Chapter 36: Since I Last Saw You
“Hope is the dream of a waking man.” ~ Aristotle
July 1-15, 2013
Mobile, Alabama, wasn’t a city that Ali had ever imagined visiting. It’s not that she’d purposely steered clear of it, she’d just never had a reason to consider it before. She realized that she knew nothing about it, really, other than the tales of racial strife back in the sixties, which had undoubtedly skewed her perception. She was about to find out what the city was really like, as she delivered a letter to another of her Georges, Rochelle Bremmer.
Ali arrived in Mobile on July 1st, anxious to escape the ninety-one degree heat and check into The Kate Shepard House in midtown Mobile—another wonderfully unique, vintage home, transformed into an inn. Earlier, when scouting pet-friendly B&Bs online, she saw the photograph of The Kate Shepard House owners, Bill and Wendy James, posed with their Chow Chow, Koa Bear. If this place isn’t pet-friendly, she thought, no place is.
Originally built in 1897, it was incredibly ornate, as befits a Queen Anne style Victorian home. Ali knew she was likely to spend several hours happily examining all the intricate features. Then, there was the added bonus of a treasure trove of historical documents that the James’s had discovered in the attic when they purchased the home. Most were dated from the 1800s, and the collection included rare Civil War documents. All were on display in the library for guests to peruse at their leisure.
When she drove up, Ali saw that the inn was surrounded by magnificent Magnolia trees, which she would later learn were over one hundred years old. And she could see Koa Bear, along with a couple of unidentified canine friends, looking out the window, ready to greet her and Tess. She also noticed a nearby street sign pointing the way to the Old Dauphin Way Historic District she had read about online and confirming that the inn was well located for sightseeing.
When Ali asked Bill and Wendy for suggestions about “must see” sights, they told her that the Bellingrath Gardens were absolutely breathtaking. And no visitor, they said, should pass up the opportunity to tour the USS Alabama, the keystone of Mobile’s one hundred seventy-five acre Battleship Memorial Park.
As interesting as these attractions sounded, they would all have to wait until Ali had a chance to visit with her old friend, Rochelle.
“Ali! You made it!” Rochelle said as she ushered her friend through the door of her screened porch.
“I sure did, safe and sound. Could you please turn down the heat and humidity a little, though?” Ali teased.
“Hmmm. It’s early afternoon in July in Mobile, Alabama. I’ll see what I can do. I’m on a first-name basis with Jesus, but I try not to bother him with the little stuff.”
Rochelle hugged her long-lost friend and then pointed toward the porch swing where Ali happily took a seat.
“Now, if you offer me a mint julep, my fantasy about lazy southern afternoons will be complete,” Ali said. “I have no idea what’s in a mint julep, but they must be good.”
“Sorry, I’m fresh out of julep. How about some sweet tea with a little mint or lemon instead? That’s a traditional southern beverage, too.”
“Sounds perfect! I’ll try the mint, please.”
A few minutes later, Rochelle emerged from the house with two glasses of sweet tea and a three-year-old holding onto her skirt.
“Ali, I would like you to meet Leann. Leann, this is my friend, Ali.”
A minute later, Rochelle’s mother-in-law came out from inside the house. After a quick introduction, she made her apologies for having to rush off.
The next two hours flew by as the women filled each other in on the events of the years since they had last been together.
During a break in the conversation, Rochelle observed, “It looks to me like someone is ready for her nap.”
“Do you mean me, or Leann?” Ali said as Leann rubbed her eyes and yawned.
Rochelle chuckled, “I meant Leann, but I wouldn’t mind one myself.”
Ali lit up, as if with a great idea. “Why don’t you?”
“Why don’t I what?”
“Why don’t you go in and take a nap? It’ll be my gift to you, assuming it’s okay with you that I stick around for a couple more hours? I’ll be happy to stand guard in case Leann wakes up before you do.”
“Sweet Lord, I can’t remember the last time I got to take a nap in the middle of the day. That sounds like a little slice of heaven! But I can’t leave my guest to fend for herself! Won’t you be bored?”
“Not at all. I’ve got my laptop with me, and a good book. It’ll be nice for me, too.”
“In that case, I’ve offered you your last out. I gratefully accept . . . as long as you agree to stay for supper. Terrance should be home around 5:30. I can’t wait for you to meet him.”
Rochelle was a terrific cook. She whipped up a traditional southern meal while she and Ali visited some more. Just as they were setting the table, Rochelle’s husband, Terrance, walked in the door. Once the introductions were done, they all sat down and enjoyed the fruits—and fried chicken, and collard greens—of Rochelle’s labor.
As she was leaving to go back to Kate Shepard House, Ali turned to Rochelle and said, “I can’t imagine a more perfect day. I hope I’ll get to see a lot more of you while I’m in town.
“By the way, I left a little something for you on the night stand in Leann’s room when I said good-night to her. I hope it makes you smile.”
Of all the people I know, you may be the most courageous, and my greatest source of hope.
