word count: 7,516
Squinting to better see the road signs, Sid Ellington slowed down a bit and prepared to take the next exit. He was lost, as lost as he could ever remember being and he couldn’t figure out how it had happened. He ran a wrinkled, age-spotted hand through his thinning, white hair and caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror. “My god, I look so old,” he thought. “Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I had a thick, brown head of hair and a black leather jacket...”
From behind him a blaring horn interrupted his sojourn into the past, letting him know that in the estimation of the teenager who honked again to display his growing impatience, he needed to speed up. After glancing at his speedometer, in a thin, crackly voice Sid admitted, “Well, I guess he’s right. Forty-five is a tad slow in a sixty-five zone.” Feeling slightly ashamed of himself for driving like an old man he pressed down a bit harder on the accelerator pedal. Approaching the next freeway exit, Sid read the sign as he took the off-ramp. “Memory Lane, Texas? Now where in tarnation is that?” he wondered. “How long have I been headed in the wrong direction?” He turned to glance over his right shoulder, so that he could change lanes and pull into the gas station at the intersection up ahead. Wracking his brain for clues as to where he might be, he could not vaguely remember ever hearing of a town by this name. Perhaps he had misread the road sign on the interstate.
He passed a square, green sign announcing Walker Avenue as being the next cross street and as he pulled into the gas station he reached for the Texas road map which he kept in the console of his ten-year-old, 2004 Oldsmobile. Preparing to go inside to ask for directions, he realized a young man was standing by his door, looking in through his window. Sid reached over, hit the button that automatically lowered the glass and looked up to see what this smiling, uniformed fellow wanted.
“Fill her up?” the lad asked, sounding as if he were doing a Gomer Pyle impersonation.
Sid heard him, but the words weren't at all what he had expected. “What’d you say?” Sid asked.
Still smiling, the young man asked again with that country twang, “Fill her up?” and added, “Regular, or Ethyl?”
Sid shook his head, Regular or Ethyl? What kind of a gas station was this with a uniformed attendant offering full service? He hadn’t seen anything like that since maybe 1970. This must be one of those nostalgia things, some kind of a tourist trap he figured. “Yes sir, fill her up.” It felt good to give that order. “With Ethyl," Sid added.
The attendant walked over to the pump and flipped a metal lever that made the old fashioned pre- digitalized numbers roll back to zero. Sid watched, fascinated, as the attendant, Ted, according to the patch over his pocket, jammed the nozzle into his tank and, after the gas started flowing, began to clean his windshield. Although enjoying the service, Sid began to get suspicious. “What’s this old-fashioned service gonna cost me?” he wondered. He figured high octane gasoline would normally run about Four-thirty a gallon at the gas station back home, but how much more would he have to pay for this impressive display; this nostalgic step back in time?
Sid opened the door and got out, intending to go inside and grab a soda. He found nothing more than an old cash register inside; the small office cooled by an oscillating fan. Instead of a convenience store that also sold gas, this was strictly a gas station with two bays for car repairs. Wondering which credit card he should pull out of his wallet, he looked around for a gasoline company logo. His mouth fell open when he spied a large, blue and orange display above him on a round marquee sign. “Gulf?” he gaped, “How can that be? There haven’t been any Gulf gasoline stations in, well, over thirty years. I guess I’ll just have to use my Mastercard.”
His thirst overwhelmed the mild sense of confusion and surprise he was experiencing and reminded him to reach into his pocket to see how much change he had for the coke machine. Man, these guys had really gone all out on the antiques. Sitting outside, between the car repair bays and the entrance to the fan-cooled office area, this fire engine red, classic coke machine was one of those with glass bottles instead of cans or plastic, where you could see the bottle caps of about ten various types of soda protruding from round slots behind a vertical glass panel.
He read the tops of the caps and decided on a Nehi grape soda. He hadn’t had a Nehi grape soda since, probably since the last time he had gotten full service at a gas station. He looked for the slot to insert his money and was surprised to find no place for a dollar bill. There was only an old-fashioned coin insert with the price of ten cents listed above it. Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if you could still get a soda for just ten cents? The machine probably didn’t work. It was most likely here just for looks, but Sid was willing to risk a dime to see what would happen.
