Spinning slower and slower, the props finally wound down, the shaking stopped, and the flight was over. At last–terra firma. What an awful flight it had been from Memphis to Lexington.
So this is Kentucky, I thought, stepping off of the little flying rattle-trap and taking my first breath of unadulterated Middle Earth air. Hmmm. It smells the same as regular air. Perhaps it is.
Strolling into the nice, small airport, I searched for that piece of scratch paper. Oh, yeah; it’s in my shirt pocket. “Chuck” it says. He’s going to take me to Shaker Village. (Hobbiton) Now where’s a danged pay phone? I know, I know—everybody in the world has a cell phone except me. Yes, I still listen to the Beatles, have no tattoos and prefer a manual transmission. No, of course I don’t have leprosy—just a bad heart, that’s all. There’s one. Ok, it’s got cobwebs on it. I can deal with that.
After finding a change machine, I called Chuck. Apparently, I had just missed him, but he would be back– this he swore. I found a comfy bench on the sidewalk outside the baggage claim area and waited.
A pretty black lady came out to talk to a bunch of fire fighters that were apparently there to help with a forest fire in the area. Had Merry and Pip been playing with matches, perhaps?
Hey, there’s Chuck. Can you believe it? I’m the only passenger. Five dollars a gallon for diesel, and they bring a tour bus to haul lil’ ol’ me to Bilbo’s birthday party.
Chuck was a nice fellow. He let me ride up front and we talked about all sorts of things as he wheeled the behemoth around meandering curves and over hills that looked a lot like Arkansas. It had been very dry, he said. I gave him a signed copy of the drawing I was planning to pass out, but I probably should have given him a tip, also. I didn’t even think about it until later. Sorry, Chuck.
After checking in and getting my room key, I walked the 200 or so yards to the East family dwelling where I’d be staying. I knew I’d probably be doing a lot of walking.
Two front doors—that’s weird. The old wooden floors creaked as I walked toward one of the two sets of stairs. Feeling winded, I started up the steep incline. The sound of footsteps alerted me that someone was coming down the other side. I saw Female feet, and something just told me that I might know their owner.
“Susie?” I wasn’t sure. I had only seen a picture of her once, and she had shades on.
We hugged. A few minutes later, we met up with the others at the old barn, and it was the same. Four ladies I had known only over the internet were dear, familiar friends in an instant. There they were; no longer blurry, fragmented images, but flesh and blood, real people. They smiled, they spoke. I felt their warm feelings radiating outwards, engulfing me. Tired though I was, I drank in my surroundings like the finest wine. From all over the world, the fans of JRR Tolkien gathered in an old barn on a starry, starry night, and it was an incredible experience.
Over the next two days and nights, Ames, Barbara, Karen, Susie, and I went on many adventures. We walked, talked and dined with elves, hobbits, dwarves, and other inhabitants of Middle Earth. As time progressed, Shaker Village became more like the world of Tolkien’s imagination, culminating finally beneath a giant canopy of woody fingers and leaves on a Saturday night. All who were there will surely agree that it was a night to remember.
Strings of large, yellow lights hung above us while higher yet, a million stars twinkled in the sky. To the merry sound of drum, strings and pipe, the people in wonderful costumes danced. Twirling, spinning, they moved in time. I tapped my foot and became one with the festive spirit. Middle Earth was no myth—it was right before me. Just like my friends who’d become flesh and blood, so too did an event of special magnificence appear before my eyes—not as a dream, but as reality.
Happy 111th birthday, Bilbo! I shouted. Someone handed me another bottle of ale. Doesn’t it come in pints? Gandalf walked by burning his pipeweed and blowing the most amazing smoke rings. The dancers twirled and spun about. Lights flashed.
“Dragon!” someone yelled, and everyone hit the deck.
“Oh, it was just Gandalf’s fireworks!”
I try to focus.
“Aahhyeeee!” A lady screams in the dark! It’s a black rider! Reaching for my sword, I see it is missing. What th… Who’s that I see? Four shieldmadens. I see four shieldmadens attacking Mordor’s evil one! Melianndoriath, Sindarinelvish, Miththoliel and Awelyn, all suited in armour with swords flashing have taken up the fight! Such bravery, I’ve never seen!
“Sam, are you ok?”
“One of the strings of lights fell on you,” said Ames, looking down at me with concern.
Seeing the four lovely faces above me, I thought I’ll never have another chance to say these words.
You look like angels—am I in heaven?
“He’s alright,” said Karen, grinning at the others.
“Yep, that’s our Ranger Sam—always polishing our egos,” said Barbara, amused.
I thought a dragon was attacking us! And that Ringwraith……
“Let’s get him up and see if we can find him a seventh meal and a cup of coffee,” said Susie, and the others agreed. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I worked up an appetite dispatching that ringwraith.”
The airplane ride back home to Arkansas was on one of those same winged leaf-blowers that had taken me to Kentucky, but somehow it didn’t seem so bad. Perhaps a mind full of special memories had something to do with it.
I remember the moment with total clarity, when one of my great loves began.