It’s spring break and we’ve driven 550 miles south to a place where spring has actually sprung - Maryville, Tennessee - to spend time with family. While the kids busy themselves papering the house in drawings, playing video games with my younger brother, and devouring all the foods I usually forbid (Grandma’s rules), I rock in a swing on the wide front porch. It’s early yet and chilly but the sun’s shining, quickly burning off a thin layer of haze. I look out over the meandering property, five acres of rolling green sloping downward to a pine-studded tree line. In the background, rising into a pale blue sky are the purple-blue Smokies. I swing gently back and forth to the trill of birds, alone with my thoughts apart from a cat wandering past, its coat splattered black and white like the cows that dot the pastures along the main road.
As I swing I think of what I hope to tell you of our time here. Not of harrowing family adventures though there’ve been been some but of the easy, regular days when we gather together and visit. Visiting, the way I mean it, is different from ‘to go and see’ though we do a bit of that, too. For instance, we ‘go and see’ my mom at the grocery store where she works. Under the guise of saying hello we use her bakery connections to collect more than our fair share of sample cookies. We pick up groceries so she can hurry home after work to entertain us because that is what our trip is all about - spending time, sharing stories - visiting. In winter this occurs around the dining table over glasses of wine. In every other season it’s on the porch where the chairs, too, are tipsy.
So, here’s what I’ve come up with for you: a true story about the mystical powers of visiting, a grocery store-y.
Seven months ago…
Two women methodically crossing items from shopping lists cross paths in the bread aisle of a grocery store in Maryville, Tennessee. On this occassion they’re separated by the width of two shopping carts. Usually it’s by the depth of a deli case. One woman is a nurse who’s given up cold cuts for health reasons but still stops at the deli counter because she likes to laugh. Her name is Lou. The second woman carves luncheon meats with surgical precision, serves them up with a side of humor, thickly sliced, is one of few people left in America who still eat bologna. Her name is Anita and she’s my mom.
Lou and Anita have known each other more than seven years, and though only casually, perhaps have interacted with greater frequency than some blood relatives. In any case, their acquaintance is deep enough, has lasted long enough that one or the other’s absence is felt, noted. In further proof that God likes carbs (as if further proof is needed - He is the Bread of Life after all), this serendipitous encounter would intertwine the lives of Lou and Anita in ways never before imagined:
“I haven’t seen you around the deli lately,” says Lou.
“Yeah, I broke my wrist and had to have surgery. I’ve been out ten weeks.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Where did you have surgery? Who was your surgeon?” As I mentioned, Lou is a nurse. She knows people.
“Near Blount Memorial Hospital. It was Dr. Campbell.” Turns out this is someone Lou knows quite well.
“That’s my husband.”
Recall that they’ve known each other seven years at this point. They must’ve been discussing meats all that time.
“Wow. What a small world. He’s a good doctor,” Anita replies.
“Thank you. So, how are your kids? What are they up to?”
“They’re all good. Actually, Shannon and her family just moved to Ohio.”
“Really? Where in Ohio?” Lou asks.
“A small town called Chardon.”
“No way. I grew up in Chardon. My mom still lives there. What street does Shannon live on?”
“Ferris,” says Anita, “Ferris Avenue.”
A month later…
On a beautiful late summer Saturday in Chardon, I’m walking out the door with Gus headed for his karate lesson. Two women are coming down the sidewalk, a mother and daughter whom I soon discover are taking a short detour on their walk to Beans.
“Hi,” I say as we cross paths.
“Are you Shannon? I’m Lou. I know your mom.”
“Hi,” I say again, smile widening as I connect the dots. “Yes, she’s told me about you. I’m so glad to meet you.”
“This is my mom, Elizabeth.”
It turns out Elizabeth and I live less than a mile from each other. I get her cell number and we soon meet. If you live in Chardon you may know Elizabeth Lajeunesse. In the short time I’ve known her we’ve become very close. She is kind, warm, wise and funny. We make each other laugh and she humors me, lets me convince her King Kone is always a good idea. I feel better about everything just to be near her, feel good knowing that I have Lou’s mom and she has mine; that mothers and daughters visit in Chardon, Tennessee.
PS. It occured to me while out on the porch swing that perhaps my fascination with opening a gourmet meat and cheese shop in Chardon is yet another in a string of signs that I’m becoming my mom. I smiled at the thought. Later, making dinner, I noticed she wears vinyl gloves even when preparing meat at home. She’s seen too much. This is my future.
Love you, Mom.