Driving north on US-23, my husband passed a sign between Ossineke and Alpena. You are now crossing the 45th Parallel, Halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.
“Dad would point to that sign when he drove us to Gram and Gramp’s on Grand Lake,” Mel said. “Perhaps that planted the seed of my love for geography.”
I imagined us crossing the 45th Parallel line, our car a speck amongst millions of vehicles on America’s highways – one reason we chose the road less traveled to Cheboygan.
We also preferred the old route with stately homes in small towns with attractions that provoked Mel’s childhood memories. Pinconning’s vacant Deer Acres Fun Park, for instance.
“Yeah, Dad stopped there. And the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox Park. But someone’s taken them down.”
“And your dad probably stopped for ice cream.”
Mel grinned at another seed his father planted.
We dined on enchilada and chili relleno in Alpena—checked in to our hotel in charming Cheboygan before nightfall.
“Thanks for taking this trip with me,” I said. “The last time Al and I talked, he said, ‘I love Mel.’ And I said, ‘Al, you love everybody.’”
My husband first met Al Newman four summers ago during my fiftieth high school reunion for my graduating class of 1967. There, we met Al’s wife. Sitting under a pavilion within Stony Creek Metropark, we talked for hours with fellow classmates and their spouses.
Two Octobers later, Mel and I met Al and Denise in Mackinac City before we toured Mackinac Island with other friends. Again, we recalled our past and present families as time permitted.
From Vietnam’s jungles to his prison ministry, occupation as an upholsterer, and the joys and trials of parenthood, Al and Denise kept us in fits of laughter and tears.
As we promised, we phoned or emailed one another until a good friend notified me of Al’s passing last month. I called Denise and made travel arrangements.
On the beautiful Saturday morning of September 18, Cheboygan’s Northshore Community Church filled with folk honoring the life and times of Albert Newman. Of all blessings, Mel and I met his son Albert, and Denise found a moment alone with us.
After a fellow Vietnam vet presented Denise with the American flag, their Pastor spoke the concluding words. “Al loved the language of Scripture, and he loved to eat. He anticipated the Supper of the Lamb together with fellow Christians.”
When we stood to leave the sanctuary, the woman to my left turned to me. “Pardon me. Are you related to Al?”
“No. I dated him our senior year in high school. He stood by my side through my parents’ divorce, and broke up with me before I left for college. We met again at our 50th class reunion.”
Dear Reader, I imagine Al ascending above the equator, poles, and parallels of Earth into infinite realms of our Heavenly Father. And I’m watching the signs.
I, too, anticipate the Supper of the Lamb.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.