Sunday afternoon we arrived to find Linda loading boxes into her small, old-but-running, Honda. "Come on in," she greeted us, "I've gotten everything out that I want -- you guys see what you can take!" We helped her, as she handed down the last dozen boxes from the attic, as she'd predicted, mostly Christmas stuff. Then, with caution from Linda, Joe proceeded carefully up the broken attic ladder and into the dark cavern that is Linda's attic. (She'd broken the light in the attic so all of this sorting and selection had to be done by flashlight.)
|Judy, Trying to Add Support|
to Broken Attic Stairs
For the next thirty minutes, I was at the bottom of the attic steps, relaying messages between Joe in the attic and Linda in the driveway.
|Judy, at Attic -- Playing|
Walkie-Talkie between Joe and Linda
Joe, " Are you sure you have everything you want?"
Linda, "Yes, take whatever you can use."
Joe, "There are personal things up here, pictures, are you sure?"
Linda, "Yeah, I looked through everything, I don't need any of those things... don't have room for them in the new place,"
Joe, "Are you sure? There is some jewelry,"
Linda to Judy, "He must drive you nuts!?" Linda to Joe, "I'm sure, Joe, It's just costume jewelry."
At which point, Joe, determined Linda not leave behind one precious item that she would later regret, handed down a few items. The first was a framed 8 X 10 photograph of a much younger Linda, a mother holding her baby. I carried the picture out to Linda who was rearranging the boxes in the Honda, trying to make it her last trip of the move.
"Joe wants you to be sure," I apologized as I made her reassess for the umpteenth time.
"Oh," she said, "Yeah, I did mean to take that one." She took the framed photo and tucked it into the most accessible open box, and then walked with me as we returned to the hallway under the attic, where, by this time, Joe had amassed a small pile of, "are you sures."
The pile contained, among other things, a diamond ring, which Linda took, appreciatively, remarking that she'd had no idea that was up there, and that it had been her first "promise ring." And there were several more piles of old photographs, that she likewise accepted. The old flute, in its soft leather case was another treasure she'd overlooked. She rejected the boxes of photos that she declared were "Ronnie's stuff." And she rejected all the boxes of financial records from years gone by. It was just too much.
I helped her fit the last few things into her already overpacked car. As she was fitting in the last of her treasures, a box of Christmas decorations, she told me the story of how she used to decorate for Christmas. It was a really big deal for her. The house, every bush, every tree was adorned in strands of lights, and scenes depicting the Christmas story artfully graced the front lawn. Christmas was a BIG DEAL. That all ended abruptly six years ago when her husband left her on Christmas Eve. Since then, she has not decorated, she just has not been able to, and yet, she could not leave those Christmas decorations behind. Maybe, she mused, at the new house, she'd start decorating again.
I was thinking about Linda again this morning. Yesterday her house went up for auction. I have no idea whether it sold, or whether it will be like so many, sitting empty, dying further, while those who once gave it life struggle to make a home in a new place. Linda's story is hardly unique. The failed marriage could just as easily have been a child or spouse with through-the-roof-medical costs, or legal problems, or simply economies that finally break under the strain of continuing the illusion, leaving masses of unemployed to scramble as best they can to make good on their promises to pay for something that is no longer worth half of what they owe.
And I wonder how many of these "Lindas" are carefully climbing decrepit, broken attic stairs, grasping a tiny penlight purchased from the Dollar Tree, and trying to sort through years of memories in a single afternoon. I wonder how much is left behind. After Linda left, asking that we just pull the front door closed when we were done, Joe and I both returned to the attic, and in that dark, sad, treacherous place, with the aid of a bigger flashlight, we sifted through every box left behind. Yes, we were looking to see whether there were items we could use, and we did find a few items, but we felt compelled to look at everything, just to be sure Linda had not left behind some other treasure. We commented on how neither of us would have left behind the boxes of financial papers, but, as Joe said, we weren't going to be editing other people's lives. We did find a few more photos, and diplomas that we set aside for Linda to consider when she made her final sweep of the house later that evening.
When we were exhausted and determined we'd done the best we could, we climbed back down those treacherous stairs and loaded the items we were keeping into the van. We left the attic stairs down, I suspect they would not go up again, and we pulled the front door closed behind us... it did not latch. It, like the rest of the house, and her inhabitants, was showing the neglect of the last few years, for it definitely appeared that decorating for Christmas was not the only thing on which Linda had given up. Still, sad as it was, I am happy that Joe was so adamant about making Linda take a second look at some items... it's one thing to take old closet doors from the attic, it is quite another to take a woman's first promise ring and the first musical instrument she played as a child... those just needed to go with Linda.
When we returned home we were finally able to see the contents of the attic in decent light. True to form, Joe had taken his camera up there and, in the dark, had snapped photos. The flash did its magic and, in the photos, showed all the left behinds, all that remains. I'm sure there are still some treasures there, but by the failing rays of the flashlight, we did the best we could.
|Boxes of Stuff in the Attic|
|And Still More Stuff Left Behind|
I haven't seen photos of it yet, but yesterday Joe managed to get Linda's wood stove installed in the the garage at the old farmhouse. I'm anxious to see it when I return home tomorrow. I'm sure it will be provide us much warmth in the colder months to come.
|Linda's Wood Stove,|
Ready for Installation
|Small Load of Firewood From Linda|