Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Things Remembered

December 13, 2010

The existence of Things Remembered is spread by word of mouth because it sits off the main road, three miles from town, next to the old boarded up Greenwood School and across the paved road from the square, cinderblock post office. The building was a general store in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Worn pine board steps lead up to a long covered porch. It stretches across the front of the wood-sided structure.

An old bedstead, seven rickety and broken apple boxes, a Radio Flier wagon, missing its back right wheel and some of its letters to rust, and an orange and white Gulf sign from a closed service station, all clearance items, sit outside, stacked and forlorn, leaning their rusted bodies against each other, trying to look salable. Silver tinsel is laced through the junk. A life-size cardboard cutout of Santa smiles next to the front door. The jolly man’s coat buttons strain with his girth. He looks happy though, holding his green-gloved hand up, pointing an index finger, like he wants to interrupt a visitor to announce his Christmas secret. His pack of presents rests between black boots. The doll peeking over the top of the bag is missing her smile; it’s smudged away with age.

The door to the shop has one of those brass handles with a thumb-push latch, polished shiny from use. A bell tinkles above the door and the warmth generated by a cast iron woodstove squatting in the floor, greets the visitor before the saleslady behind the counter has an opportunity.

“Come on in,” she says looking up from her work. “It’s cold out there.”

“Thanks, it feels good in here,” the last-minute shopper says.

This store isn’t crowded like the mall. The latest technological gadgets are not found here. Bing Crosby croons from the CD player on the counter. There is no bustle, no artificially sprayed scent of holiday baking or forest pine. This place smells of dust and old stories. Nothing new is sold here, just nostalgia shelved and labeled with tags baring a price and the initials of each antique dealer.

“Anything I can help you find?”

“No I’m just looking. Some people are so hard to buy for. I was hoping for last minute inspiration.”

“Let me know if I can help you. I’ll be here working on my Christmas cards.”

“Thanks.”

The store is divided into separate booths, each arranged differently. The ones decorated as particular rooms draw the shopper. One corner booth is set up like a kitchen. It reminds her a little of her Grandmother’s. The kitchen table is different, the dishes too, but the cake stand is familiar. She reaches a finger out to touch the glass stand, remembering the cake from her eighth birthday, chocolate, with nine pink candles, one extra to grow on. She had blown them out with one breath. Everyone clapped. Her Grandmother would be ninety-one now.

A little further on, she spies an enamel chamber pot. It has a red ring, just like the one her mother told the story about. Two sisters, sent to town to buy it, neither wanting to carry it to the car, for embarrassment. Her mother drew the short straw and huffed out of the store, hurrying down the street. She tripped, jarring the top loose. It rolled half a block, her sister chasing it down, turning as red as the ring. The shopper stifles a giggle, remembering her mother’s own laugh.

In the very back room of the antique shop, the girl catches the glint of an aluminum Christmas Tree from the 60’s. Its shiny silver branches sparkle with reflection. Some years ago, when she asked her mother what became of a similar tree they had at home, her mother said, “That tacky thing?” It hadn’t seemed tacky at the time. It was the most beautiful tree the girl had ever seen. She remembers blue glass ornaments on the tree from her childhood. Multi-color decorations hang on this one.

The vendor decorated this stall as if Santa had just emptied his bag. A Lionel train chugs around the base of the tree. A curly haired doll sips tea from a china set on a miniature table. A red Radio Flier wagon with all its wheels and lettering, holds a stuffed bear, lion and tiger, all friends, anxiously awaiting Christmas morning. A bright yellow ball and a red book, round out the toys. The vendor even left a plate of sweets for Santa. The girl picks up the shiny red book. It is The Night Before Christmas, just like the one she had at home, the one her mother read to her on Christmas eve. She opens the book to an inscription: Little One, May all your Christmases be Merry and Bright. With Love, Mama and Daddy. She stands and reads the book, cover to cover, remembering. The price tag reads, $2.99 sc.

“Find what you were looking for?” the saleslady asks.

“Sure did,” she says, paying for the book.

“You have a Merry Christmas,” the saleslady says.

“I will. You do the same.”

A man opens the door. He’s holding a cardboard box of attic finds. He smiles and holds the door open as the shopper leaves. She looks at the man, thanks him for his courtesy and glances at the contents of his crate. Peeking over the edge is a doll like the one in Santa’s pack by the front door. She notices that this doll has her smile intact.

The Tricycle

August 9, 2010

 Every few years, we hunt scrap metal to sell.  Usually, it’s around the time that real estate taxes come due.  We live in my grandparent’s old place.  We bought it after they died.  Acres here bring big bucks.  People are drawn to this part of the country by the Blue Ridge Mountains, just like my Grandma and Grandpa were.  Out-of-towners keep arriving here.  Taxes go up.

    The garage, barns, sheds and fields are all hunting grounds for bits, pieces, and parts to sell.  We pull out the steel, aluminum, copper and iron, pile the truck full, and haul the load to the junkyard.  It takes a whole weekend with four of us working.  We get dirty, greasy and our clothes have to be thrown away on Monday.  It’s hard work, but sometimes we make as much as three hundred dollars.

     I found a tricycle today, a small red one.  It was in the back corner of the tin roofed shed, the one that butts up to the smoke house.  I was surprised to find the trike.  I hadn’t known it was there.  I reached out and touched it, then pulled it toward me.  It was sturdy with its hard rubber wheels, red steel frame and the black plastic pedals still intact.  The handlebars had some rust, but the rubber hand grips still held fast.  I think it may have been my toy.  I remember riding one on the front porch, in the yard, on the driveway, and around and around the kitchen.  I was a big girl riding that bike.  Today, when I found it, it looked so small.  I wondered how it ever held me.

