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"Everybody has a story. You listen to their story, Honeygirl, and your story will come find you."
I was twelve the summer my grandmother gave me those words. She touched my flushed cheek with her small, soft hands and kissed the end of my freckled nose. We were sitting on her porch swing, listening to the lush Louisiana twilight being beckoned to our corner of the world by the crickets' persistent chitter-buzz.
I think I remember that moment so clearly not because of Grand Lady's words but because of her touch. For years she had given me words. Every year on my birthday she had sent me a book. Each Christmas she had sent me a handwritten poem along with a pair of pink slippers. But on this rare occasion when I sat beside Grand Lady and she gave me her soft touch along with her words, I felt blessed by some sort of beauty that was larger than life.
Last spring, my daughter turned twelve, and I had only one wish. I wanted Hannah to go to Louisiana, as I had when I was her age. I wanted my ninety-two-year-old Grand Lady to touch Hannah's face and to give her the soft words that would go inside and bless her. I wanted Hannah to know the same mysterious beauty that had filled a solitary place in my spirit with hope.
No one, not even my husband, knew about my secret wish. If I had told Tom, he would have tried to scrape together the money, and I knew we didn't have it. We own a small business on a small island. The island of Maui. Yes, we are blessed to live there. We realize that. Visitors from around the world come to our shop to rent snorkel gear and tell us if they lived here they would never want to leave. Ididn't want to leave for good. Only for a week or so.
Then an unexpected twist caused my wish to come true.
The day school ended for the summer, Hannah and I took off on our adventure. We drove hundreds of miles with Arizona sunsets in the rearview mirror and Texas thunderstorms through the windshield. We arrived in Louisiana on a sultry summer's eve, and I felt as if we had stepped into a dream. Everything was familiar: the Big House, the cemetery, the Piggly Wiggly, even the pew where we sat beside Grand Lady on Sunday morning and I slipped my grown hand into hers.
Hannah shucked corn at Mr. Joe's fruit stand and ventured into the attic where she discovered Aunt Peg's sixty-year-old mothballed gowns. My sweet girl gathered gardenias by the basketful and wore them in her hair the night she lit up the evening sky with sparklers. We drank Southern sweet tea like hummingbirds and ate enough Louisiana black-eyed peas to last us for a good long while.
Then one afternoon, when I wasn't looking, Grand Lady touched my Hannah's face and gave her words that crushed her.
That was the day my story came and found me.