Not knowing what to expect, he slipped a dime into the coin slot and opened the vertical panel by pulling on the silvery metal handle. Feeling the chilled air wrap around his hand he tugged firmly on the end of the grape soda bottle and was delighted as it slid out neatly, followed by a clunking noise as another bottle rolled down a metal track and fell into the vacancy left by its predecessor. Holding the ice cold, sweating bottle up to admire it, Sid marveled at the long forgotten experience, turning the bottle slowly, inspecting it as if it were some valuable relic worthy of drawing a decent price at an antique auction. He could hear the rapid cadence of the auctioneer’s words in his mind. “Who’ll ah gim’me ten, ten dollars, gim’me ten, who’ll ah gim’me, who’ll ah gim’me ten dollars?”
“Pardon me, sir,” came a voice from behind. It was the young, uniformed lad who had been pumping his gas. Sid braced himself for what he knew was going to be a shock. He knew this place wasn’t staying in business by selling sodas for ten cents a pop. Normally, he was used to paying around seventy-five to eighty bucks for a fill up and that was with regular unleaded, so how much was this going to be; a hundred, maybe more? Sid glanced over at the repair bays and noticed a 1955 Chevy Belaire and a 1957 Ford Fairlane waiting to be worked on. Well, that made sense. Antique car repair and maintenance was a high-profit business. A really good mechanic could build a healthy, wealthy clientele and earn a respectable living, even in a little town that nobody ever heard of, a hundred miles from nowhere.
“What do I owe you, Ted?” Sid asked. He knew he hadn’t needed more than nine or ten gallons, so he hoped this wouldn’t be too terribly expensive.
Smiling politely and still sounding a great deal like a character out of the old Andy Griffith Show, the young man replied, “One sixty-five, sir. I vacuumed the interior for you, and added a little air to that left rear tire. You might want to keep an eye on it.”
Sid was sick. He felt like he had just been sucker punched. He knew what was happening now. The sheriff in this little town would be called if he refused to pay, and he’d end up spending the night in the pokey, after which his impounded car would be released for, how much, probably around three-hundred dollars. Then he would be fined for theft of services and for Pete’s sake, how could he make such a stupid mistake? After 60 years in the dog-eat-dog world of car sales, where you have to be pretty dad-gummed sharp to survive, how could he let himself fall into such a trap? Why hadn’t he checked the prices before he let this smiling bandit pump the gas? He was beginning to get angry now, wondering just how many elderly folks this cordial crook had conned.
“One sixty-five? One sixty-five! By damn, how can it possibly be one sixty-five?” Sid demanded, his face turning crimson.
Ted took off his white cap and scratched his reddish orange, crew cut head, looking confused, as if he couldn’t understand why the price should be a problem. “Well, sir, you see, it took a little over nine-and-a-half gallons to fill your tank. You did say fill it up, didn’t you?”
Sid answered, “Yes, but...”
Ted continued before Sid could say anything else. “A hair over nine and a half gallons at seventeen cents per gallon comes to one sixty-five. That wouldn’t be more than what you have on you sir, would it?”
Again, Sid heard the words plain and clear, but they just didn’t seem to make a lick of sense. “Now wa- wait a minute,” he stammered, trying to calm down, “Are you saying I owe one dollar and sixty-five cents, not one Hundred and sixty-five dollars?”
The young man stared incredulously with his hands on his hips and his mouth hanging open, evidently as shocked as Sid had been just a moment ago. Seeing the baffled look on the attendant’s face, Sid realized that for whatever reason, the price really was only a dollar and sixty-five cents and there was evidently no scam of any kind in progress. Sheepishly, he said, “You guys must be having some whale of a promotion, or something." Pulling two bucks out of his pocket, he asked, “Some kind of anniversary for the business or maybe for the town?” Without giving Ted the time to answer Sid held the two dollars out and changed the subject. “Is there some place where I can get something to eat around here?”
“The Apple Grove Inn would be my first choice if you’re looking for a nice balanced meal. It’s a little pricey, though,” the young man cautioned. “Some of their lunches run nearly four dollars.” Seeing the surprised look on Sid’s face, Ted suggested something less expensive. “If you’re just in the mood for a burger and fries, there’s a new Griff’s hamburger joint on Walker Avenue. You can get a burger there for just fifteen cents.”
Beginning to relax and enjoy this promotion, or whatever was going on in this town, Sid asked, “How do I get to this Apple Grove Inn?”
Ted put his white cap back on and pointed, “You get back up on the highway and take the quadruple bypass...”
“The quadruple bypass?” Sid chuckled out loud. He figured a local group of former heart patients had adopted that name for a stretch of road that would give you the choice to go in any of four different directions.
