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Reflections: Life's Sunset

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from J.A. Heitmueller of Vinemont, Alabama, as seen in “The Oxford So & So.”
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

Photo by Steven Gagliano

Growing up in the 1950s was a magical time… a time of innocence, respect, h honesty and security, when life seamlessly revolved around faith, family and friends. As youngsters, the four girls became close pals while attending First Baptist Church and this bond of compatibility continued during their elementary and high school years.

Each girl contributed her unique talents and personality to the diverse group. June, smart and determined, had the steadiness and maturity of a true leader. Mary Lynn, the bubbly, pixie sweetheart, held a soul of pure kindness and sensitivity. Carla’s jovial, fun loving attitude delivered constant laughter and spontaneity to the mix. Ann, a year younger, considered herself the novice of the group and was often awestruck by the experience and boldness of the others, honored and appreciative of having been taken under their wings.
After graduation, each young woman followed her own path of life, yet the thread that had securely sewn the fabric of that early friendship remained strong and consistent through ensuing years. After spending nearly two decades as an English teacher, June retired and plunged headlong into the business world, becoming a realtor, eventually owning and operating a successful construction company. Mary Lynn, always the adventurer, followed her artistic muses. She traveled the world, taught art and spent carefree hours immersing herself in her beloved world of space, shape, color and design. Much like Johnny Appleseed, each of her many residences throughout the country reflected her amazing talent for creating magnificent exterior landscapes. Below the surface of all Carla’s light heartedness there resided a sharp mind blessed with an affinity for numbers. Her abilities as a shrewd business woman became evident when she pursued a career in accounting. Later, having retired from The Alabama Department of Transportation, she acted on her love and knowledge of the antiques by becoming a proprietor of her own antique shop. Ann earned a degree in Elementary Education and became a fourth grade teacher. Following retirement, she settled into a life of simplicity and nature at the century old family homestead farm where a lifelong fascination for books and words eventually inspired her to realize her dreams in the field of writing and publishing.
And so it was at this juncture of their lives that the friends had come together once again for their annual friends’ retreat in the rustic cabin on the lake, and today was to be the final precious day of that union. Now nearing their eighth decade, one can only imagine the plethora of experiences and memories they each had to contribute. They had spent the previous two treasured days relaxing and catching up since last year. They spoke of world problems, lifestyle changes, politics, the foibles of aging, as well as a wide array of personal subjects women of their age and experience find interesting and worthy of discussion. Miles away from the hustle and bustle of daily life their special bond of closeness seemed to wrap them in an isolated cocoon of safety. They relished the atmosphere of tolerance and open-mindedness for any statements they might desire to insert into the conversation… a cherished reward of true friendship.
As in prior years, time moved rapidly that last afternoon while the friends lingered before the massive stone fireplace, each snuggled comfortably in her own sturdy oak rocker, a soft quilt draped across her fragile shoulders to lessen the persistent winter chill in the drafty log cabin. They watched the mesmerizing flicker of glowing orange and yellow flames lapping at the logs and occasionally closed their eyes to breathe deeply and savor that distinct hickory aroma being released. Long moments of silence drifted by with only the rhythmic creaking of rocking chairs and cracking of the burning embers giving voice. Each woman seemed lost in her own private thoughts, grateful for the realization that such moments of silence in the presence of old friends can be a thing of beauty and grace. From time to time, the briskness of the wind on that cold December day sent pine boughs brushing against the windowpanes, a startling reminder that they must soon return to that outside world and their individual lives. Though unspoken, the aura of sadness was palpable, each friend silently dreading that an entire year must escape before they’d once again gather for their hallowed time together.
Suddenly, the spell was broken by June, “My goodness, it’s nearly time for us to go. It’s going to be dark in a couple of hours. We need to hurry if we’re going to be there to visit Carla and watch the sunset.”
The once spry, agile women now struggled to lift their aged bodies from the comfort of their rockers. Warmly bundling themselves against the cascading temperatures, and securely clinging to each other for assistance, the unsteady group carefully eased their way from the antiquated cabin down the steep, precarious, wooden stairway to the car. Overhead, darkening clouds indicated the approach of another passing day, a stark reflection of their own rapidly diminishing time on this earth.
“Maybe we should have brought along some soft pillow,” suggested Mary Lynn. “That granite bench with the little copper friendship plaque we had set up last year will be mighty cold on a day like this.”
Once everyone was settled, the car began to creep up a steep, winding driveway through a thick stand of pine trees that resembled a stately regiment of soldiers protectively guarding their precious convoy. Always the cautious traveler, Ann leaned forward from the backseat, gently patting her dear friend on the shoulder.
“Please take your time, June. I’m sure we’ll get to the cemetery just in time for another glorious sunset.”

By J.A. Heitmueller

Selected by a loving heart and sown with tender care
the seeds of friendship yield a bloom of beauty that is rare.
‘Midst rain of tears and sun of smiles it flourishes and grows,
wrought with a bond of love, joy, trust, only true friendship knows.

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