I remember the day we met. It was my first day on the job at the West Seattle PCC. We were both in our early twenties. You had been working there for a couple of years as a checker and I had just been promoted and transferred from the Greenlake store. I was so nervous . . . both about the transfer and the promotion. As I was about to begin my shift, you pulled me aside and said, ‘Welcome aboard. You’re gonna love it here.’
Those few, simple words sounded like both a promise and a prediction to me, and you seemed to make it your personal mission to see to it that they came true. As far as I was concerned, our fate as friends was sealed then and there.
As I got to know you over the next few months, I realized how little we had in common and discovered that it didn’t matter one bit. You were raised in the deep South; I was raised in the Pacific Northwest. You came from an urban-dwelling family of seven; I came from a suburban family of five. You were raised Baptist; I was raised Catholic. You were married; I was single. The list of contrasts went on and on.
Certainly, our experiences play a strong part in shaping and defining us. They are not, however, the last word in forming our character. Character, I believe, comes from within us. And it was your strength of character that drew me to you.
That became really clear to me when you confided in me about your husband’s gambling addiction.
He was a good man, you said, and you loved him beyond all reason. His addiction hadn’t surfaced until after you’d married. Now it was slowly and relentlessly eroding your chances of building the life you wanted to have together. But hope dies slowly, you told me, especially when you love and believe in someone. You had already spent years hoping that Clayton would change . . . that he would somehow beat his addiction and return to being the man you married. Instead, his uncontrollable gambling got you deeper and deeper in debt. You had no hope of buying a home because your credit rating was so poor. You owed back rent and feared that you’d both end up living in your car. Your job at PCC and the benefits it provided were your best chance at salvation.
Knowing how much you and Clayton both loved and wanted children, I wondered why you hadn’t started a family. You said that your last hope of convincing Clayton to get help was to refuse to bring children into the marriage until he got his problem under control. Even that threat wasn’t effective. Still, you just couldn’t give up hope that he would change. Hope, which had appeared to be a lifeboat, was instead creating an undertow, ensuring that you would eventually drown. As your friend, it was a very painful process to watch.
As if your life wasn’t difficult enough already, that’s when you slipped on the ice in front of your home and fell. Fortunately, you had excellent health insurance through PCC, but the medical bills weren’t your main concern once the doctors told you your prognosis. The damage to your spine had paralyzed you. The doctors said there was very little hope that you would ever walk again.
You refused to accept their medical conclusions. “There’s always hope,” you said. “Hope is the first step toward faith, and faith makes all things possible. I could see that you believed what you were saying. So much so, that you made me believe it, too. I listened to the doctors and I read the statistics that formed the basis for their prognosis. Then, I looked in your eyes and I knew they were wrong; just as you knew it.
Two years later you walked down the aisle ahead of me as my bridesmaid. That tiny seed of hope that you nurtured within yourself eventually culminated in what some might call a miracle.
Later, you told me that the lengthy recovery time after your accident had brought about another unexpected and positive miracle of its own. It gave you the perspective you needed to honestly evaluate your life. You realized that it was time to give up the illusion that Clayton would change, and you left your marriage.
It was only after you moved to Mobile, and we lost touch, that I realized how much I’d learned from you about the role that hope plays in our lives. It seems to me that hope is a double-edged sword that one must wield with care. In your relationship with Clayton, holding onto hope became a destructive force, yet in your recovery from the accident, holding onto it was your saving grace. That’s quite a paradox. I find myself trying to understand the nuances of hope, and how it figures into in my own life and healing.
It’s so wonderful to know that you are happy, healthy, and enjoying life as a wife and mother. You deserve every moment of happiness you can squeeze out of the new life you’ve built for yourself.
Thank you for showing me that having the courage to hope can bring about miracles.
Your friend until forever,
Later that week, Rochelle and Ali dropped Leann off at her grandmother’s house for a visit while they strolled through the Old Dauphin Way Historic District. Rochelle loved window-shopping. Having Ali along for company was a special bonus.
Ali was telling Rochelle all about her flat tire episode when suddenly, she stopped short. They were standing in front of the Crescent Theater on Dauphin Street where a line was forming for the next showing of Superman Man of Steel.
Ali had an idea. She turned to Rochelle and said, “I hear this is a fabulous movie theater. Do you want to go in and see the movie?”
Screwing up her face, Rochelle looked at Ali and said, “Not really. Do you?”
“No, not me either,” Ali said, then paused. “I know this probably seems strange, but will you please wait here while I talk to the ticket taker for a minute?”
“You’re right. That does seem strange since we’re not going to see the movie, but sure, I’ll wait.”
Ali waited in the short line, walked up to the ticket booth, pulled out her credit card and handed it to the ticket taker. A minute later, she was back with Rochelle and they continued down the street with no particular destination in mind.
The ticket taker called out, “Next!”
Two teenagers stepped up to the window and were handed tickets.
With a shocked look on their faces, one of them said, “But we haven’t paid you yet!”
“You don’t need to,” said the ticket taker. “The woman who just left paid for ten general admission tickets and said to give them to the next ten people in line. You’re numbers one and two. Enjoy the movie!”
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Posted by Alice Kuder, January 4, 2014