It was Friday night. We had just walked in from a supper of hamburgers and Cokes, with all the family, at the Soda Fountain.
A friend, Barbara, texted urgently that our mutual friend, Dinah, was being rushed to the hospital. Possibly a stroke.
Dinah, a dark-haired beauty from my girlhood, was a teenager when I was in patent leather shoes and lace-trimmed socks. Dinah wore dresses with swirling skirts and tiny waists.
She was kind and, though I was little and not of much use, she always had time to entertain me, listening to the stories that my five-year-old self recited. Her laughter was like a lightweight, springtime green leaf.
Like many mountain families, she and her parents lived in a neat, small house within a stone’s throw of her grandparents’ two-story, frail farmhouse that carried the scent of a hundred years that it had seen. They lived within hollering distance so they stood on their porches, talking across the yard.
The memory is faint but still there: Daddy and Dinah’s granddaddy sitting on that gray-weathered porch, their chairs rocking gently back and forth. Both men with their shirt sleeves rolled up and Bibles open while I sat on the rickety steps in my ruffled church dress, watching the red dust kicked up by cars rumbling along the nearby dirt road.
I can still remember the gentleness of the breeze across my freckled cheeks as Daddy and the wise, old man discussed the Word of God.
Dinah and her mother, seeing our car in the drive, always hurried down to see us. It was forever joyous to see that beautiful girl dance out from the porch, the screen door banging behind her.
In our living room is a black and white photo that Dinah took of me with my parents. My smile is glowing and my petticoat is showing.
“It looks dire,” Barbara said. “Please, pray.”
I took myself to our back porch and then to the back yard. It was a beautiful night. An enormous, storybook-like full moon hung in the sky, surrounded by a smattering of twinkling stars and Jupiter and Mars. In the night’s quiet, I stilled myself and began to pray.
Suddenly, I stopped and, looking at the majestic sight, whispered, “What a beautiful night to go home.”
I could hear Sister Vestal Goodman singing, “What a beautiful day for the Lord to come again.”
As I watched the sky, high overhead, flew a southbound passenger jet headed for Atlanta’s international airport.
“In 20 minutes,” I whispered, “that plane will be setting at the gate.”
Seconds later, another plane appeared. Turning toward the east, I saw another jet adjust its course toward the airport.
Apparently, a lot of jets land in Atlanta around 8 p.m. on a Friday night.
Still, holding Dinah’s image, I watched those blinking lights, pondering that a lot of people would soon be home. I imagined their relief at seeing the lights of home as the aircrafts circled before landing. Atlanta is a beautiful, twinkling city to behold at night, from the sky.
In my mind’s eye, I could see happy family reunions: a girlfriend embracing her sweetheart while toddlers waddled toward grinning grandparents.
Is Dinah home yet? I wondered. Her family was waiting, too, in long anticipation of a family reunion.
The hardest prayer is when we release selfishness and ask that a loved one or dear friend may find the peace of heaven.
The dogs took off in a clatter after deer then, as quiet slipped back over the Rondarosa, I began to sing an old Appalachian hymn. To the stars, the moon, and the passing jets, I used the haunting, wailing voice of my people.
“Oh, come angel band; Come and around me stand.”
If the angel band was coming for Dinah that night, they turned back to heaven. Her heavenly family reunion will have to wait.
And her earthly family is relieved.
[Ronda Rich is a multi-best-selling author. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]