A breakfast joint, filled with smells of bacon and coffee. I was visiting my hometown in Florida. I heard the sound of people conversing. People laughing. Forks clinking. I was eating my eggs when I got the text.
I glanced at my phone and lost my appetite. An old friend died.
He was seventy-six. He used to be a singer. And I’ll never forget the story I heard about him.
Once, a nine-year-old girl from church asked him to sing for her dog’s funeral. He wore a necktie and the whole nine yards. He sang “Beulah Land.” That’s the kind of guy he was.
I was interrupted from my thoughts. It was another old friend who came through the doors. Lisa, a girl I grew up with.
I hugged her neck and asked how her father was doing.
Lisa smiled. “He’s okay, Mom hired a personal trainer to kick his butt, he whines about it.”
I’ll never forget her father. He once took me to a father-son church retreat at Blue Lake Methodist Camp, along with his own son. He did this because I had no father and he didn’t want me to be left out.
I stood to leave the restaurant. That’s when I saw another friend. James is his name. James and I used to have a summer job together, parking cars. He’s a mess.
Back then, James would try to procure the phone number of any female unfortunate enough to make eye-contact with him.
I exited the restaurant and saw two more friends in the parking lot. Samantha and her husband, Wade.
We hugged. It was nice seeing them. We were once in a Sunday school class together.
Long ago, our class took a trip to Nashville. Wade brought a Mason jar full of something his Episcopalian uncle had brewed in a bathtub.
Consequently, Wade doesn’t remember much about that trip.
After saying goodbye, I drove across town to the grocery store. I walked around Publix in search of a few items my wife told me to get: lip gloss, baby wipes, grape tomatoes, and collards.
In the produce aisle, I saw an old woman named Barbara, who used to cut my hair. I haven’t thought about her in years.
We embraced. She kissed my cheek. We had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes. She told me my hair was looking shaggy in front.
Then, in the checkout lane, I saw a man whose yard I used to mow when I worked in landscaping.
In the parking lot I saw a man who I used to work with, a woman whose wedding I attended, and a guy who used to do my taxes.
I left the store and drove to the post office where I stood in line to mail a few packages. There, I saw three friends I went to college with.
Three at once. What are the odds?
We all shook hands in the post-office line, then talked about what we’re doing with our lives. It was good seeing them, and I’m grateful I don’t look nearly as old as they do.
I went to the gas station next. And I think you know where this is going.
It was the cashier, he recognized me. He said, “Hey! Remember me? It’s Allen! I lived down the road from you!”
Allen? My God. Allen used to give me rides in his brother’s Camaro—which I later found out was a stolen vehicle connected with a Circle-K robbery.
I drove home. I pulled into the driveway and I saw my elderly neighbor, walking his dog, Buster. We shook hands. I asked how Buster’s recent surgery went.
“Well,” he said. “Buster’s still pretty mad at me for taking away his man card.”
Buster looked at me with disgust.
I bid him goodbye, and I was left in my front yard, staring at the sky.
For some reason, I felt so good that my cheeks hurt and my voice was hoarse.
Listen, I don’t know a thing about life, I know even less about what happens when it’s over. But maybe, just maybe, when we depart we arrive in a big place that smells an awful lot like a kitchen.
Maybe there’s coffee, the smell of bacon, and the sounds of happy conversation. Perhaps it’s a place where everyone stands in line to hug your neck.
Where old friends shake your hand and old mothers kiss your cheek. Where people you once loved are waiting at the banister. Where old men who sang at funerals find rest for their souls. Where my late father resides.
A place so beautiful it makes you homesick. A place where no sad goodbyes are spoken. Where time won’t matter anymore. Someday, perhaps, on thee I’ll stand.
Sweet Beulah Land.