A few weeks later, near the end of the spring semester, Anita called.
It was a beautiful day, her final exams were over (as were mine) and her son Don was camping with friends, her husband Fritz was traveling on business, and this Sunday afternoon was stretching easily in front of her. She wanted to do something with someone, but she didn’t have much money.
Preaching to the choir, honey.
Once again I was beginning my annual “I am going to exercise and lose weight” stint, which usually lasted two days. But it was such a nice day and she wanted to go for a walk and that sounded like a wonderful idea. I even wanted to go for a walk.
“Come to my houze, I have a very little park near my house I like to walk in. We can walk there and talk. It’ll be fun.”
Sounded like fun. What could possibly go wrong?
And why do I keep asking myself this question? I know I’ll be answered, in spades.
I drove to her home, which was about 45 miles away. It was a beautiful, two-story home in a fairly new subdivision. It had soaring arched windows and hardwood floors. It was really almost too big for the three of them, but then again Anita and Fritz helped me move into a three-bedroom home of my own and there was only one of me. She was finishing washing her dishes by hand, and quickly wiped down the kitchen. She is such a bundle of energy and everything in her home is always immaculate. Does she ever sit back and just enjoy the beauty?
Once she was ready, she grabbed her car keys. “I’ll drive,” she offered.
Hmmm, a little neighborhood park you have to drive to? Well, I know people will drive to a walking/hiking trail, so maybe that’s what this was. I wasn’t as familiar with this part of her town, so what do I know?
I knew we were heading north. Far north. After about 15 minutes of driving, I began to get suspicious. I saw the signs, but I couldn’t believe it. Lake Michigan???
That little neighborhood park was the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
That explained why we needed to drive to get to this “little neighborhood park.” It wasn’t exactly in the neighborhood. And technically she didn’t exactly say “neighborhood,” just that it was “near her home.”
Anita said she and Fritz would take this path and then walk along the beach. It was so beautiful, she said. As she showed the gate attendant the annual pass for entering this national park, she handed me a map of the trails. “We usually take Number 9. We really like it. It is zo beautiful.”
She scampered along in her flip-flops as we followed that trail—“It’s only five miles!” she explained.
“That had better be round-trip total,” I said, trying not to panic.
“Oh, yah, yah, total.”
Somehow, I couldn’t believe her.
It really wasn’t a bad trail. Fairly flat and in some spots even paved. Then, there it was.
The Matterhorn of sand dunes.
And it wasn’t even Mount Baldy. Or Mount Tom. Just your regular ol’ sand dune. I looked up. I swear this thing touched the sky. I couldn’t even see the top of the dune.
Now, I don’t move fast. Never did. But I do move. I told her to go on ahead and I’d be up there eventually. I think it helped that I had been watching The Biggest Loser, because the most recent episode was where the contestants were running a marathon. Or was it a 5K? Same difference to me. But they kept emphasizing putting one foot in front of the other, so that became my mantra.
For some reason I knew I could do this. A rite of passage in college was the infamous freshman orientation trip to the Dunes (mocking called “Dunes Day,” a play on Doomsday, because, well, it really was). Later that semester our science class also went there. Mount Baldy was involved both times. The buses were always parked behind Mount Baldy and if you wanted to take the bus back to campus, you had to climb the dune.
I did it then, I could do it now.
The fact that it was 25 years and 100 pounds ago—I couldn’t let those thoughts into my brain.
It took me about 25 minutes, but I did make it to the top. Anita was frantically trying to get a signal on her cell phone. Why?
“Oh, I wanted to let Fritz know where we are. We love the view from here.”
It was a gorgeous view. But from the frantic look on Anita’s face, I think she thought I might need an ambulance. OK, I’m a little out of shape. OK, I’m a lot out of shape. I admit it. OK? And, no, I don’t need an ambulance. A hearse, maybe, but no ambulance.
Little neighborhood park, my ass.
