Everyone has opinions of their hometowns and neighborhoods, but my bias and fondness has developed over four decades of "growing up here," so if longevity is a criterion for validating my firmly held opinion, then I'll continue.
Opening today's edition of "The Eagle" online, my first thought was to check the obituaries. I saw the lovely photo of Mrs. Lou Presnal there and I just had to stop and stare. Could it be? I just saw her....and with that, my mind raced back to the last time I saw her. It was the same evening that I last saw Joe Hanover and it was at Bryan's Longhorn Tavern Steakhouse.
Now, please know that I did not know Mrs. Presnal personally at all, but for years I'd seen her when I attended an occasional early service at church. She and her husband, a beloved veterinarian, would enjoy the early service as many others did. I was generally a late service person, as was Joe, so you know how it goes. But she had an unmistakable gracious countenance about her. She was always dressed so neatly, everything in place, but in a way that was authentic. It was just who she was.
What was so poignant about the evening of March 31, 2017, was that I had a chance to witness a most special exchange of friendly words between two people who clearly had no idea that they would wind up greeting each other in Heaven (if you'll allow me my faith construct) just eight short weeks later. It was surreal.
This is how the evening went. I'd arrived early and was visiting with Joe Hanover's "42 Group" from Dallas that evening, and I went to the front door of Longhorn Tavern to greet Joe and Michelle. I spotted Lou and Sonny Presnal at the booth in Longhorn that had been a favorite of Netta and John Simek's all these years. I smiled when I saw them there, even if they didn't know me from Adam's off ox.
As Joe and Michelle made their way into the Longhorn, all the servers greeted "Mr. Hanover" by name and welcomed him. Seven beaming employees knew him well and loved him. When the business was owned and operated by Rita Whitley, Joe loved to tell the story about how she told him to "Park anywhere you want" and he did as she instructed.
These days, the second generation is running the business and doing a fine job of keeping crowds happy and fed without a lot of waiting. As Joe was greeted, he passed by the Presnal's table but there were many people behind him headed to the party room. I was the one closest to Mrs. Presnal at that point when she said, "Is that Joe Hanover? I must tell him hello! I'd heard he'd been in the hospital and I'm so glad he's here tonight!" She immediately excused herself from her dinner and went to shake his hand warmly, and she was joined by her husband as the three exchanged such beautiful pleasantries, old friends, church members together, likely the veterans of more than a few committees together. As she made her way back to her table, I couldn't help myself. I just had to say something to her. I don't recall introducing myself by name but what I said was, "Mrs. Presnal, you don't know me but I've seen you at a distance for years in church and I just have to say that you are one of the most classic beauties I've ever seen. You remind me somewhat of Princess Grace." And I said, "I just had to tell you that, and I'll let you get back to your evening." She was so modest and thanked me and I said, "You've always had a special countenance about you."
The joy on her face seeing Joe there that night was something hard to quantify. It was a supreme sense of joy I sensed about her, at seeing an old friend after a long time not having been in the same place at the same time. The only word I can offer is "magic." There was a sense of magic in the air. In a day and time when we all get so caught up in busy-ness, to be able to truly rejoice at the good fortune of our friends, like regained health, really left an impression on me.
I promptly forgot about that exchange until this morning, when I opened the paper and saw Mrs. Lou Presnal's obituary tribute. And then my mind flashed back to the fact that it was March 31, 2017 when I last saw Joe and I last saw Mrs. Presnal. What I did see was two old friends greeting each other with grace and dignity and such great regard and respect for one another in a fashion that it was exceptional to watch. Both so happy to see each other doing well. Neither one of them had a clue what the next eight weeks would bring. I had no way of knowing what the health statuses were, truly, of either party. Yet, rather than worrying about health, they were busy living life to the fullest.
Eight short weeks. To the day. We do not know what tomorrow brings. We cannot know. But I always want to remember their smiles when two longtime friends had the chance to see one another in good times. Somehow it's a safe guess that some 56 short days later, the reunion was even better the second time around.
It's a warm and friendly reminder that we need to make time for the things we want to do and the people we truly want to be with. And, as I sit in reflection today, eight weeks ago I think I saw the magic in a genuine "Hello, old friend" and how good it feels to have friends whom we are always delighted to see. Another life lesson in Panavision and Technicolor, courtesy of General Joe Hanover. God bless Joe, God bless Mrs. Presnal, and God bless our dear Mayberry, where people take the time to know you.