Ted nodded and admitted, “I know, some of the street names around here may seem pretty silly, but just about everything in this town is geared towards seniors. We have an unusually large amount of retired people around here.”
“Yeah,” Sid stroked his chin, “I’m not surprised to hear that. So which way did you say I should go to get to this Apple Grove Inn?”
“From the bypass, go north on Memory Lane Boulevard, and take Reminiscent Road to the right. Then just follow the signs from there. You can’t miss it.”
After thanking Ted and apologizing for getting a little riled up, Sid got back in his Oldsmobile and turned the ignition key. A buck sixty-five for a fill up: he liked that, as a matter of fact he liked that a lot.
On the way to the restaurant Sid noticed there didn’t seem to be another car or truck on the road that was any newer than a 1957 model and the billboards along the way were like original works of art. There was an ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes that proudly displayed the letters L.S.M.F.T. Sid remembered that stood for “Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.” Sid didn’t smoke, never had, but he appreciated the pains someone had gone to in perfectly recreating that and other billboards in this town. By the time he pulled into the parking lot of the Apple Grove Inn he was convinced that he had never seen such a complete community effort in carrying out a theme. From the way they dressed, to the way they spoke and wore their hair, these people could teach Disneyland a thing or two.
While waiting for a waitress, Sid walked over to the jukebox and found an excellent assortment of tunes by Elvis, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, the McGuire Sisters, Dean Martin and Perry Como. He dropped in a dime and punched in E-3 along with two other selections. Three selections for a dime, “How about that?” he thought. He went back to his table and waited to hear “High Hopes,” the story of a little old ant that tried to move a rubber tree plant. He leaned back, enjoying the atmosphere, marveling at the huge apple tree, which rose from the center of the establishment right up through the roof. By the time Nat King Cole and a host of backup singers put the finishing touches on “Rambling Rose,” Sid was embroiled in a debate with himself over whether or not there were supposed to be any apple trees in Texas. He didn’t think there were, ‘ceptin for maybe crab apples, and wondered how this one could look so healthy.
When his waitress arrived, Sid marveled at her outfit, which included a poodle skirt, oxfords and bobby sox. Was there no end to the lengths these people would go? She handed him a menu and set a glass of water down on the table. Introducing herself, she said, “Hi, I’m Rachel. I’ll be your waitress today. Have you ever been to the Apple Grove Inn before?”
Sid replied, “No, but judging by what I’ve seen so far in this menu, I’ll sure be back. Is this a mistake?” he asked, pointing to the price of a 14-ounce, T-bone steak dinner, complete with salad and baked potato or steak fries, which was listed as being only $3.95.
The waitress nodded, “I know,” she said, frowning, “I keep telling them that’s too much to charge for lunch, but hey, I’m just a waitress. Do you need a few minutes to make up your mind? I can come back.”
“No,” Sid answered without hesitation. “I think I’ll splurge and go for that T-bone. Have it cooked medium-well please and I’ll have the baked potato with it.”
“Sure, no problem.” She scribbled something onto her order pad, looked back up again and asked, “What do you want on your baked potato?”
“Everything,” Sid replied. Seeing another table’s order being carried out of the kitchen, Sid's mouth began to water. The T-bone popped and sizzled, capturing the attention of everybody in the establishment. Sid turned back to his waitress and said, “Wow!”
“Yeah,” Rachel agreed, “kind’a impressive, huh? What kind of salad dressing would you like?”
“Do you have Ranch?” Sid asked.
Rachel’s forehead wrinkled, “Do we have what?”
“Ranch salad dressing. Do you have it?” Sid asked again.
Rachel shook her head no, and said, “Golly, I never even heard of it. We have Italian, Thousand Island, Bleu Cheese, and French. What’s it gonna be?”
Sid responded with, “I’ll take the Thousand Island.”
Rachel wrote ‘TI’ on her order pad and turned to leave, but spun back around to say, “Oh, by the way, be sure to save some room for dessert. Today we have homemade chocolate meringue pie, or our world famous apple pie ala mode.” Sid loved chocolate pie, but he loved apple as well. This was going to be a difficult decision, indeed, but whatever he chose he would certainly pad the bill by another whopping ten cents and have a nice cup of coffee with his dessert. The waitress turned away again and headed for the kitchen, her blonde ponytail twitching as she walked.
