A Chance Encounter

Karen Phillips Smith, Contributing Writer

Karen Phillips Smith

It was the fall of my mother’s 72nd year and strangely enough only the third time I had been to her house. We drove into the small village with large old oak trees that lined the narrow road. Their thick scared branches were heavy with wet, auburn-colored leaves. As we pulled the car to stop in front of my mother’s house, a large knot tightened inside my stomach. Sensing my discomfort, my husband reached across and gave my hand a gentle squeeze.

The memories of this place and my mother’s people filled my mind as we both remained silent, hands clasped, watching the rain drops as they engaged in their slow snake-like dance down the windshield of our car. My childhood visits here were restricted by my paternal grandparents that raised me and by unspoken rules dictated by the community leader. On those rare visits my mother and I would stay with aunt Dode, a small framed yet tall woman with soft brown skin, eyes that sparkled with flecks of gold, and a laugh that could fill a room.

Dode lived in a large, rambling, wooden house with a tin roof. She loved watching wrestling on her small TV, listening to Elvis on the radio and cheating at Canasta. She still cooked on a large, black, iron stove that served as the only heat source for the entire house. She would poke a hole in the side of her large flaky biscuits that she kept on the side of stove and fill each one with a drizzle of thick, sweet, amber colored molasses before she would give one to me and my cousin, Ahlona. Ahlona was in my child’s eyes the most beautiful girl in the world. She had long, shiny black hair that hung in a long braid down her back, the same golden eyes as Dode, and a real talent for introducing me to wonderful adventures that were, by my mother’s orders, always confined to Dode’s big backyard.

One day while my mother and Dode were visiting with Ahlona’s parents on Dode’s front porch, Ahlona and I escaped the confines of the backyard and made our way down the road to the general store in the center of the village. As we entered the store a huge dark man with a tan hat and brown boots walked toward my cousin and me. He stared down at me for a quick second and then lifted my cousin up into his huge arms, gave her a shiny silver dollar, walked out of the store, and they both got in an old blue truck and rode away.

As my heart raced and with tears streaming down my face, I ran back to Dode’s house fully convinced that this man had kidnapped my beautiful cousin. I am not sure what those four adults thought as I came running from the opposite direction of the backyard, but they did not get a chance to tell me, because still crying, I blurted out my tale as Dode held me on her lap and wiped my tears. Everyone patiently waited for me to finish, and Dode pulled me to her chest and began to rock as she told me not to be concerned about Ahlona. The man who had taken her was our grandfather. A man I had never met and the thought of meeting again caused my stomach to tighten.