The only pictures she sent were about twenty years old– my first clue that she was just as afraid of my opinion of her as I was of her opinion of me. I had a long-time fantasy she would look and act like Aunt Bea. So far, nothing she had revealed had destroyed the fantasy…except maybe the part about her owning and operating her own beauty/tanning salon. I thought that might change things a little.
…Or a lot.
The period of time between our initial phone contact and this monumental Day of Meeting had prepared us, somewhat, for our first physical encounter (see “Hide or Seek”.) I mean, really, how prepared can one be for such an event as this? We wrote letters and e-mails and talked on the phone. She had asked for pictures, so I sent her several depicting different stages of my life up to the current time. The pictures she sent did a poor job of showing me her present face, but they did tell me something else: I finally had someone in my life that I looked like. In the pictures, she looked nothing like the Aunt Bea I had imagined…but I reasoned that they were old, so I didn’t let go of the fantasy.
Leaving Virginia, James and I drove to an itty-bitty coastal town in North Carolina, more itty-bitty than Sheriff Andy Taylor’s of the 50’s. This is one town where the blink of an eye truly can pass it by. My church family had given me a ‘love gift’ that covered the cost of staying at the only place offering accommodations there, a bed and breakfast. We had planned to stay at a less expensive motel in a neighboring, larger town, but I guess those kind souls would have nothing of that. As it turned out, the B&B was very close to my birth mother’s salon on the same street, so we decided to meet there.
Entering town, I opted to go to the B&B first. It was a long trip and I wanted to freshen up before my mother saw me for the first time in her life. Lingering over my hair, face and clothes, I inwardly quaked. I wanted to be perfect. I could not be perfect. My husband was the saint of the day, waiting for me without a single complaint. Finally, I could make no more excuses to dally. We got in the car for the thirty second drive to the salon.
But as it came into view, I panicked. “No! Not yet! Keep driving!” I gasped. James kept driving and as soon as he passed the building, I regretted it. I had to pull myself together. She was waiting and probably as fit to be tied as I was. James was so patient, he just kept on going. He spoke encouraging words I do not remember as we drove around the country block. This time when we approached the driveway, I kept my mouth shut and eagerly unhooked my seat belt as we entered the parking lot. Barely waiting for the car to stop, I left James gathering the camera and headed toward the front door, but before I could round the corner, a woman I had seen rocking on the front porch came toward me.
“Cindy?” she spoke with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon.
And we both knew. We fell into each other’s arms, embraced, pulled back to look at one another…over and over and over. We laughed, cried, and somewhere in there I introduced my husband. Unlocking from me, she hugged him, too. And as she did, I got in a good look. She was beautiful. Of medium build, she was my height, tan, with beautician-copper hair in a pixie cut that feathered toward smooth cheeks. Her perfectly shaped nails were coral, painted to match toes peeking from fancy summer sandals. She wore a comfortable beige outfit with off-white trim. Her eyes betrayed fatigue– I suppose mine did as well– but her smile was warm and real and big. So big, in fact, that her eyes got lost in her face. My face does that same exact thing when I smile big.
Noting the only other car in the lot, I wondered if it belonged to one of her other adult children. It was a blood red Mustang with a Harley-Davidson decal stretching from side to side of the rear window. Wanting to prepare myself in case someone was inside, I asked about it.
“Whose car is that?”
I smiled and chuckled, “Just wondering…Didn’t know if you had anyone with you in the salon.” As we linked arms to enter her shop, I was vaguely aware of the Aunt Bea idea going up in a thin cloud of gray smoke.
It didn’t hurt a bit.