“We’re not fancy people.” she said. Opened the door wide to me while following my gaze to the yard.
The “yard” was dirt, mud proper. Chickens pecked and scratched, played their chicken dramas out with one another. Somewhere I could hear a goat in the mix, and that seemed fitting.
“Looks like home.” I replied with a smile.
“Come on in and sit down a while. I’ve got the coffee on.” And she looked me in the eye, plain faced and spoken. I knew already that I liked her.
We must have talked for an hour before I got down to looking at the things I came there for. Red glass she wanted to part with. I saw no need, but pulled each piece from its box anyhow, barely checking. I knew it was all as she’d said—perfect. I’d already paid her and wouldn’t have changed my mind. After all, she’d provided high quality pictures and had described each piece in detail.
She’d left the price to me. That was a new concept and one I did not wish to abuse. She’d contacted me and I wanted to play this right. I’d paid her a fair price, even told her she could get more if she chose to sell them herself, piece by piece.
It had been a long drive. I gratefully took the cup of steaming brew and cradled my hands around it, almost burning them. My bones were cold. It was one of those damp to the soul, chilly Northwest days, gray and close. Her home was a little haven on the muddy lane.
There were birds in cages that sang a storm when she spoke to them, pictures of family everywhere, and two very happy small dogs that fell in love with me at first sight. My guess was they did so with everyone, but I chose to take it personally. For the moment, I was the best and most exciting thing they had ever seen.
The coffee was not the deep and dark strain I live on, but a poorer woman’s coffee, a store brand that came in a can. I took another sip and thought she’d maybe put some magic in it, because it hit the spot so well—just what I needed. The chill left me and we communed over the simple drink, ten years between us and we worlds apart, yet strangely akin.
As I touched the red glass my eye wandered throughout the kitchen where we sat at a plain wood table. There in a glass front cabinet I saw her treasures, mostly worth far less than the pieces I inspected. And I knew she didn’t care, that these were the stories of her life and of her children’s. Mementos and gifts, each somehow connected to a special time or person. The red glass would have been beautiful displayed in the cabinet—the only place available for “fancy” things. But it was useless to her there. She already had everyday dishes to eat from, and she kept that display only for her most loved things. Red glass was better suited for cash to buy gas, gas that would go to the septic truck they worked with. They were struggling like everybody, and times were tough. Work comes first.
Still, I don’t think it bothered her at all to sell the glass. It was just “things”.
I learned a lot about Mary while I was there. She had a husband who seemed a good man, whose first thoughts were to carry my boxes and load them for me. She had a young daughter who minded her Mama, at least in front of company. And another, grown daughter who couldn’t meet me that day due to a flare of her illness. I learned that the illness had taken the daughters father, two uncles and a grandfather, and that it caused organ failure and stroke. Daughter was thirty years old and had suffered two strokes already. She was in bed today.
I listened to this information, seeing there was no self pity, no drama in the telling, but a matter of fact accounting of why the otherwise unthinkable was occurring—an offspring of hers not greeting company.
I learned that my new friend had been married for years to another man, an alcoholic who hit her often, until she summoned the courage and conviction to leave.
I saw that she was happy, but humble, and found myself admiring of her gentle spirit, her absolute lack of bitterness.
Her mother arrived with mail in hand, a daily tradition they kept regardless of all else. “Mother brings the mail everyday, and then we have dinner.”
Mother was on oxygen, but moved and observed like a bird, her quick movements belying her age and condition. She engaged me in a story of yet more glass, glass she’d collected one piece at a time, lifetimes ago, by filling up her gas tank. One free piece per fill up. She still had it all. I knew she was eager to show it to me, and she lived on the same lot as Mary, but I resisted the impulse to ask to see it.
It was time to go and I knew I shouldn’t draw it out any longer. Dark was coming, and these people needed dinner. So did I and so did the animals back home.
Mary stood and she told me, “I’m a hugging person. I hope you don’t mind.” and she put her soft arms around me. She was silent, feeling, holding the part of me that saw her and knew who she was. She did not let go, but stood this way for a time. I knew she smiled, though I couldn’t see her face. When I finally could, she said, “I hope to see you again.” Looked me in the eye, plain faced and spoken.
I went on then, drove through the wet and the falling night, drove to my own humble home. When I finally got there, I saw the smoke rising from the flue, the golden light of the window. I heard the dogs barking, then saw the biggest one wagging furiously on the porch like I’d been gone a week. For another moment, I am the best and most exciting thing ever seen.
I am wearing my favorite coat, the one that makes me look like a rock star and never fails to bring comments, even strangers touches. I hang the coat in the closet and pull off my favorite vintage boots. One arm into my old Carhartt, I see my thundering, bumbling four legged children heading my way, mud and slobber flying, and I pull on the beat up boots I live in before they can get to me. They are not respecters of go to town clothes.
I clap my hands and call my big girl Bubba, because it’s funny, and the boy I tell a little rhyme to with his name in every line. He always seems to get a real kick out of this. They fawn and lean and wap their tails on my legs ‘til it hurts too much and I have to send them away. They leave their spit on my pants, but it’s time to change anyway.
There is a smile in this house, and food that is hot on my favorite plate. Here are my own treasures, my most loved things, and the ones who know me. Here are my stories, my secrets, my promises, and here are the things I won’t part with. Here are my flannel pajamas, the cookie jar I won’t sell for seven hundred dollars, the chipped china bowl on the shelf with a story no one knows but me. Here is the man who believes in me, even while not understanding me, and here is the land he’s fought to keep for us, covered in dips and puddles and mud. Here are the oversized dogs who love us, protect us and drool on us, and their oversized beds, cluttering up the floor. And here is the deal—the red glass is not for me either, but a means to an end. My treasures.
I see the mud on my boots, and I know if I ever build a house, there will be no carpets. Just nice wood floors, the kind you can clean. Grinning, I see muddy paws and rawhide bones, happy dogs.
We’re not fancy people.