locally made velvet cloche topped with a flower the exact shade of dusty rose in the cami. Ah. Why does dressing that lifeless female form in this variety of wearables make me feel as if I just completed a Picasso?
The most satisfying part, however, is when a gentleman walks through the door and says he wants to buy the entire ensemble as a gift to his wife for their upcoming wedding anniversary. Yes! Sold my masterpiece.
So, there I was all alone in my favorite space, my own personal gallery where my creative juices flow effortlessly, when I heard the soft jingle of the small, brass string of bells I placed on the front entrance to alert me as to when I had company, awakening me from my zone. I turned to see two guys coming through the front door, politely stopping on the huge rug to stomp off the bits of snow and ice from their boots. I then recognized one of them to be David Mann, a building contractor that had moved to Meadows of Dan a couple years ago from the Charlotte area. He and his wife had shopped in the store several times, and I had run into them once at a fund raiser at Olde Mill Golf Course.
But on this cold, snowy noontime hour in mid-January, he was accompanied by a man who had a similar look to him. David introduced him to me as his brother, Doug, who had recently moved to the area. As I greeted him and reached out to shake his hand, I felt that warm tingle near my sternum that caused an awareness of something I hadn't felt in a long time. Not giving that initial stirring sensation much attention, I began the normal, friendly interaction that I so much enjoy with my customers.
"Hey, crazy weather today, huh?" followed by general easy, light conversation like that. I gave them each a cup of the Hazelnut Creme and allowed them some space to wander around the store on their own, noticing the worn, but notably expensive, Outback hat Doug wore. Shoulder length blond hair fell below the brim in a bit of a messy heap, as if he had been working outside, shoveling snow, perhaps, when suddenly deciding to go on a jaunt into town. Funny, but I have always kinda’ liked a little bit of a scruffiness on a guy. I find it sort of carefree looking and sexy.
As I gazed at his handsome face, trying not to be too obvious that I felt the sudden urge to study him, I began to focus on the slightly unkempt blond beard coordinating perfectly with the look of the free-falling hair framing his masculine face. Hum, I like. Instead of me being the one to initiate conversation, which is usual with customers, he seemed to be circling me. We began talking about his recent move to Virginia from Atlanta. I had a strange desire to find out more about this guy who suddenly began to warm me from the inside out on this brisk, winter morn.
He began telling me a lot about himself. I was learning much quite quickly about him. He's a lawyer. He is divorced. He went to college and law school at Washington and Lee. He has two giant schnauzer dogs. He drives a new, top of the line BMW 750 and also has a couple of massive pickup trucks. He lives in Meadows of Dan. HE LIVES IN MEADOWS OF DAN! I am incredibly happy to hear that. What on earth is going on with me? I am feeling so light and alive. This guy I just met 15 minutes ago is causing the air pressure in the room to feel different. The oxygen suddenly tastes sweeter as I struggle to push it down into my lungs. My skin feels an odd, goose bump sensation, even though I am not at all cold. In fact, I notice that I feel nice and warm for the first time all day.
As we continue to converse, I see he is missing his front tooth. Well, there must be a story to that. Seems that, since he is a lawyer, he could certainly afford a good dentist. I didn't dare ask him about it, drawing attention to something he might be quite sensitive and embarrassed about. It, actually, added a little more intrigue to the scruffy look the guy presented today, as he daringly ventured down the same mountain road I did. He seemed to have my kind of off-the-wall spirit. But still pondering that missing front tooth, suddenly I am sensing I might be in the presence of a modern-day pirate. 0MG. I am really allowing my imagination to run wild. What is he doing to me?
While I busied myself once again with merchandising, allowing them uninterrupted browsing time, David walked close to me and whispered in my ear, "My brother usually has a front tooth!"
That made me giggle, and I think Doug heard what he said, so I just came out and asked. Doug replied that he was having oral surgery and the post that was installed in his gum had to set before they could attach the tooth. Okay. Well, nothing quite as exciting as a bar fight or getting kicked in the chops by an angry horse, but I like a guy that doesn't sit around crying in his beer just because he doesn't have a front tooth. He has the balls and grit to carry on with life. Made him even more interesting to me.
Geez, they must have stayed an hour or more. I loved every minute of it. As they were preparing to leave, Doug brought a black Outback hat to the counter. I took my time ringing him up, as I really hated the thought of him leaving the shop. As I placed the hat into the dense plastic bag with the Meadows of Dan Trading Company logo, Doug handed me his business card. He said he would love to take me to dinner sometime, and for me to call him and let him know if I would like to have dinner with him. Wow! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
My heart was pounding, and I couldn't wait to call my friend, Brenda, to tell her I had just met someone that I am really interested in. Someone who intrigues me. After they left, I just stood there dazed a bit, pondering the way I was feeling. Every inch of me was so ALIVE. What on earth just happened? Here I had been imagining no customers for the day and that I would just be getting a lot of work accomplished all by myself. Instead, suddenly there was magic in the air. I cannot deny it. I cannot deny the crazy way I felt. I cannot deny that I REALLY wanted to see him again. But since I was brought up that girls never call boys, I was going to have to get creative on how to run into him. Hmm. I will figure something out. I simply must.
