We get a lot of slow-motion tourists in Fairhope, who drive at the speed of sleep so they can see everything unique our town has to offer, like stores and trees and stop signs.
When I’m impatient with their slacked pace, I try to remember my friend, who loved Fairhope, and asked her husband to take her for one last drive through town before she died.
5 minutes after I met Shirley, I started scheming about how I could get away from her.
She was leading my Bible Study for young mothers and although I adore a true Southern accent, I was positive Shirley’s sugary sweet sing-song voice was going to drive me crazy. Stretching my name into 6 syllables, I was in no mood for Miss Sugarplum.
I’d had a difficult year, an impossible month, and that very day in particular, was rotten. Sometimes when it rains, it pours, and at that moment, I felt flooded.
All my excuses for escape were divinely thwarted, and I had no choice but to remain in the group. But then, something wonderful happened. Week after week, Shirley grew on me. Not only did I benefit from her insight, but found I actually needed a sugar-coated friend during a time when everything around me seemed bitter and harsh. She wasn’t perfectly sweet, and her dry wit kept me laughing while she dished out wisdom on parenting, marriage, and life in general.
When she sensed I was troubled, Shirley showed up with my favorite snack, which coincidentally, happened to be her specialty, homemade cheese straws. How could I not love a friend like that?
Shirley was right, God had a master plan, and it was finally good to share positive things with her. More cheese straws were needed to celebrate as time really did heal old wounds.
But there wasn’t enough time for Shirley, who was diagnosed with cancer.
Shirley became the one who was having the bad days and I delivered treats to lift her spirits. The ever-changing diagnosis felt like a roller coaster of hope followed by plunging gloom, but all was stabilized by Shirley’s calm maturity. The seas around her were howling, but her steps of faith were steady.
We thought things were going to be okay and her latest doctor’s appointment was optimistic, so we were shocked by the news of Shirley’s death.
The week before, I drove past her cottage near the bay. I saw my friend sitting on her porch swing reading. I beep-beeped the horn and waved but didn’t stop. “She’s probably having a peaceful moment with her book and doesn’t want to be bothered” I reasoned. “I’ll stop another time.”
That was the last time I saw Shirley, but she left me with two reminders.
First, don’t miss an opportunity to show you care, even if it means turning the car around and going back. The second lesson was something I try to remember every time I drive through town. If someone is holding up traffic by looking at the flowers and rolling down their window to smell the aroma of their favorite restaurant . . . have patience. It may be their final glimpse of the place they love.
You never know what a little kindness can mean.
Here's a story about 7-Up cakes where I mentioned Shirley: Hospitality lives on and on.