“You gotta turn right up here, to the left, and then it’s only about five more miles to the store. It’s almost 10 o’clock, they should have some lunch ready, and plenty of sweet tea or sodas. Would you like me to tell you a little more about Max and Maxine, before we get there? They can be quite a handful, if you’re not prepared.”
“No, I don’t think I can take anymore ‘input’ at the moment. Let’s just get to the store, and then after a break and some lunch, we’ll hike and talk. Max and Maxine can’t be that much different from any other older couples in the world.”
Regina simply smiled. She would let Jorja discover the answer to that when she actually met them.
The curving, winding, barely-paved road suddenly straightened, and at once they were in view of the store. It was such a quaint, long-forgotten country setting, that Jorja’s eyes widened in amazement.
“It’s like we’ve stepped back in time. I would never have dreamed this was here.”
The store sat off to their right, and looked as if it had been built at the turn of the 20th century. Max and Maxine had made sure their store-slash-home was befitting a mountain setting. Old, hand-hewn boards covered the building and the porch that wrapped all the way around the front and right side; a stone chimney occupied almost all of the left side of the building and carefully disguised an area that had been built for smoking and barbecuing. So close in proximity where the two structures, that you couldn’t tell if the smoke that curled from that side of the building came from the chimney or the smoker.
Old Coca-Cola signs, Texaco signs, previously used and discarded automobile tags, and wooden hand-carved signs covered the front of the building. Although there was an old gas pump at the front of the building, it was obvious to Jorja that it had been years since it worked. She surmised that it had been added purely for aesthetics, not function. Except for gas pump, the blinking “ATM” sign, and the “We’re Open” sign that hung at the front, it could have been an old mountain home. It looked completely untouched by the passage of time; nothing about the building lent you to believe that it should be a fixture of 2012. Yet, here it was, and from the number of people that occupied the picnic tables on the front porch, it was very much a part of current daily activity.
“Wow, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t think this was it. This place is so cute, it looks like it’s been here for years.”
“Yeah, they built it that way intentionally. I think they’ve been here about ten years, but it looks and feels like it’s been here forever. C’mon, let’s go grab something to eat, and let me introduce you.”
As the two women extricated themselves from the Jeep, Jorja looked around at the rest of her surroundings. The store was on her right, and to her immediate left, an entire field was filled with cabins. There were at least ten, of all shapes and sizes. On past that, a drive that was marked with a sign that read “Cabins 11-20”. The drive disappeared into the shadowy folds of the mountain. She saw no sign of RV’s.
“I thought you said there was an RV park up here? I see the cabins, but not any RV’s.”
“Oh, they’re here, you just have to look for them. When they put this place together, they wanted it to look really natural and really old. They put the RV’s behind the store. There’s a little gravel road on the other side of the store that leads to the RV Park, but it’s surrounded by trees. Max says that way you only have tenants that you want to have; it’s filled up over the years by word of mouth, only. Max invited a few of his friends in the beginning, then they told a couple of their friends, and so you basically have a bunch of old hippies and renegades that live here year-round. And according to Max, that’s exactly the way he wants it.”
As they talked, they reached the front porch, and Regina stopped short as she began to open the door.
“Ready? This is going to be so much fun to watch.”
She turned to give her friend an innocent look. Jorja once again returned her look with a puzzled gaze, but before she could respond, there was a shout from within the store.
“Regina! My goodness c’mon in! It’s so good to see you.”
Maxine almost knocked the partial swinging wooden door that separated the register area from the store off its hinges in her haste to get to Regina.
Jorja turned to see the source of the shout. She wasn’t quite prepared for the site that met her eyes.
Maxine Durand was less than 5 feet in height, and just as slender as Regina. Her personality, however, made up for anything she lacked in stature. Ebony hair was everywhere. It looked to Jorja as if the attempt to hold it in the twisted bun (she was sure that was the original intent) had completely failed; maybe because Maxine moved as if someone had lit a fire underneath her, all throughout the day. She certainly didn’t fit Jorja’s idea of seventy-ish. Green eyes, weathered skin, and an easy smile completed the small person that threw her arms around Regina.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad to see you. It’s been a few weeks since we had a chance to talk, and I’ve got so much news for you.”
It was at that moment that she stopped to take note of Jorja.
“Is this her? Is this Miss Jorja, that you’ve told me so much about? She turned to look at Jorja, waiting for confirmation from either woman.
“Yes, Maxine, this is Major Jorja Felsenthal.”
Jorja cringed. She had meant to tell Regina just to skip that part, she really didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions about her time in the military, especially to people that might have a negative opinion when it came to a country and government she had served for so many years.
“Well, Major (Maxine emphasized the word) Jorja Felsenthal, I’m very pleased to meet you. You sure do hold a special place in Regina’s life, and anybody that is special to Regina is someone I’m glad to meet. I hope you like our little community up here. Regina always stays in Cabin 2 when she comes, and we have the best visits. Are you two gonna stay the night tonight?”
Before Jorja could answer, Regina responded, “Yes, we are; is Cabin 2 empty? We could stay in another, especially since I didn’t call to let you know we were coming. Where’s Max? I want Jorja to meet Max, too.”
