I couldn't believe my eyes…did not believe my eyes.
How could it possibly be her?
I hadn't seen her in over 20 years, and yet…
Materializing right before my eyes was the lady I had just been talking about less than 24 hours earlier.
I still can't believe it.
* * *
Martha was one of my first friends in college, a hometown girl whose dad was a professor and mother taught grade school. She joined the same sorority as me and we bonded over hating it.
Because her parents lived nearby, it didn't take long for Martha to invite us over for dinner. The first meal Mrs. R. made for us was Bacon-wrapped Chicken. A real, home-cooked meal, gloriously not dining hall food. It was the first recipe I copied from a friend, one I still make to this day.
Over time we came to love Mr. and Mrs. R., and not just for the home cookin'. I think our love was a reflection of theirs. They were parents away from home, lavishing us with (and teaching us about) important gifts–hospitality, generosity and friendship.
When I got married, they hosted a wedding shower for us. Years after graduation, on occasion, I'd stop by their house when returning to Clemson. Up until fairly recently we continued to exchange Christmas cards.
Regardless of whether or not I saw them, though, every time I've returned to my Alma Mater over the past quarter century, I've thought about Mr. and Mrs. R, and with great affection.
This weekend was no exception.
* * * * *
There's a reason Clemson won Southern Living's 2012 Best Tailgate: Tiger Fans have elevated tailgating to an art form. Jeff and Sally are no exception. Long-time supporters of the University, they have a sweet little spot under a big ol' oak not far from Death Valley.
We set up early in the day, but since it was hot as blue blazes and the game didn't kick off until 8:20 Saturday night, we were back and forth between the stadium and their condo a few times. Taking a short cut through residential neighborhoods, my mind wandered to Mr. and Mrs. R, whose home sat just across the way on the other side of College Avenue.
I even told Sally and Jeff about this couple and how well they treated us in college. I couldn't help but wonder how they were doing and I made a mental note to message Martha on Facebook to find out when I got home.
Who knows if I would have remembered.
* * * * *
The lake simmered under the sun, diamonds on water. Sunday morning ambled into Sunday afternoon. And four friends rounding a deck-side table caught up on the present, reminisced about the past, and contemplated the future. Every so often one of us would bring up the game the night before–that win felt a lot like our National Championship season, my freshman year.
About that time I noticed a downy-topped lady tentatively tip-toeing around the corner of Jeff and Sally's deck. I was the one facing her.
"Has anyone seen Ben Wilson? Ben, are you nearby?!" she called out, kind of to us, but really to anyone who might hear. I recognized her voice.
I looked at her. I looked at my husband. I doubted my eyes and my ears but I still asked, incredulous, Is that Mary R.?? My husband thought it might be, and that was enough for me to call out–
MRS. R.?????????? IS THAT YOU?
And it was!
We squealed and hugged and squealed and hugged. After making introductions, I gushed "THIS IS THE COUPLE I WAS TELLING YOU ABOUT!" and Sally made the connection.
And, then Mrs. R. floored me–
"Just last night I was reading this sweet note from you…" a thank you note that had companioned a copy of Charleston Receipts
my college roomie, Cassie, and I had gifted to Mr. and Mrs. R. for something nice they had done way back when.
Forever since we had seen one another and yet within 24 hours we both had been thinking about each other!
That, my friends, is evidence of the impact you can have in someone else's life.
It is the legacy of kindness, hospitality and generosity.
It's inter-generational connection.
It is the beauty of friendship.
It's Divine Appointment.
And it's testimony to the power of teachers whose lessons carry well beyond the classroom.
** I didn't use the R's grandson's real name!!