Shoveling the last few crumbs of chocolate meringue pie into his mouth Sid admitted that this really was a heck of a great place to have lunch. The pie had been the real McCoy, not that ice box pie with the cheap whipped cream topping. The smooth, sweet filling was just the right consistency, not overly thick and not too watery. Lifting his second cup of coffee to just beneath his nose, he inhaled deeply before draining the last few drops. The robust aroma and flavor complimented the lingering remnants of the chocolate filling and floury crust that still danced a waltz across his tongue and throughout his mouth. “A fella could get used to this,” Sid thought. He smacked his lips and picked up his napkin to dab at them.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?” Rachel asked. “Maybe a little more coffee?”
“No ma’am,” Sid patted his stomach and said, “I’m darn near ready to bust wide open right now, but it was a wonderful meal. I can’t say as I ever remember having a better lunch for the money.”
Rachel smiled, thanked Sid for coming and laid the check on the corner of the table before she walked over to another table where an elderly couple had just been seated and began waiting on them. Sid picked up the check and suddenly realized he saw it clearly without the use of his reading glasses, which had remained in his pocket even while he had perused the menu. He smiled at the low prices, which read, 14-ounce T-bone special, $3.95, Chocolate Pie, 60 cents, Coffee, 10 cents, for a total of $4.65. He scratched his head as he noting that no tax had been added in. He figured the same meal, back home, would have run $25.00, or more, and undoubtedly wouldn’t have been nearly as good. He left a ten-dollar bill on the table and got up to leave.
He had almost reached the door when his waitress came running up and said, “Sir, you forgot to wait for your change!” she held a five dollar bill out for him to take, but he held up his hand, palm out, and smiled.
“No I didn’t,” he said. “You keep the change, young lady. The meal and the excellent service you provided were worth every penny.” Rachel stared at the crisp five dollar bill as if it were a twenty-dollar tip, and upon reflection moments later as he started up his Oldsmobile, Sid supposed that based on the prices he had seen around town, perhaps that five actually was the equivalent of twenty bucks back home.
~ ~ ~
With such a large meal in his belly Sid began to think how good a nap would feel and decided to check into the Holiday Inn that he had seen while on the way to the restaurant. The clerk at the check-in counter was a balding man of about fifty, who wore a navy-blue blazer and small, wire-frame reading glasses. Looking up from some kind of paperwork, he peered over the edge of his reading glasses and greeted Sid by saying, “Good afternoon sir. Are you in need of a room?”
Noticing the lobby’s décor was consistent with everything else in the town, straight out of the 1950’s, Sid replied, “I believe I am,” and asked, “How much for a single?”
“Seventeen dollars,” came the answer, “but we can give you a better rate if you’re staying more than two days.”
“Nope, I’ll just be here tonight.” Sid said, “Then I have to get back on the road, but to be honest, I sure hate to leave. You folks have a wonderful town here. I can’t believe I never knew it existed.”
The man behind the desk removed his glasses and smiled warmly, “Why thank you, sir. We do try our best to make folks feel welcome here in Memory Lane.” He pushed a large, leather-bound, registry book across the counter for Sid to sign, and at the top of the page beside the name of the motel, which read, Holiday Inn, Memory Lane, Texas, instead of August 1, 2014, the date was listed as August 1, 1957.
Plucking the long, black pen from its elegant holder, permanently affixed to the marble counter, Sid prepared to sign in, saying, “I don’t think you folks could have possibly come up with a more appropriate name for your community. What room number do I have?”
“Room 19,” the clerk replied. “Downstairs, on the back corner. It’s away from the pool, so it should be nice and quiet and, by the way, if you want to watch some TV, we just put a brand new RCA in that room. Ernie Kovacs comes on tonight, you know. Checkout is at noon tomorrow. Have a restful stay.” Smiling again, the clerk held the key out.
Sid reached out, took the key and walked back out to where he had parked his car, but looking like it had just driven off the showroom floor, instead of his venerable 2004 Oldsmobile he saw what seemed to be a classic '57 Olds. Sid looked to the right and the left, thinking that maybe he was mistaken about where he had parked, but no, his car was gone all right. He reached into his right pants pocket, fearing perhaps he had left his keys in the car, making it an easy target for a car thief. As he pulled them out, he stared in disbelief at what he saw. Those weren’t his keys. They looked like they belonged to a much older vehicle, like the one sitting right where his car had been.
