It didnÂ’t make any sense.
Then, a lot of things with me donÂ’t.
It was July 3. 6:45 in the morning. I was running around Lake Junaluska. Somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina. The houses surrounding the lake were adorned with red, white and blue bunting. Signs along the route advertised the fireworks display set for the next day.
I should have been dwelling on Crispus Attucks, Bunker Hill, Betsy Ross, Paul Revere, Valley Forge and the Continental Congress. And maybe John Phillip Sousa.
But my mind chose to dial up Charlotte Melton.
You cannot believe how beautiful Lake Junaluska is early in the morning. By my second loop the sun was rising over the mountains to the eastÂ… the distant fog slowly fading into a disappearing mist. The water was so still and serene your heartbeat slowed to accommodate it.
A lone fishing boat at the far end of the lake turned the scene into a once in a lifetime snapshot.
It would give you pause to count the blessings of living in the greatest land on earth. Make you thankful for the early sacrifices of men like Dr. Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams and George Washington, who laid their very lives on the line for an idea, a concept and a countryÂ… whose future wasnÂ’t as assured as the past we celebrate today.
Charlotte Melton, at this moment in time, drowned out the patriotic noise.
I kissed her over by the monkey bars. We were 12 or 13 at the time. It was my first. And by the quickness of the deed and the redness that rose up her cheeks, IÂ’m pretty sure it was the initial one for her too.
We didnÂ’t repeat if for nearly two years. But we enjoyed Â“going steadyÂ” in the interim. The Melton farm was Â“on outÂ” the highway from us. I hauled a lot of hay for her father, would help him feed his horses from time to timeÂ… and most always visited with his youngest daughter Â“since I was there.Â”
Charlotte was a barrel racer. And a good one! Their home was filled with blue ribbons and trophies sheÂ’d won at nearly every horse show, rodeo and riding event in West Tennessee back in the day.
Mr. Melton kept a close eye on us. At least, I thought he did. He was a big man and rough as a stucco bathtub. Listen, when he pulled that straw cowboy hat down low and squinted at you, he could make John Wayne look like Don Knotts!
He didnÂ’t exactly scare me away or hover around us. But when Charlotte and I rode off over the hills together I made sure my horse was a goodly measured distance from hers.
Charlotte and I were always better friends than serious daters. We had long talks about life, high school, teachers, sports, the world as we understood it and whether Butterfingers taste better than a Baby Ruth.
She cheered for me at football games like both of our lives depended on it.
We fought those high school, growing up, roller coaster teenage years side by side. Sometimes a real friend is better than a girlfriend. We promised each other on graduation night weÂ’d stay in touch forever.
Forever, on this earth, didnÂ’t last too long.
Charlotte died when she was 25.
I peered across the beautiful North Carolina Mountains, with Lake Junaluska shimmering in the foreground, on this spotless July morning and my heart ached because my friend never had the opportunity to see this.
Pictures of so many places Charlotte missedÂ… and I didnÂ’tÂ… rippled through my mind.
A ride down the Columbia River Gorge is a sight like no other. The sun dropping into the water off Cape San Blas will awaken senses you didnÂ’t know you had. The Grand Canyon is aptly named.
There is a small cabin, built years ago by a man named Cunningham, still standing just a few miles north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He picked the perfect spot. From there you can see the snowcapped Teton Mountains filling the whole Western sky. It is another indescribably beautiful scene.
And oh, how Charlotte loved the West.
She talked so often of riding in rodeos in Cheyenne, Oklahoma City, Calgary. Pendleton, OregonÂ…
It wasnÂ’t to be.
A childhood friend is a gift from God that death cannot destroy.
We live in a world today that often majors on the minor. And looks for flaws in others rather than the goodness.
Maybe it would behoove us to dwell a bit more on the Charlotte Meltons in our lives.
And realize just exactly all the things they are missingÂ… and comprehend on a little higher plane all the things that we are not!