“Oh, I think he’s out back, we’re just now taking some of the ribs off the smoker. Give him just a minute, I’m sure he’ll be out shortly. In the meantime, you girls hungry? Let me get Lucy to take your order, I need to get back on that register. I’ll have him come see you as soon as he’s back in the store, Regina. Go on and sit down honey, Lucy’ll be out in a minute.”
Maxine turned, and in just as hurried a motion as she had approached, she left. Leaving Jorja feeling as though she had stood in the midst of a whirlwind.
“Well, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone as spry at seventy as Maxine, that’s for sure. Somehow I pictured her as gray, slow, and not quite so..mmm..boistrious.”
Regina laughed. “I told you…”
As she was about to finish her comments, a woman that looked to be about their age approached the table. Jorja eyed her, and assumed this must be Lucy.
“Hey, Regina. I see you finally got your friend to come back to her mountains.” She smiled at Jorja, with a smile that reached clear to her eyes. Blonde and at least as tall as Jorja, she wasn’t quite as overwhelming as Maxine had been. She extended a worn and rough hand towards Jorja.
“I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Lucy, I live and work here. I hope you have a great time visiting us this weekend, and maybe these mountains have called you home to stay.”
“Nice to meet you too, Lucy. I’m Jorja, and I’m quite sure I’ll have a great visit this weekend. It’s been years since I’ve traipsed these mountain trails, and I’m looking forward to revisiting some I explored as a kid.”
Lucy then turned her attention to their lunch order, and once complete, disappeared towards the back of the store.
“She lives here? At the store, or here in the mountains?” Jorja asked, as Lucy walked away.
“She lives in the RV park, and they trade out her lot rent for her work in the store. She’s been here almost as long as Max and Maxine. She knew them in Louisiana, and when they decided to come up here, she came shortly after.”
I’ll take you over to the RV park when we finished eating, and introduce you to some of the folks that stay and work here. Some of them stay year-round, and others just come for the spring and summer.”
In only a few minutes, Lucy returned with their drinks and word that their lunch would be ready shortly. Max was in the kitchen, and she had told him it was Regina’s order he was preparing.
“Max said to tell you he’ll be out in a minute to see you, and meet Jorja. He’s never met a ‘major’ of anything before, so he wants to talk to Jorja.”
“Oh, no. He’ll have a hundred questions, Jorja. Might as well get ready. He won’t rest until he’s quizzed you and shared his opinion of ‘government intrusion into his life’; you have to take Max in small doses, until you have a chance to get to know him.”
“Great. This should be an exercise in restraint.”
Regina giggled. “Well, restraint might not quite describe it.”
Almost as she finished her sentence, Max appeared from the kitchen, and made his way to their table. Jorja’s mouth gaped. If Maxine had been somewhat of a surprise, Max was a complete shock. George flickered through her mind; she really was going to have to ask him if he knew these people.
Maximillus Durand approached the table with all the grandeur of a French chef, right along with the apparel that Jorja remembered from her days in France. Short and stocky, with fiery black eyes, and a mustache just as black, Max obviously reveled in his role as “chef” for the establishment. He wore the traditional chef’s attire, replete with a “toque” or chef’s tall hat, white jacket and checkered pants. For every quick step that Maxine had made, Max’s were just as slow and deliberate.
“Ladies,” he slowly released from his lips, as he approached, “your lunch is served.” And he just as slowly, placed their order on the table, as he turned to smile at Jorja.
“I am honored to make your acquaintance Major Felsenthal. I trust that you will find our food is excellent, and our conversation even more so – will you be staying with Regina in Cabin 2 this weekend? I certainly hope that I have more time to visit with you later tonight, when we have our customary Saturday night campfire.”
Before Jorja could respond, he turned slightly to address Regina. “We’ve missed you – I’m glad you finally connected with your friend and that you’ve come to spend the weekend with us.”
Jorja was still trying to recover from the shock of such a strange little man in such a place as the Ozark mountains, so it was Regina that quickly answered Max’s questions.
“Sure, Max, we’re coming to the campfire tonight, and yes, Jorja and I will stay in Cabin 2, if it’s empty. I want to take her to meet everyone in the “Park”, then we’re going hiking on the Lost Valley Trail, but we should be back long before the Saturday night gathering.”
“Good, I”ll have a chance to talk with you later tonight, then Miss Jorja. You ladies please enjoy your lunch, I must return to the kitchen.” And with that, Max just as deliberately strode back from where he came.
Regina turned to look at Jorja, who was still showing obvious signs of recovering from the encounter. She burst into laughter, as she surveyed her friend’s astonished look.
“I told you they were different.”
“You weren’t kidding – different is putting it mildly. How the hell did they ever find these mountains, and decide they wanted to live here? They both look like they oughta be in Hollywood, not something like Dollywood.”
Regina continued to chuckle. “Just wait til you hear their story. I’m not about to ruin it now, you’ll just have to wait til tonight. We’ll talk about “campfire night” while we’re hiking the Lost Valley Trail. You should really get a kick out of this event.”
Before Jorja could ask, Regina stuffed her fries into her mouth, motioning that she couldn’t answer, while throwing her hands in the air beside her as if to say “what? I can’t talk right now.”
Jorja sighed. This might prove to be more than she had anticipated, and the hoped for “rest and relaxation” was becoming a vanishing prospect as each moment passed…
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