The gleaming, silver, four-door, 1957 Oldsmobile ’98 Holiday almost seemed to beckon to him as he approached. As if in a trance, he slid the key into the door’s waiting lock and turned it. The lock clicked as the key turned smoothly, just as he had somehow known it would. Sliding behind the big wheel, Sid felt as if 40 years had been stripped away from his tired, arthritic body.
Glancing up at the generously sized, rear- view mirror he ran his hand through his hair and saw something he hadn’t seen in at least 35 years. His hair and eyebrows were brown! They were as brown and as thick as when he was a much younger man of say, thirty-five, or at the most, forty! He looked closely at the hand that had just run through that hair and stared, wide-eyed, at the amazing transformation of his skin. That morning it had been dry, paper thin, wrinkled and liberally spotted with what his mother, as she grew older, used to call “liver spots.” Now his skin looked and felt like that of a virile young man less than half his age! A hallucination, perhaps? Sid didn’t care and he didn’t feel tired any longer.
He turned the key in the ignition, marveled at the deep throated purr of the V-8 and rather than heading for his room, he decided to do a little more exploring. He gunned the engine once and wondered what other miraculous surprises might await him in this magical town called Memory Lane.
~ ~ ~
Cruising down Main Street in Memory Lane seemed like an experience straight out of a theme park. Sid parked his car and followed a pair of happy, laughing teenagers into a malt shop, filled with the wonderful smells of hamburgers cooking and the sounds of the Everly Brothers on the jukebox, singing “Wake up Little Susie.” Surrounded by young people, Sid watched as they sipped on their cherry colas and made plans to go to the dance or the movies that evening. Sid envied the exuberance they displayed. How long had it been since he got excited about something so meaningless as a movie or a dance? His eyes fixed upon a young lady perched on a tall stool, with a stack of books piled high on the table in front of her. Her red hair and freckles reminded Sid of his dear wife, Ellen, who had died last year.
The teenager looked up and smiled self-consciously, noticing that she was being watched. God, she was cute! He had an overwhelming urge to walk right up to her and tell her, but she couldn’t have been more than nineteen and he, judging by his last glance in the mirror, appeared to be nearly forty. She would be repulsed, if not frightened, by this man, old enough to be her father, if he were to ask her to go to the movies or a dance. Trying not to stare, he acted as if he were looking at something or someone on the other side of the shop. She looked so much like Ellen; the way she had looked when he had first asked her to go steady.
Unable to handle the frustration, Sid got up shaking his head and hurried towards the boy’s room. Upon opening the door he saw three sinks, each equipped with a standard, rectangular mirror above it. The one on the far right had a crack running diagonally right through the middle. As he approached the nearest one, he caught a glimpse of himself, and stopped in his tracks. His mouth hung open in shock. His hair wasn’t just completely brown once again; it was now styled in a full pompadour, the crowning touch to the wide-eyed young man that looked back at him from the mirror. Instinctively he reached for his comb and found it, right there where it was supposed to be, in the upper breast pocket of the leather jacket he now wore. Where had that come from? Making sure he looked just the way he wanted, he whipped the comb out and ran it through his fabulous locks. Satisfied, he slipped the comb back into his jacket and reached into the right rear pocket of his jeans. Jeans? He hadn’t been wearing jeans! Pulling out his wallet he flipped it open deftly, finding one hundred and eighty dollars, which would go a long way in this town, and marveled at his drivers’ license, which now displayed an expiration date of August 15, 1957. That would mean he was coming up on his twentieth birthday! Now he could ask that pretty little lady to go to a dance or the movies, and this time he had plenty of money to be able to show her a really good time.
Standing in the restroom, looking down at the uneven, cracked, gray concrete floor, he recalled the first time he took Ellen out on a date, oh so many years ago. He hadn’t been able to afford the movies so they had just gone to the high school dance and then had sat on a park bench afterwards, looking at the stars and talking about their bold plans for the future. Ellen had said she would be as famous as Jonas Salk, the man who had discovered the polio vaccine. She predicted that as a medical research scientist, she would find a cure for cancer and heart disease. Sid voiced a desire to be a baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but admitted that probably wasn’t a very realistic goal. What he remembered most about that first date was how comfortable he felt in Ellen’s company, and he was sure she felt the same way, as it had been she that had put her head on his shoulder and had reached out to take his hand. He smiled at the warm memory and decided there was no time to waste. He turned, and stuffing his wallet back into his jeans strode confidently back through the door, intent on finding that girl and asking her for a date. There was just one problem. The stack of books and the redhead that had accompanied them were both gone.
