Well, not to Bountiful, Texas (as in one of my favorite movies by the same title above), but to Stoneville, NC. My neighbor and friend was born and grew up in Stoneville, and we traveled there for a day to see her hometown and have lunch at a lovely tea room there called the Ruby Rose Tea Room.
Nearly two decades ago, I sat around a lunch table filled with relatives: my dad, his brother, and their uncles and aunts…my great uncles and aunts. Tales of their youth growing up on a farm together were flying around as were the sparkles in their eyes and their laughter. For a suspended moment or two or three, I did not see their gray hair, the wrinkles, the eye-glasses around their necks, nor the hands showing signs of arthritis and age. I saw them as kids, youths, recounting frolics and mischief as if it were yesterday. A few years later, my great aunt Gwen told me that when she looked in the mirror each morning, she did not recognize who the person was staring back at her…inside she still felt like she was 20 something.
I love my friends of mature years. When I’m around them, I feel like I’m with a beautiful oak tree or a grand willow. Their bodies and minds seem to contain rings of history…the years they have lived, thrived, endured…the history they have seen and been a part of…the joys and the disappointments that all make up who they are.
And such is my friend, Joann. She’s one of the loveliest oak trees you’ll find in these parts. Tall, willowy, unbelievably fit, more active than I am, smarter at computers and money matters than I’ll ever be, funny, witty, always learning new things, going new places, living a full life.
I loved seeing her hometown. I loved driving by where her brother lived until his last days. I loved seeing the churches her family attended throughout the years…one in the country, one in “town”. I loved seeing off in the distance the spot where her homeplace once stood…now gone, not even the dirt road leading there exists now. She grew up on a farm, like my great aunts and uncles. She wouldn’t want to return to that way of life…her memories of it are not the idealized visions I have of farm life. No. Her memories are the real ones…of hard work, toil, and labor. Her town once thrived with a furniture factory that is now closed. Yet her town still thrives (unlike Bountiful) and the Ruby Rose Tea Room attests to this.
This beautiful old farm house has been lovingly refurbished to serve folks from Virginia and South Carolina (just a few of the license plates we saw that day) as well as locals and traveling North Carolinians. There was even a table of UNC-Chapel Hill students taking refreshment and socializing while on their spring break. The victorian decor and the delicious food topped off a memorable day for Joann and I.
I treasure this friendship, as I do the memories of my great aunts and uncles and my grandparents. Though many of these relatives are gone, as are their homeplaces and the roads leading to them, the history they have left for me is as bountiful as their youth.