By the time we began the ride home, my breathing was back to normal and my face was more of a cardinal red flush, as opposed to the shade of octopus purple it was when I climbed that Matterhorn of sand. As we were catching up on things, I decided to tell her about Sophia’s gift to me, the book The Secret.
Anita, it turns out, was into metaphysics. She didn’t exactly believe the information about The Secret, but she did believe in the power of thought.
She was convinced that the dead communicated with her.
“What?” I asked.
She explained two instances that, if not true, were pretty darn suspicious. One involved her grandmother. She had a vision one night about living next door to her grandmother, in Brazil, and Grandma was floating through the fence to return home. When Anita called her parents in Brazil later that day, she was told her grandmother died the previous night.
A second instance involved a person she had never really met. He was a contractor in Iraq, post-9/11, who had been kidnapped. She happened to meet a relative of his who lived in town. One night, Anita was dreaming and the two had a conversation. “But ze odd ting, Smith,” she confided, “was he was behind a curtain-like cloud—he vasn’t very clear. What do you tink that means?”
“That he’s not dead?” I offered.
“It could be, but I zdon’t tink so. I’ve never dreamt about him before. And I’ve never had another one since.”
“How long ago was this dream?”
She thought. “Ah, about a year ago. Last June.”
This was now the following May and there had been no official word on the fate of this man, one way or the other. Anita continued telling me about how she communicates with the dead, and reincarnation, and quantum physics.
“I really don’t believe in reincarnation,” I said, hoping to change the subject. Quantum physics? Why am I starting to hyperventilate? Will there be a quiz?
“Oh, but thees books isn’t totally about that. It’s by a very famous author. It makes you tink.”
“It’s by Edvard Cache.”
Edward Cash? “Never heard of him.”
She looked puzzled. “He’s very famous. How could you have never heard of him?”
She glanced at me while she drove. I had no idea who she was speaking about. But then again, with her accent, it could be anybody. But I was usually pretty good about deciphering her speech.
“Spell the last name.”
“Oh, you mean Edgar Cayce,” pronouncing it correctly as “Casey”. “Him I’ve heard of but I’ve never ready any of this books.”
“Oh, you need to. I tink you will enjoy them. It’s not just about reincarnation. He’s very religious.”
When we returned to her home, she took me upstairs to a room they had turned into a library. She had thought of two other books I should read first, to help prepare me for this endeavor.
“You do know I read about a total of two books a year, don’t you? When do you expect these back?” I asked her as we pulled into her driveway. As an English professor, especially of composition—you didn’t read more than you had to and you always read with a red pen in your hand—a force of habit. And I always found errors in books. It drives me insane.
Anita laughed, as she unlocked her front door. We headed upstairs to her den, where all of the family’s books were shelved. She never looked back at me, solely focusing on her mission. As soon as she entered the room, she dropped her purse and went straight to the shelves. “Oh, you read faster than that. You return them when you’re finished.” She was up and down, crouching and standing on tip-toes, trying to find the elusive book.
“What’s the title of the book?”
“Something about reincarnation. I don’t remember exactly.” She continued her search.
“Well,” I tried to help, “how do you have the books organized?”
“I don’t,” she groaned. “My son got bored and decided to reorganize my books one day last summer. By color. I could have killed him.”
I took a second look at the book case—it really was organized by color. Kind of pretty, actually. “How did you keep from killing him?”
“I almost didn’t. I was so furious with him. Then Fritz told me, ‘Aww, don’t be so mean. He spent all day working on this.’ Yah, but it wasn’t HIS books. I think it had a blue cover.”
Down she went again and finally found it. “OK, here’s one. Read this one first, but not the very first.”
Getting her bearings, she was plucking book after book off the shelf and passing them back to me.
“I’m serious,” I said. “I really don’t read a lot of books.”
“Oh, these are easy reads. You’ll get through one a day.”
I laughed. “Wanna bet?”
It took me nearly a year, but I did get all six of them read.