     When I rode the tricycle, my imagination traveled. In my mind, I pedaled the ten miles to the lake at Boar’s Head Inn.  I carried a long plastic Sunbeam Bread bag full of crusts for the ducks. I was alone, and brave. I understood not to get too close to the water and to watch for cars.  

     Earlier that year, my Mama had introduced me to the Mallards.  The birds were wild and could fly away anytime they wanted to, but they weren’t afraid, and came right out of the water and waddled up to us for a handout.  When the bag was empty, they wanted more and chased us to the car.  We laughed, jumping in before the ducks could pinch our behinds. 

    At my make-believe lake, ducks didn’t pinch. They came and sat on my lap, letting me feed them.  They even followed me home.

     Later in the day, I’d climb aboard the seat of my tricycle, place my sneakers on the hard black pedals, lean back, with my arms straight, and strain my legs, pushing my way up the hill in the yard past Grandma’s lilac bush to a flat place overlooking the driveway below.  That spot in the yard was my Afton Mountain. 

     There’s a picnic area on Afton Mountain two and a half miles on the other side of Waynesboro. Grandma and Grandpa took us there when the heat of town was sticky.  The cool shade in the mountains made lemonade taste better.  A flat ledge of rocks hung over the Shenandoah Valley. When we sat up there, dangling our legs over the edge, we could see for miles.  Houses and cars looked small enough to pick up and move around.  I imagined I could gather all the people I loved close to me by moving their houses next to mine.  From that vantage point, it would be easy.  I would just have to be careful not to tilt the buildings, keeping the people and furniture from sliding out the front door.   I could put a fence around all of us, with a gate that locked.  We could go out at night, playing hide and seek without being scared. 

     When it turned dark outside, I brought my three wheeler indoors.  The kitchen was big enough that I could ride circles without bumping into anything.  Grandma sat at the table shelling peas, while Grandpa cleaned his fingernails with a pocket knife.   The faster I went, the dizzier I got.  Sometimes, Grandpa would reach out and stop me, saying,  “Whoa Tump, not so fast.  If you lose it, you might break something.”  I knew he didn’t mean furniture or dishes.  

     When I got too big for the tricycle, my Mama bought me a two wheeler.  I forgot about the tricycle.  This afternoon, my two boys walked into the shed to collect more junk.  They pulled out an old push lawnmower, a truck bumper and a galvanized wash tub with a hole in the bottom.  They saw me standing, looking at the tricycle.

     “Who’s was that?” Ben asked.

     “I think it might have been mine,” I said.

     “It’s still in pretty good shape considering how old it is,” Ryan said.

     He made me laugh.  “Yeah,” I said, “considering how old it is.”

     I lifted the tricycle, handing it to Ryan to put with the rest of the scrap.  Neither of my boys knew the history of the toy.  It didn’t mean anything to them.  Ryan picked up the washtub in his other hand and began carrying the two pieces to the truck.

     As I turned back to the shed, I thought I heard my Grandpa say, “Whoa Tump, not so fast.”

     I called Ryan back and took the tricycle out of his hand.  I put it back in the corner where I found it.  I think it’s supposed to stay there. It seems that neither Grandpa, nor I are ready to say goodbye just yet.

Marbles

January 24, 2010

“You may not play with those boys.  Shooting marbles is not lady-like, Carolyn,” my grandmother stated firmly as she pitched round colorful glass pieces out the back door.

“But Mama, I won those today.  I worked hard to get them all, and that big one was Jimmy Myers’ best taw.  I shoot marbles better than any boy at school.”

“I don’t care how well you shoot marbles.  It is not lady-like to be down on your knees with your bottom stuck up in the air, your hands in the dirt, shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of boys.  Why can’t you play with the girls?”

“Girls are stupid whiney girls, that’s why.”

My Grandmother shook her head, looked up at the ceiling and asked, “Why Lord, why?”

Carolyn went out into the field, picked some wildflowers and presented them to her mother as a peace offering. Grandma smiled, put the flowers in a vase, but still didn’t like marbles.

If marbles could grow into trees, an orchard would have sprouted behind the house.  Every marble my mother ever won, landed as colorful glass seeds on the hillside. She wasn’t allowed to harvest them. Marbles were not allowed in the house.   Grandma bought my mother fragile china tea sets she didn’t use, dolls, she ignored, and embroidery kits, she took apart to use the thread to tie on the legs of flying bugs so she could have insect pets. She collected frogs in her pockets, snake eggs to hatch, and rode the neighbor’s horse bare back through the fields, whooping like a “wild indian.”  Mama’s family  lived next door to the Presbyterian Church and tombstomes made perfect hurdles for leapfrog. 

My mother had two older brothers and two older sisters. She was more boy than any child her mother had ever seen.  When Mama turned  ten , my Grandma gave up trying to make her into a feminine presence. Grandma allowed her youngest daughter to wear pants because they insured modesty when straddling a horse or hurdling tombstones.  Hairstyles went short, to keep tangles to a minimum.  A fishing rod was presented for her birthday.  Mama breathed a sigh of relief.  Grandma apologized to God.

Mama swears the wildflower peace offerings where what caused Grandma’s turn-around.  I think Grandma just finally gave up.