Empty-handed

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By Wendy Hodge

Summers in Alabama have always been a hot mess. Literally. As the youngest child in a middle-class family, I knew there were people who had more material things than we did. And, for the most part, that didn’t bother me at all. Through the sacrifice of my parents, I had everything I needed and plenty of the things I wanted.
But deep in my heart, I harbored a bottomless desire for a house on the lake. Mary Ellen Jameson in my 3rd grade class, had grandparents who lived on Lake Martin. She spent her summers on the water, and she spent all of September through May telling us every detail of her adventures on her boat and the fish she caught and the general bliss she was lucky enough to experience as one of the privileged “lake kids.”
I remember one miserable, 100-plus degree day in the summer of ’75 when I dragged our old plastic wading pool into the backyard and filled it up, thinking that even a little bit of liquid relief would be worth the trouble. But once I climbed in and my stretched out my legs, my feet touched the other side. I realized I had grown quite a bit since my wading pool days. With an exasperated sigh, I slid down into the water and tried to imagine myself as an entirely different child… a “lake child.”
When I came up for air, my grandmother was standing there looking at me, shaking her head. “I can read you like a book, Wendy Lynne.”
I believed her.
“You’re sitting in that cool water feeling sorry for yourself.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but swallowed the words back. What was the point of denying it?
She held my gaze and said, “Don’t you know that blessings just fall down from the sky all the time, little ones and big ones, but a person can be so busy reaching out for what we think we want that we miss what’s right in front of us.”
“But I want a house right out on the lake where you can just open the door and there it all is… all that beautiful water…”
“Wendy Lynne, just stand still and hold out your hands. Every day your hands are full of things to be grateful for.” It took me a long time to learn how right she was.
Last weekend, I spent the day on the lake with my best friend. We fished in the early morning.
We took the boat up and down the lake, fishing and laughing and just breathing in the air off the water. We braved what he insists is an actual waterfall. (A few rocks with water trickling over them does not make a waterfall…. but I don’t want to crush his enthusiasm.) We docked at a restaurant on the lake and had a perfect lunch with the most delicious cocktail I’ve ever had.
We sped back to the house with the wind in our faces, laughing and just smiling at each other.
We drifted on floats, looking up at the sky, and dozed under the sun.
And then we were given the unexpected gift of more time together than we’d expected. So we drove to the store, bought some steaks, and settled in on the porch under the tin roof just in time to watch a storm roll in off the water. A family of geese took shelter in the yard and watched us as we rocked on the porch, holding hands and hearing the symphony of rain on tin.
I don’t think there’s a lovelier sound on this earth.
My best friend is an excellent cook, and as the afternoon and the storm ended, he went inside to finish our dinner. I dozed a bit and then woke to find the family of geese had gotten closer to the porch. One very large one was staring at me with his head cocked to one side. Baby geese waddled around, pecking at the ground. I picked up a handful of crackers and slowly stepped into the yard. (My best friend calls this my “ninja walk.” I think he might be making fun of me just a bit.) The closer I got, the more the goose tilted his head until it was almost parallel with the ground. I held out my hand slowly, thinking he would take the cracker and feed his babies.
But…
He straightened his neck, lunged forward, and hissed like an angry cat – all in one swift motion.
I’m ashamed to say I ran. I may also have squealed like a little girl. And there, on the porch, was my best friend, camera in hand, laughing out loud. “That ninja walk didn’t work for ya?” he said with a grin. (Yeah, he’s definitely making fun of me.)
“Dinner’s ready,” he said.
Inside the table was set with candles lit, music was playing, and the smell of steak and potatoes and gravy and butter was heavenly.
He held out his hand and asked me to dance. John Denver sang about sunshine on his shoulders, and it had never sounded so beautiful. We ate like kings and went once again to the rocking chairs on the porch. The tree frogs and crickets replaced John Denver, and their song was just as lovely. The white lights strung up around the porch gave it a soft glow. Time seemed to stand still.
This, I thought, is as close to perfect as life can possibly get. I breathed out a wish for it to never end, knowing that it would.
The next day, we left the lake behind us with heavy sighs. A regular work week loomed ahead.
Not much time together is our normal way of life for now. And neither one of us live on a lake.
“I really wanted you to catch a fish this weekend, Wendy,” he said. “But we’re leaving empty handed.”
“Oh no, you’re not,” I could hear my grandmother whisper.
I held out my hands in front of me. “These hands are full,” I said,
He put his hands in mine and made it true.
If I never see the lake again, I have that perfect day. And I have the best friend I’ve ever had.
And there are a thousand other blessings that I hold. My hands have never been so full.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.

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