This story is by Cheryl D. Coffman and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
An Unexpected Memory
Roger Sanders said. “I have always loved hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The beauty is undeniable despite the heavy hiker traffic. I have met many interesting hikers from all over the world and shared a meal with a few of them. I have never completed the trail, never really wanted to for some unknown reason. I’m not a Grandmother Gatewood type with three hikes in her old age. I love hiking in North Georgia, up into Virginia. I feel right at home here, as if I am walking the dog in my neighborhood, when I’m on this trail.”
Peggy asked. “Did your father teach you to hike?”
“No, dear, a devoted hiker and Boy Scout leader put the bug in my soul, and I have been hiking since I was twelve years old.”
“Who taught me to hike?”
“I did, and I taught our two sons to hike these trails when they were twelve years old.”
Peggy said. “Oh, How long will it take us to reach this rock you have been telling me about?”
“Let me see. Are you tired or worn out? Do your new shoes rub?”
“No, I feel fine Roger. I can walk for miles. I was just curious about the time.”
“We have plenty of time, Peggy. We can enjoy the view of the pines and the oaks. Listen to the Mockingbirds and watch the squirrels scamper and chatter to each other. We may meet some interesting people on this trail. It’s fun to guess what country they are from when they don’t speak English. The last time we were on this trail together, we met a university professor from Poland. He was documenting the various trees.”
They continued to hike, and Roger’s mind drifted as he watched Peggy struggle up a rise. She laughed, and Roger remembered the first time he heard her laugh and how it thrilled him. And that steadfast, yet strange feeling that he was going to marry this girl someday. It shocked and overwhelmed him.
“Roger, why are you slowing down?”
“I was thinking of a memory watching you climb up that steep rise. I’ll be right there.”
Roger and his roommate were hiking on the trail over the 1992 Labor Day weekend. In the south, it was still hot in the afternoons. They stopped to rest on a large rock outcropping over the Virginia state line. They could see Mt. Rogers in the distance. It was past noon as they approached the rocks; they heard girls laughing and talking. There was a group of students from a college in Georgia. They had been hiking all day, headed south to Georgia and the trail’s end.
Roger noticed Peggy immediately with her long, fiery red hair in a thick braid down her back. She had a jubilant disposition. The girls invited them to come and share a trail snack. Peggy opened a warm bottle of Mountain Dew and started pouring drinks for everyone in small red plastic cups.
They all sang out, “Cheers to the Appalachian Trail.” She put a few pieces of homemade peanut brittle in Roger’s hand and asked. “How do you like my Georgia cooking?”
Peggy quickly asked. “Roger, have I been on this trail before?”
Roger mumbled angrily. “Early Onset Dementia, I hate you. God, why did you make dementia? Peggy is perfect for me, the best gift you have ever given me. Why are you allowing her memories of our precious times together to be destroyed? Why make me so angry and unforgiving of all those tests, doctors and practitioners. They don’t care, she is a patient, a growing dementia statistic, not the most wonderful person in my world, or in our family we created. How could they be so cold and say, ‘Enjoy the few years that you will have with her.’ I enjoy every moment we can spend together, even if she has lost so many memories, and only calls me Roger. Oh, how I wish she would fold me in her arms, and call me her honey bun one more time.”
“Yes, we have hiked this trail many times together in the past.”
“Did I get tired?”
“No, you had enough energy for both of us. You got thirsty and ate a lot of trail snacks but never tired while hiking.”
“Roger, you sound angry. What are you angry about and don’t tell me, nothing? I hate that word when it is a lie. You are angry about this dementia again. I am mad that it has happened to me, yet we will still love each other. Even If I have a…..”
“Peggy, look up there on the side of that hill. Is that a black bear and her cubs climbing in that tree?”
“Where, I don’t see them.”
Roger grabbed her hand, twirled her around into his arms, and tenderly kissed her.
“I think they climbed down already. We need to move on in case she wants to wander over to our side of that gully.”
“Roger, did I tell you about the time my father took us camping in Cherokee North Carolina? I was young and full of myself. I walked out of the ladies bathhouse and bumped into a black bear with the door. I screamed, it roared, and took off and I ran back into the bathroom. I stayed there until another lady walked in and said, ‘What bear’?”
Roger mumbled, “Too many times”,
They slowly continued on towards their goal.
“Honey, this last part of our hike is going to be rough with many switchback trails, and tall Mountain Laurel bushes. Watch those two men up ahead of us and when they take a sharp turn, know we will be there next.”
Peggy said. “What is the name of this place where we are going?”
Roger took a deep breath and sighed. “Peggy, this is the Appalachian Trail and we are hiking it up to a special place here in Virginia.”
He hoped that hiking their beloved trail together would help to calm the anger, resentment, hurt, and grief that gripped his heart. He had hoped that he could have a few hours of fun and not have that deep cloud hovering over them. It was always there, following them, taunting and whispering in his ear. “Enjoy the few years that you have left.”
Roger turned around to no hiker, but to all those demons, and yelled. “I hate you, Dementia, with all that is in me. You are evil, wicked, and a thief of everything that is good and beautiful in my life.”
“Come on Roger, I think we are at the top.”
They stood there, catching their breath, holding hands, and quietly enjoying the vista of the wonderful mountains.
“Not far now, dear.”
“How are we going to get back to that white house?”
“Tom will pick us up on the road and drive us back to our home in Bristol.”
“Is that a friend of ours?”
“No, Tom is our son. He is not a baby now, he is a man.”
Peggy was quiet and did not ask another question.
“Here we are Peggy, look up ahead. See those rocks. They might bring back a pleasant memory.”
They climbed up on the rocks, looking out over the mountains to their left.
“Sit here, Peggy, not over there.”
“Because I want to take a picture of you on your rock.”
Roger pulled a camera from his backpack and took several remembrance photos. Then he took out a thermos and two small red plastic cups and poured the cool Mountain Dew.
“Cheers, Peggy Sue, let’s enjoy our anniversary, my love. In 1992, we met on this exact rock and on Labor Day. I heard you laugh for the first time. I fell madly in love and I had only seen you once. You were hard to catch, with all those college boys after you, but it has been worth it all the way. This Tennessee mountain man finally married his Georgia peach.”
Peggy laughed, held up her cup, and said. “Cheers Roger, where’s the peanut brittle?”