Frantically looking to the left and right, hoping she was just chatting with one of her friends, Sid scanned the entire place and then he spotted her through the window, walking across the street. He sprinted after her, almost knocking over a tall, skinny waitress carrying a tray, upon which sat three malts and a banana split piled high with whipped cream and a cherry perched on top. From behind, as he bolted out the door he heard her yell, “Hey, watch out, buster!” If he had been the same Sid Ellington that had taken the off ramp that morning, he’d have been appalled at the carelessness the brash, pompadoured youth displayed, but now he was, in fact, that youngster and the only thing he cared about was catching up with that redhead!
Sprinting out onto the sidewalk he shouted, “Hey Ellen!” Realizing he didn’t really know her name and might as well be shouting something in Chinese, he was amazed when she turned, with a surprised look on her face and stopped on the sidewalk across the street from the malt shop, waiting for him to catch up.
“How do you know my name?” she asked, eyeing Sid suspiciously. “Do we know each other?”
“Well,” Sid replied, catching his breath, “I think we should, don’t you?” He smiled, looking into her familiar green eyes, feeling as if somehow he may have been given the one thing he wanted more than anything else; the one thing he had dreamed of ever since his dear wife’s death. Could it possibly be that somehow fate had decided to give him another lifetime with the only woman he had ever loved? “Would you like to go to the movies tonight?” he asked.
It was obvious to Sid that she wanted to say yes, however, she resisted the urge and responded by saying, “But I don’t know anything about you. I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Sid, Sid Ellington. There, now you know my name and if you’ll go to the movies with me tonight you can find out almost anything else you want to know.”
“Ellington,” she said, repeating the name experimentally, as if she were testing to see how it sounded when she said it, or as if maybe it meant something to her for some reason she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “Are you from around here?” she asked, but before Sid could even begin to answer he was interrupted by an approaching bus which she was intending to board. Hurriedly she said, “We live at 1021 Eagle Street, come by at six-thirty and meet my Mom and Dad. Then, if they say it’s okay, I’ll go to the movies with you.” The bus squealed to a stop, the smell of diesel exhaust filling the air as the doors swung inward with a whoosh, revealing the steps. She hopped up and grabbed the rail, balancing the stack of books against her chest with her other hand.
“See you tonight,” Sid shouted over the combined grinding noise of the manual transmission being forced into first gear, the revving of the bus’ engine, and the doors swinging closed. As the bus pulled away, he could see her inside, through the windows, making her way towards an empty seat while still peering out at where he stood, waiving. On the back of the bus, partially obscured by a bluish gray belch of exhaust, was a big ad promoting the movie, “Bridge on the River Kwai.” Sid decided that was what they would go see that evening. “They just don’t make many movies like that anymore,” he thought. But then he thought, “Wait a minute, this time period is when they did make them like that. This isn’t some theme park. A theme park can’t turn you into a kid again.” He shook his head in amazement as the bus receded in the distance. “How could this be?” He wondered, as the thrilling realization swept over him, “This isn’t a dream; this is real!”
He didn’t know why or how he had been transformed into a young man once again during the 1950’s, but ultimately, he figured seeking an explanation for any of what was happening was pretty much senseless. He reasoned the best thing to do was to just enjoy the experience and hope with all of his might that it would continue.
~ ~ ~
That night Sid explained to Ellen’s parents that his Mom and Dad were dead, (but he didn’t tell them they died in the 70’s) and that he would be a junior this year at the University of Texas, majoring in business. Sid knew Ellen Brown’s parents before they had ever opened the door. Her Mom was Ethel, and her Dad was Fred. He used to kid around with them and call them the Mertz’s, like Lucy’s neighbors on the old I Love Lucy shows. Fred was a balding, bespectacled, broad shouldered bull of a guy who owned an Oldsmobile dealership and possessed a sense of humor that was as dry as toast. He also cast a suspicious eye towards any of the young men that dated his daughter. Ethel was a church-going busybody, always prying into the private affairs of other people and then acting as if her one, true, calling in life was as that of a town crier. Fred used to call her “Newspaper,” because she could always tell you more than what you could find in the paper about any of the local goings on.
