Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Hills Are Alive

"Man Plans and God Laughs." – Anonymous 
Babe and I are spending a month alone in a cabin in a cozy little town nestled in the North Carolina Mountains. With one General Store, one cafe and a one-woman Post Mistress, it is perfect for a second honeymoon.
The town is set miles away from anything resembling a road to anywhere. We got lost three times before Babe grudgingly asked directions from a toothless man walking down the road. The fellow's tight lips barely moved when he spoke, but his beady eyes glared with unconcealed suspicion.
When we arrive at our cabin late in the day, we high-five ourselves for having chosen a remote spot that the Grandkids from Hell couldn't find with a NASA tracking system. Later, we drive down to the Grill for a bite to eat.
A middle-aged dude with deep wrinkles and a gray ponytail is the entertainment. His name is Jesse and he tells local stories while strumming on a homemade Mountain Dulcimer. After a bit, Judy, the tired owner, server, cook and bottle washer, appears. She is yawning.
"Tonight's special is mesquite broiled salmon, fresh asparagus, sliced local tomatoes and real mashed potatoes. $5.95."
Did she say $5.95? We gawk. At which point did we hope on a time machine? One look at the wine list convinced us that we were in a time warp. We hadn’t seen Ripple in years, but tonight the slightly fruity bouquet tastes like champagne.
I look into Babe's big brown eyes. "Isn't this romantic? No traffic, no over-priced meals. It's turning me on, Babe."
The next morning, he drops me off at the General Store and takes off in search of a golf course.
Sawdust covers the store floor and I spend a minute or two dumping it out of my sandals. I see items only my grandmother would recognize and she went to her reward forty years ago. Sour Gum Molasses, dusty bottles of black stove polish, Black Drought Laxatives. I gently squeeze a red, robust Better Boy tomato as thoughts of a BLT cause me to swoon.
I am lost in a tomato fantasy when Charley, the owner of the store introduces himself. For the next half hour he tells me more than I want to know about his spastic colon and erratic prostate. I blush with every mention of his bodily fluids.
He tells me about his sister, too. "She's ninety-three," declares Charley. "Got mad as a wet hen when the doctor tole her to stop blackberry picking. She makes home-made jelly."
Personally, I think she ought to buy Smucker's and spend the rest of her days watching Driving Miss Daisy on HBO, but Charley doesn’t ask me what I think.
"She's got some allergies," Charley says. "Cain't get up the hill without sneezing. Doc says she's liable to sneeze herself into a coronary she don't look out."
Charley, the only real butcher in these parts, provides fresh meat, fish and produce to the Grille next door. Judy, of the amazing $5.95 salmon and asparagus, is his wife. A common door between the buildings remains open so that when somebody orders a hamburger, Judy yells, "Grind me off a pound, Charley!"
Babe finally returns, and can hardly wait to tell him about this tiny community. I now know everybody's name and ailment like they are my own relatives. I’m yakking away as we drive up Smith Hill to our cozy cabin, ours for twenty-nine more days.
As we round the bend, my mouth does a flip-flop. "Babe? Is that ... Naaah, it can't be. Oh my lord! It is! How did they find us?"
The Grandkids from Hell are waiting to pounce. Babe is trembling. I am this close to telling him to hightail it back down the hill, but one look at my grinning son interrupts any idea of a retreat. He's standing knee-deep amid the chaos and he looks like a basset hound caught in quicksand.
"Surprise, Mom!"
"I'm starving, Mammy!" #2 Grandkid from Hell sidles up and gives me a cursory hug. "Whatcha got to eat in those bags?"
His big brother, #1 Grandkid from Hell, nags, "You inhaled two hamburgers and a milkshake in Spartanburg. No way you're still hungry."
#2 fixes him with a look. "Shut up," to which #1 tells him to shut up which launches the shut up yourself contest that is still going on to this day.
#3 Grandkid from Hell crawls up the side of my car like a tree frog. Help me Jesus and tell me how to get back on that Fifties time machine.
"Hey Mammy," #3 hugs me tight with sticky chocolate fingers and hangs on. The rest of his forty pounds dangles and thumps on the side of my car. "Can I sleep in your bed tonight?"
Tears begin to free-fall down Babe's face.
The honeymoon is over.

Author's note:
Since this writing, Both Charley and his sister have died. She's up there in that big blackberry patch in the sky, while he's grinding off another pound or two of prime hamburger meat in the largest General Store in the history of the world.

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