About a year ago I started this blog. One of the earliest posts is about Ollie's Bakery, on Brookstown Avenue, in Winston-Salem. We had gone there for a bite to eat before all five of us attended the Nutcracker at the Stevens Center. We loved the baked goods, and the cute bakery.
A few months after that, a local Winston writer and editor found my blog while looking up Ollie's. She then checked out my linked art website and liked my watercolors. She bought a few, and asked me, by e-mail, if I'd be interested in an illustration project. Long story short, we have been collaborating on a book, and I have completed five of seven paintings for it. We have communicated and viewed the pieces, one by one, entirely by e-mail, but we intend to meet when I pass the paintings to her for the next step.
So when Moomin Light and I took our daughter to see the Nutcracker again this year (leaving the sons at home this time) my wife mentioned that IF I got over to Ollie's, some baked things would be welcome after we got home. I had to be reminded where Ollie's is, or I would not have been able to find it.
At the end of my golden afternoon of Winston wandering, which was rich enough to yield over eight blog posts, I did stop at Ollie's. As I got out and took the photo above, I thought about my partner on the book project, and how this place brought us together in the first place. Sort of.
I went in and ordered a confusing array of breads, cookies, and buns, asking about the sour dough content of various loaves, asking for some to be sliced and others not, and asking that some things be bagged separately from others for the long trip home. While I was doing this I was gently interrupted by a woman who asked if I was Steve Emery. My heart stopped beating, I think, and I answered on automatic pilot, because my mind contained nothing but wonder that we were meeting here quite by chance. She offered me her hand, and I shook it and then gave her a hug. We feel like we've gotten to know each other by e-mail and through the shared project. It had been five months or so since she'd last been at Ollie's, and only an odd chance that she was there then. I had only been once, the last time we came for the Nutcracker. Each of us only intended to be there three or four minutes. The odds against us meeting were enormous, and yet it happened. We were both delighted, and talked for several minutes, shared some samples of an unusual cookie, and then parted, since each of us had someone expecting us.
She wished me, "Merry Christmas." It was the first time I'd heard those words this season. I had had Christmas music in my ears in various stores and restaurants, and I'd had them in my mental soundtrack all day, and had welcomed them. It was the first day of December. We were here for the Nutcracker. My usual guard against Christmas season too soon, had been lowered this day, and her Merry Christmas was perfect, as well timed as our meeting at all.
She had said to me, "If you wrote a short story about this, no one would believe it." Like the sunset we saw behind us on our way home that evening, the colors too rich and spread around in a way that led my wife to say (as we frequently do), "You could never paint a sunset like that - no one would believe it." The entire day had been as improbable and beautiful as that sunset, topped by the near miracle of a chance meeting at Ollie's.