Facebook told me that Jan had died. Then I found out the Internet was wrong.
THIS STORY BEGINS SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, the fall of 1998, when I was a high school senior visiting my college sophomore girlfriend at Western Carolina. We were kids, so we were drawn like moths to the flame by the on-campus Chick-fil-a, where fried chicken sandwiches wrapped in foil bags sat under heat lamps, waiting for us to collect them and pay for them with a mysterious and seemingly inexhaustible supply of declining balance points.
We'd gathered our meals and headed for check-out, and that's the first time I met Jan O'Brien, the infamous register attendant in the University Center food court. She was an older lady, short but strong stature, white, curly hair, and a vibrant smile, which she flashed warmly to me. "Hello, sweetheart!" she said.
"Hi, Jan!" Kelly said back to her.
I grinned. "What, no 'sweetheart' for me?"
She laughed, and then she called me sweetheart. We chatted, and then we checked out, and we ate, and the next year I came back to Western Carolina as a freshman. Jan was still there, and she called me sweetheart. She called me that for the next four years.
We are down to the dregs of summer vacation-time. Outside my window, athletes are moving into their dormitories, and campus is sparking back to life after a hot-baked rest.
Back home, Kelly and the kiddos are making departure rounds on their stay-home summer. They are lapping past the parks and playgrounds they've haunted since June, giggling together and taking photos, capturing in their minds once more the magic of each place.
We took two vacation trips this summer, something rare for us, and even though traveling with a pair of children under four is never stress-free, both trips awakened a good amount of soul that had been swept under by life's restless tide. Something there is about sipping coffee whenever one pleases....
Or the new found thrills of our toddler kids: putt-putt with Julia--or night swimming, or hide and seek, or watching a baseball game while Thomas goes to sleep; trips to the hardware store with Thomas, running our hands over flowers, or tossing a ball back and forth, or driving around our beach-side campground in a golf cart, the cool shore breeze perfect before a long nap.
These have been the good days.
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