I took a deep breath to settle myself down and tried to get back into my merchandising zone. I couldn't get my mind off him. I kept replaying our conversation, thinking of things I wish I had asked him. I kept seeing his eyes and that scruffy hair and beard and missing front tooth. I had no idea at that moment that the pirate-like guy I had just spent an hour with was carrying the most beautiful, size 5, glass slipper. Fit me most perfectly!
And they lived happily ever after.
A young friend of mine recently said he had heard someone say that hell is other people. I told him that I had heard that before and believe that it is a quote from the French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre. Now, despite the efforts of some good schools and brilliant professors, I am not a very well-educated person. And I never studied philosophy. However, I explained to my friend that I believe Sartre was not saying other people are demons. I believe he was saying that if we permit ourselves to be in relationships with others that do not validate us, then our internalization of the ways they respond to us will be hell.
So stop believing that other people are your hell. You are your hell. I told my friend you should not ask, “Why did she do that to me? Why does she treat me that way?” The question you should ask is, “Why did I let her do that to me? Why did I let her treat me that way”?
Other people are not hell. Other people are heaven. God created each of us in his own image and He is there in each of us. Admittedly He is harder to find in some than in others.
When I moved to Meadows of Dan I was divorced and retired. I was not only retired but I was tired. I did not make an effort to become a part of the community. I have never been very social. I was a stranger. I was an unknown. I understood that the people who live here, or “up on the mountain” as the flatlanders say, are a hardy, resilient, and very private people.
Early on I made inquiry of an old woman from whom I bought some daylilies. I asked, “Will it be difficult for me to be accepted here?” She thought a while and then replied, “I married a man who was not from around here. We lived here until he died twenty years later. Everyone always referred to him as the foreigner.” Thinking he must have been from Turkey or Algeria, I asked, “Where was he from?” Her answer: “South Carolina.”
OK. That was it. I didn’t really try. It’s not in my nature, anyway. Then one day a few months after I had back surgery, I drove to the country store to buy two chairs. You know, those sturdy oak Amish rockers. My wife’s parents were coming to visit for a campfire cookout down in the woods. I didn’t think they would be very comfortable sitting on the stumps or the few strategically placed boulders.
I paid the young woman at the cash register and then asked her to have a couple of the boys who worked there to put the chairs in the back of my truck. She said, “The boys are all gone. There is no one here but me. Give me a minute to lock the cash register and I will help you load them.”
About ten minutes later, she had one side of a heavy chair, I had the other side, and we were slowly making our way across the parking lot to my pickup truck when we heard a local Christmas tree farmer yell out, “Stop. Stop. Put that down. Let me help. I’ll get it.” The girl and I sat the chair down immediately, and as he ran up to us, she said, “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he said. “I was talking to him. He just had back surgery. You pick up the chair. Let’s go.”
On another occasion I was climbing into my truck at a garage where a local mechanic had just completed the required annual inspection. “If there is anything else you need, just let me know.”
“I think all of my vehicles are up-to-date, but thanks anyway.”
“No. That’s not what I mean. If you need a sofa moved or something heavy loaded, just call me. I’ll come do it.”
Last week I went to have my hair washed. Yes, I indulge myself once a week. I haven’t been walking too well recently. X-rays show severe arthritis in the left hip.
As I was getting out of the car, the woman who owned the shop came running out to me. Apparently, she had been standing at the door, watching and waiting for me. She put her arm around me and said, “Now you put your arm around me, and we will walk in together.”
Just a few days ago a local woman made a quilt for me. It’s a beautiful quilt. It is a gift that took her many hours of work. It was a gift money didn’t buy, a gift money couldn’t buy. It made me cry.
All of my life I have given to others and helped others out of gratitude because I have been so blessed. I have so much more than I need. But I have always refused help from others. I have always felt like the lines in Wayne’s World: “I am not worthy. I am not worthy.” I was just lucky.
But my wife, the smartest person I have ever known, has been changing my attitude. She tells me, “You are worthy, but I know you will never believe that. So, what I want you to remember is that when you let other people help you, that makes them feel good. It makes them feel just a little closer to God. Don’t let your macho ego deny them that feeling. You are a better man than that. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. Help them. Help them by allowing them to help you.”
So, as I told my young friend, hell is not other people. Heaven is other people. Hell is you. To paraphrase a famous song: Think. Think. Think about what you are trying to do to you…