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Incidence in a County Restaurant

by Judge Sanley Peele

 

As an emergency judge, my duties carry me all over North Carolina.  In l997, my wife, Carolyn, and I were traveling through Hertford County and went to eat lunch in a restaurant near Ahoskie.

As we went in, we noticed that it was clean, well lit, and the people were friendly.  It was easy to see that all the patrons knew each other.  Except us.  We did not know anyone there.

A waitress came over to us, and after  a brief, neighborly conversation, we ordered our lunch.  As we waited for our food, my attention was drawn to the owner.  He was standing behind the cash register.  His shoulders were slightly slumped; and the area around his eyes was dark.  He spoke softly, and sounded somber.

"I think there has been a death in the owner's family," I said to Carolyn."  She and I received our food, and began eating.  It was a pleasant, quiet place.  She and I chatted.

Then I heard a voice calling out my name, "Stanley."  I looked around, and could not see anyone trying to talk to me.  Assuming that it was someone speaking to another person named Stanley, I resumed eating my food.

In about two minutes I heard it again.  The voice called my name again, "Stanley."  I looked around again.  No one was speaking to me.

"Did you hear someone call my name?" I asked Carolyn.  "No," she replied.  It was eerie.  My name was spoken clearly, and the voice was quiet and smooth.  Somehow, the voice carried the air of authority.  I was mystified.

We finished our meal; and as we got up I felt compelled to talk to the owner.  As we approached the cash register, he turned and went into the kitchen.

A lady came up to the cash register; we paid her and stepped toward the exit.  Carolyn went first.  I lingered, hoping the owner would come out.  When he did not, I turned toward the door and began to push the door open.

As I did so, I felt the command, "NO!"  It was not verbal.  It was as though there was an invisible force on the other side of the door.  So I stopped inside the restaurant, feeling awkward.  In the meantime, Carolyn was walking toward our car.

I turned and looked toward the kitchen.  The owner was walking toward me.  I "knew" that I should talk to him.  And as I walked toward him, I knew what I would say to him.

I held out my hand to him.  "Good afternoon," I said.

"Afternoon to you," he said to me.  His voice was friendly; his manner was as though we knew each other.

"This may seem strange to you," I said,  "But somehow I feel like I am supposed to say something to you."

He did not appear surprised at all.  He nodded and said, "Uh, huh, what is it?"

"Just three words," I said, "And the words are these:   God loves you."

We looked at each other in silence.  Tears began to form in his eyes.

"Has there been a death in your family?" I asked.

He looked down.  "It's funny that you would say these words to me," he said, "My wife Nancy died five months ago. Two weeks ago would have been her 65th birthday.  That was rough.  The house felt so empty.  Then, you know what?  Things kept happening that would remind me of her.  Strange things.  Her picture kept tipping over.  I would set it up, and it would tip over again.  I was at the graveyard, standing by her grave, and a robin flew over and landed on her gravestone so close I could have touched it.  Robins don't behave that way.  Our photo album fell off a table and landed on the floor.  When I bent down to pick it up, it was open at our wedding picture."


From The Outside

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"It's getting so I talk to her a lot.  The other day the truck would not start.   I said, "OK, Nancy, I know you are there, now let me start the car."  And the car started right up.  When I try to talk to my friends about this, they look at me in a strange way.  They think I am going off the deep end."

"Let me go outside and get my wife," I said, "I know she will want to hear this, and she is gifted and understands these things."

"I'll do better than that!" he said, and came out with me to our car.  Then the three of us had a wonderful talk.  Carolyn told him that his wife was fine, that she was in a place where there was no sadness, no regrets, no pain; and, yes, his wife had caused the picture to keep falling over, that she had caused the photo album to fall and open at the page showing the wedding picture; and, yes, that she had prevented the car from starting.

"Sometimes I feel like I am crazy when I talk to her," he said.

Carolyn responded, "No, you are not crazy at all.  It is real.  It is the real thing.  Keep talking to her.  Talk to her all you want.  What we call death is the death of the physical body only."

We continued talking for awhile.  His back straightened up; the darkness around his eyes disappeared; and from time to time he would take deep breaths.

Then, it was time to part.  "Thank you, thank you so much," he said,  "I feel like a heavy weight has been taken off my shoulders.  My friends do not understand."

We said goodbye.

I have not heard from him since.

I hope we were a blessing to him. He certainly was a blessing to us.  I will never forget him.