Sid breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Brown said, “Ellen, if you don’t mind being seen with this T-sipper, then I guess you can go out with him tonight.” Then he turned, menacingly pointed his finger right in Sid’s face, and said, “You get her home by eleven-thirty, young fella. That ought to be plenty of time for you two to see a movie and grab a milkshake. Just make sure that’s all you grab, understand?”
“Yes sir,” Sid answered, “eleven-thirty, on the button.”
Mr. Brown turned, and shaking that same finger at his daughter, said, “The same thing goes for you, too, Ellen.”
Wasting no time now that she had parental approval, Ellen picked up her purse and sweater, in case the theatre was chilly and said, “Let’s go, Sid, time’s wasting, we aren’t getting any younger standing around here.”
Sid flinched at her ironic choice of words, thinking, “That’s easy for you to say.” After all, he had shed about sixty years already. If it kept up, he’d be in diapers by the time he got Ellen back home.
After the movie Sid and Ellen sat on a wooden bench in the City Park. The crickets provided a soft, soothing background to the conversation, which mainly consisted of Ellen’s optimistic plans for the future and her inquiries into Sid’s preferences and his past. She marveled at how much they had in common and how he seemed to instinctively know so much about her. How could he have known, how could he possibly have known that she wanted to become a medical research scientist? Sighing as she reached out to take his hand she smiled contentedly, feeling more comfortable than she had ever felt with any boy she had ever dated. As she relaxed, Sid put his arm around her shoulder and said, “I just feel like I’ve known you all of my life, Ellen. Don’t you feel that way too?”
Laying her head on his shoulder, Ellen replied, “Yes, Sid, yes I do. It’s almost as if I’ve known you in another life.” She lifted her head back up and looked at him. “Do you believe that’s possible?”
“I didn’t used to,” Sid answered, “but recently my opinion on things of that nature has chanaged considerably.”
A falling star streaked across the sky almost as if the heavens wished to punctuate this magical evening with something more spectacular than just the song of crickets and the soft glow of the moon. “Did you make a wish?” Ellen asked.
“Oh yes,” Sid replied.
“Good, so did I,” she said, closing her eyes and tilting her dimpled chin upward, waiting for a kiss.
As their lips parted, Sid’s eyes remained tightly closed. He wanted desperately to freeze this night, this moment and this feeling for all time. “Why not?” he mused, here in Memory Lane that just might be possible. With his renewed vigor he quickly became intoxicated by the delicate fragrance of the perfume Ellen wore and the vivid recollections that flooded his mind of making love to the woman he had long adored and missed so desperately. Sid pulled her closer and kissed her again.
Once she regained her composure Ellen whispered, “We’ve got to be heading back home Sid.” You could hear the regret, thick in her voice.
Knowing she was right, Sid still complained, “Ellen, even Cinderella had ‘till midnight, don’t you think we could...”
“You met my Dad,” she reminded him. “Did he seem like the kind of guy who would let me come home late, especially on a first date with a new guy from out of town?” She stood up and reached out for his hand. “Tonight has been so very special,” she said, “let’s not do anything to mess it up.”
Reluctantly Sid rose from the bench, taking her hand, and walked her back to the Oldsmobile. Less than ten minutes later they were standing on her front porch. “Call me tomorrow," she said, and recited her phone number."Can you remember that?” she asked.
“I’ve never forgotten, err, I mean, I’ll never forget it,” Sid said, and he meant it. “Ellen, I know this was just our first date and you hardly know me yet, but I have something I’ve just got to tell you.”
“Tell me tomorrow,” she responded, pointing to the second floor where a light had just gone on. “That’s my Dad. He’s getting ready to come down here any minute.” She leaned forward, kissed Sid one more time and turned to the door, which opened before she could even place her hand on the doorknob.
“It’s getting late, Ellen,” her father grumbled, casting a suspicious glance in Sid’s direction.
“Call me tomorrow?” she asked again, and stepped inside.
