Pulling on my sweater, I opened the door to the chilly autumn night, intending to go down to the house. I stopped, listening. Was there someone in my little patch of forest? It sounded like there were people laughing and talking down by the picnic table next to the creek. It was nearly midnight! In the dim light of the waning October moon, I cautiously descended the stone steps that wind down through the forest, uncertain of who I would find.
As I rounded the corner by the old cedar tree, I caught the scent of magnolias and saw five women gathered around the table by the creek. There in the soft golden glow of candles, I saw my mother and her sisters. Not quite believing what I was seeing, I sank down on the cold stone step, my legs suddenly unwilling to carry me further.
I listened and watched, dimly aware that the air was now too warm for a sweater, as their images and soft, southern voices grew clearer. "Now, MayBelle Grace, I see what you're fixin' to do with that card!" My mother replied, "Oh, hush, Hazel Jane, you know I always let you win on your birthday. Lilly Lee, pass that pitcher of tea to me, please? Martha Louise, could you use some more, too?" My Aunt Lucille Marie said, "Hey, y'all, let's have more cake! After all, it's birthday cake, all calories removed by magic!" Aunt Hazel Jane smiled as she looked around the table. Then she looked right at me, winked, and said, "Oh, look, y'all! Look who came to my party!" Smiling, they all turned to look at me. Mama said, "Oh, honey! You're here! Come on and..." The rest of her words were lost as a gust of wind swirled fallen leaves through the clearing. I blinked...and they were gone, taking with them the candlelight, warm air and scent of magnolias.
Shivering in the dark, I pulled my sweater around me and whispered, "I love you all...I miss you...." But the only answer was the sighing of the cold October wind.