Right after the specialists at Duke University diagnosed me as having early-onset Alzheimer’s, Greg and I drove to Chapel Hill to tell our daughter in person. A few days later we went to Asheville to tell our son, as well.
As it turned out, Asheville was in peak leaf season, and we enjoyed two of the prettiest days in the world. Full sunshine with soft breezes. Sweater weather, but still too warm for hats and gloves. Incredibly soft clouds decorating the sky.
When we woke up Saturday, Greg said we would do anything I wanted to that day. I chose a trip down the highway to Montreat, a Presbyterian community retreat which we visited, for years and years, with church friends and our children.
We haven’t been there for some time but the moment we got there, my heart melted. What wonderful memories surrounded us. The beautiful old stone buildings. The opening night get-togethers. The Bible studies. The square dances. The times we took a break to watch the younger children at the playground and the older ones as they played baseball on a nearby field.
After a while, we went down to the stream, a stream that’s carved its way through hundreds of years. As we watched the running water, Greg noticed that we had company – a brownish-red leaf had decided to follow us down the path. We watched as the leaf continued down its path, and when it finally stopped, we found ourselves at a set of swings, where a father was pushing his son back and forth.
On the way to our car, we stopped on the wooden bridge that crosses Lake Susan, a small but lovely body of water where we used to ride paddle boats and canoes, and just sit for a while to watch the water ripple. We hung over the rail for a while looking at two lovely swans. We wondered whether they were a male-female couple. But we didn’t have to wait long for the answer.
Enter Stephanie, an outgoing 8-year-old whose family lives in Montreat much of the year. She has a lot of time on her hands, and spends much of it hanging out on the bridge with her dog Cindy. We asked whether she knew anything about the swans. “Oh yes,” she said. “The front swan is Susan and the one in back is Elvis.” (Apparently all the swans throughout the years have been named Susan and Elvis.) She informed us that Elvis recently was taken out of the water for a while and Susan was most distressed. She fussed so much they had to bring Elvis back. (Note to all husbands: don’t abandon your wife or you may not make it to Swan Heaven.)
She also asked if we want to buy a bracelet. The three dollars, she said, would go to a breast cancer fund to help her aunt. She advised us that the blue and turquoise nuggets came from Michaels, but the two with a gold tint were worth $1,000. Of course we gave her the three dollars, and spent some more time with her, knowing she didn’t have much to do – but also soaking in the joy of youth.
After our visit, we went down the hill to Black Mountain – a charming community with lots of fun and funky shops. We picked a great day – it was Halloween dress-up day where dogs and their owners wore matching costumes – everything from scarecrows to outfits resembling the pets themselves.
To cap off the evening, we had dinner with Cortland and a dear friend I hadn’t seen for several years.
Indeed, it was a beautiful day. And there are many more to come.