Sid drove around town for another half-hour, enjoying the feel of the ’57 Oldsmobile, heavy and solid, before returning to the Holiday Inn. As he sat on the edge of the bed the emotional strain of the day’s events swept over him, weakening him, leaving him on the verge of tears. He didn’t begin to understand how or why he had been given a second chance to share his life with his precious Ellen, but he was sure going to make the most of it. He lay back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling as fatigue gnawed away at his attempts to rationalize what had happened. As his eyelids grew heavy he resolved to call Ellen as soon as he got up the next morning. He would call her Dad and ask him for a job, just as he had done almost 60 years ago. He would tell Mr. Brown that he would go back to school the following year if he didn’t show an aptitude for automobile sales, but he wasn’t worried about being successful. After all, how many times had he said, “If only I could go back and start over, knowing everything that I know now...” and how many 20-year-old salesmen can say they have almost 60 years worth of experience going for them? This time around he would know all of the tricks of the trade and all of the pitfalls to avoid. As his eyes closed he knew for sure this time everything would be easy. Everything would be perfect. Everything would be--
“Wake up Mr. Ellington. It’s time for your meds.” He awoke to the annoying sensation of being poked and shaken. Rolling over and squinting, he looked up into the eyes of a nurse, whose name tag identified her as Janet Reisner. Observing a look of recognition and bitter disappointment in the eyes and on the face of her patient, Nurse Reisner said, “My, my, Mr. Ellington, it’s so nice to have you back once again. You’ve been having one of your nasty old Alzheimer’s episodes. Tell me,” she asked curiously, cocking her head to the left, “where do you go when you leave us like that?”
A single tear rolled out of the corner of Sid’s left eye as he thought, “To a place I wish I never had to come back from.” A second tear followed the trail of the first, as he realized he was back in the fast-paced world of high prices, shoddy service and casual commitments. An unforgiving world that wanted fast solutions for problems that might easily have been avoided by simply slowing down and analyzing the potentially harmful results of what they were in such a hurry to achieve or possess. This wasn’t a world he wanted to be a part of. It made him feel so uncomfortable and totally unappreciated; but above all else it was lonely. He missed Ellen and knew he wouldn’t be content with any world that didn’t include her.
He reached out and grudgingly took the small paper cup containing his medication; so many pills, everyday. It was more than he could keep track of, or cared to for that matter. He swallowed the pills with the water that Nurse Reisner handed him and turned toward the nightstand, upon which sat a picture taken of Ellen in 1958, wearing her wedding dress. Looking at the phone next to the picture he thought, “555-5683, that’s Ellen’s number. I’ve got to try it.” He waited until nurse Reisner had taken his temperature, blood pressure, and had left the room before he picked up the phone and dialed it. His rising hopes were dashed by an automated voice that informed him he must first dial the area code and then the number to complete the call. Crestfallen, Sid put the phone receiver back in its cradle and wondered, “How do I get back?” He looked at the picture one more time, reached out, turned off the table lamp on the nightstand and closed his eyes tightly, shutting out the offensive reality that surrounded him.
After what seemed like no more than fifteen or twenty minutes, lying in bed half awake and half asleep, drowning in an ocean of self pity, he heard something far off in the distance that sounded like an alarm clock, or possibly the phone ringing. Sid opened his eyes, disoriented momentarily by the dim surroundings. Annoyed that it was bothering him at a time when he was so upset, he rolled over and without bothering to turn on the bedside lamp, reached out, fumbling for the phone. Oddly, it seemed further away from the bed than it should have been. Propped up on one elbow, he answered, “Hello, This is Sid Ellington.”
“Sid, this is Ellen, I hope I’m not waking you up, am I?”
“Ellen?” He blinked in disbelief and rubbed his eyes.
Again she asked, “Did I wake you up?”
Praise the Lord; he was still in Memory Lane, Texas! He hadn’t gone back to the nursing home after all! Nurse Reisner must have been nothing more than a bad dream. His chance for a second lifetime with Ellen was really happening; this was a bona fide dream come true! Anxiously, He ran his free hand through his hair and felt the thick mop that had adorned his head ever since he went to the boys’ room in the malt shop. He set the phone down on the nightstand and leapt out of bed to stare into the mirror that hung on the wall, centered over the dresser. In an instant, although only a small amount of early morning light was peeking around the edges of the tightly drawn curtains, he was able to see enough of himself to confirm the granting of his wish. Unable to contain the jubilation that welled up within him, he raised his arms and shouted, “Hallelujah!”
From behind him he heard Ellen’s voice over the phone. “Sid, Sid, what’s going on? Are you still there? Sid?”
Whirling around and grabbing the phone, Sid gushed, “Yes, yes, I’m still here Ellen! You woke me up, but you know what? I’m glad you did! I’m so very glad you did! What time can I see you today, and by the way,” he added, “do you think your father might need an extra salesman down at his dealership?”
“He might,” Ellen replied. “You know, he just might.”
Causes George Lasher Supports
American Diabetes Association