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Isabel's "Special Ed" (Part One)

This Week's Issue: It was inevitible. Homer has watched Isabel blossom and virtually reinvent herself since Ray's death in 1982. Since her adventures with the Stoddard Farm, Isabel has become strong, resilient, ready to reach out again, and take charge of her life.

Last summer's discovery of the Stoddard Farm left Isabel tired and emotionally depleted. When Isabel suddenly became aware that her late husband Ray had inherited a large dairy farm up in Towns County, a large portion of her summer was spent processing paperwork and jumping through the requisite legal hoops necessary to wrest Ray's property from the jaws of the slow-moving judicial system of Towns County. When all was said and done, Isabel's accountant and family advisor, Gerald Panter, suggested that she liquidate the Stoddard Farm, as well as any items from the house and barn that she didn't wish to keep.

Much to my surprise, Isabel wasted no time prior to following Panter's advice. The decision to sell the Stoddard property seemed to be an easy one for her to make. Faded Glory requires a tremendous amount of Isabel's time and attention because she dedicates herself to making it a very special experience for all who visit. Isabel certainly didn't have an immediate need for the money, but she also didn't want to leave the Stoddard Farm empty and vulnerable to break-ins or vandalism.

Last month, Isabel selected The Covington Brothers Auction Company from Dalton, dispose of the Stoddard Farm, along with its dairy equipment, antiques, and furnishings. The property and assets were sold at a two day public auction netting her just over $460,000 after expenses. During her ordeal in getting the Stoddard Farm settled that summer, Ed Hightower, Manager of the Citizens Bank in Hiawassee, had gone out of his way to guide Isabel through the maze of legal documents required by Towns County. As her way of thanking Ed Hightower for his kind assistance and understanding throughout the process, Isabel decided to invest her new windfall in a series of interest bearing CDs and money market funds with Ed at the Citizens Bank of Hiawassee.

It wasn't the spring weather, the budding fruit trees, or the greening of the grass that caused Isabel to awaken to her life's potential, and, I guess at age 67, we can take hormonal changes off the table. But, maybe a combination of all of the above, mixed with Isabel's innate inner vitality and new-found freedom, contributed to her receptivity to companionship and romance. I can't speak for Isabel, but I definitely think that her recent experience with the Weight Watchers 'miracle' and the reinforcement of her peers helped to introduce her to new horizons.

During her unexpected adventures at the Stoddard Farm, Isabel took comfort from her short business relationship with a middle-aged man named Ed Hightower, who is Branch Manager at Citizens' Bank of Towns County. It was obvious, at least to me, that she had developed a real liking for this guy.

Humans are really odd. When they are on the telephone, their voices seem to change to reflect their relationship with the person on the other end of the line. When Isabel called Ed Hightower to set up a meeting, I heard her speaking in a tone of voice that I hadn't heard since Ray was alive. I can't say that it was anything specific that she said, it was merely her tone. As it turns out, this observation was merely the tip of the iceberg. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Ray has been gone for more than two years, and Isabel is still a slim, energetic, and attractive woman considering her years. She is tall and still very straight, with big brown eyes and dark brown hair that is only lately becoming streaked with gray. She hasn't experienced much joy lately, but I do remember that when Ray was alive, this lady's eyes just twinkled! Her recent success with Weight Watchers served to boost her self confidence quite a bit; enough to precipitate a special trip to Atlanta to do some serious clothes shopping for the approaching summer months.

It was apparent that Louella Hess had sensed the changes in Isabel since her weight loss. Louella was unusually animated, 'chirpy' and very supportive as Isabel unpacked and tried on her new clothing purchases from the city. Micah, on the other hand, seemed clueless. He wasn't in any way disparaging, but he just didn't seem to know the appropriate things to say at the appropriate times. He seemed, for the most part, befuddled. I personally think he "got it," but because of his long friendship with Ray, he just found it difficult to express himself. I could see that there was definitely a "sea change" in the offing.

I didn't get to meet Ed Hightower personally until just a few days before Isabel's first scheduled appointment with him at his office in Hiawassee.

Ed insisted on bringing all of the necessary forms to Isabel at the Inn so that she could look them over prior to their upcoming meeting in Hiawassee. Ed drove in from his home near Lake Chatugelate one Friday afternoon shortly after the last of our weekend guests had arrived, and just prior to the beginning of the Faded Glory happy hour. I gave Ed my usual cursory sniff upon his arrival, and he gave me a smile, a pat, and asked Isabel to tell him my name. At first he looked a little uncomfortable in his business suit and tie, and I was afraid that he would turn out to be a 'teetotaler,' but he removed his necktie, hung his suit coat over the back of a chair, and loosened up a bit after Isabel handed him a partially filled wine glass. From that minute on, Ed blended in seamlessly with our guests.

I'd say that Ed Hightower is somewhere in his mid-sixties, tall and slim, with a full head of gray hair. A physically active man for his age, he is still an avid golfer and an ever-optimistic trout fisherman. Ed lost his wife to cancer more than ten years ago and has a grown son and daughter who have given him five grandchildren. Because he is a major shareholder in the Bank, Ed has told Isabel that he has no intention of retiring in the near future. And, because of his vested status in the bank, he probably doesn't have to worry about a mandatory retirement anytime soon.

As a dog, I gather much of my information on the basis of smell, and Isabel was becoming a literal potpourri of romantic vapors. Apparently, Ed, on the other hand has been clearly able to obliterate his pheromonal responses with a liberal application of a terrible off-the-shelf after- shave lotion derived from questionable animal by-products; yuck!

The Friday night Guest Appreciation Happy Hour turned out to be an excellent opportunity for Isabel to get to know Ed in a social setting. With Micah and Louella moving among the quests serving drinks and hot h'ors d'oevres, Isabel and Ed conversed at length, and really loosened up as the free-flowing red wine worked it's magic on the moment. As the happy hour progressed, Ed and Isabel moved into Isabel's more quiet sitting room. Being naturally nosey, I decided to follow and keep up with their conversation. Ed had been a widower for nearly eleven years and Isabel for nearly three. It quickly became obvious to me that they were both working diligently to break down the barriers of their separateness in a very short period of time.

Ed stayed over in an unused second-floor guest room at the Inn that night. Isabel felt that he was probably unsafe to drive after the party, and even though he appeared to me to be pretty steady on his feet, he readily agreed. Ed retired alone to his room after a long and interesting evening of conversation. I did notice that he kissed Isabel's hand before heading up the stairway to his room. With that horrible Aqua Velva at work, I wouldn't have kissed him on a bet had I been Isabel. When I followed Isabel to her own room, I could tell by her gait that she was happy and excited about the outcome of her day.


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