My favorite pastime is “junking,” during which I browse, preferably alone, through old junk. I have a special place in my heart for old things and discarded things. My father had a similar passion, though his was coupled with a bit of handyman skill so that he could transform an old painted dresser into a gleaming, finely refinished oak treasure. I love to fondle those antiques and to imagine who handled them in the past. Even the smells of old houses and linens carry me to another place and time. I’m the girl who, if given the time and resources, would be digging under an old outhouse for bottles, bullets, and  buttons discarded as garbage in the past (yes, people really do that!)

When I was a kid, my granny lived in a plantation mansion, complete with “slave’s quarters” behind it. She took care of the ancient woman who descended from those southern planters. The house was massive, rambling, and in my mind, haunted. It was beautiful and well-tended, with a treasure of books in the library and a graceful, curving staircase that I loved to sashay down in the style of Scarlett O’Hara. There was even a gilded elevator installed that led to the five bedrooms upstairs. I had my own room to stay in, though I barely slept. Noises from the attic kept me up most nights. Probably mice or squirrels, but my young mind ran wild with possibilities.

The slave house was ramshackle, barely standing. I wasn’t allowed to explore it, though I wished so fervently to dig under its foundations, to find the history that surely lay buried there. All I really knew about slaves was what I had been taught in school (which wasn’t much), and what was gleaned from a marathon of the movie, Roots, which horrified me. But no, my father didn’t want the structure to fall down around my ears, so I was barred from that sad and spooky place.

Instead I explored the attic, with its discarded detritus from days gone by. There was a jumble of massive bedsteads and wardrobes, baskets, clothing, books, old dolls and painted portraits that watched my every move. There was also a huge, antiquated wheelchair, which scared me the most. I dared myself to sit in it as I rifled through yellowed, fragile letters that I had found, written in an arcane, flowery script that was barely legible.

Through these letters I learned the story of the doctor who used to live in the house, who I believe was the grandfather of the old woman who lived there. Through the letters and the gossip of my granny I found out that he had a frail and beautiful wife that was hooked on laudanum (tincture of opium). She spent most of her days in a drug-induced fog,  confined to her bed. The doctor was sent to prison for something, I never found out what. Granny censored that part of the story, I believe. He wrote letters to his wife, railing against the authorities and calling out to Satan to avenge the injustice of his incarceration. Whether or not she wrote back is unknown-only his letters were saved in a dusty, creaking wardrobe. The letters, which dated around the end of the 19th century, ended when the doctor was released from prison.

I was only about twelve years old at the time, and I contemplated stealing those forgotten missives-but I didn’t do it. I still regret not committing the petty crime, though, because the story still haunts me. I know there’s a book in there somewhere. Perhaps one day when I am not overly occupied with domestic duties I will research that old house and its former occupants. The old lady and my granny died many years ago. The house and its contents were sold, but I am sure public records could give me more information. Nothing will ever replace those old letters though.

My grandmother continued to live in the house after the old lady died. After a while, she became ill and lost her mobility. I remembered the old chair and told my dad about it. Together we went up the steep, narrow stairs of the attic to bring it down for her.

The creepy chair was at the top of the stairs, looking sinister. It was very heavy, and we had a hard time getting it down, just a scrawny young teen and her dad. I told him maybe we should wait till we had another man to help, but he said no…”just hold it steady from the top while I bring it down.” Well…I lost my grip on it, or maybe it tore itself from my hands, and it bumped down several steps as my dad attempted to stop it. Thank goodness it got wedged between the railings due to its own girth or it would have killed my poor father. My screams continued even after my eyes saw that dad was okay. I wonder who sat in that chair. In my mind it had a mind of its own, holding the angry essence of a bitter soul. Perhaps that of the crazy old Satanic doctor who hooked his own wife on drugs?

Now, as a middle-aged woman who fancies herself a rational person, I know there is no such things as haunted wheelchairs. But still, when I place my hands on an old object, I sense the history of it, echoing through the years. The forgotten souls that once touched the old photo, the dusty hairbrush, the tarnished thimble…they whisper to me of stories that long to be told.

Ode To Things by Pablo Neruda

I have a crazy,
crazy love of things.
I like pliers,
and scissors.
I love
cups,
rings,
and bowls –
not to speak, or course,
of hats.
I love
all things,
not just
the grandest,
also
the
infinite-
ly
small –
thimbles,
spurs,
plates,
and flower vases.
Oh yes,
the planet
is sublime!
It’s full of pipes
weaving
hand-held
through tobacco smoke,
and keys
and salt shakers –
everything,
I mean,
that is made
by the hand of man, every little thing:
shapely shoes,
and fabric,
and each new
bloodless birth
of gold,
eyeglasses
carpenter’s nails,
brushes,
clocks, compasses,
coins, and the so-soft
softness of chairs.
Mankind has
built
oh so many
perfect
things!
Built them of wool
and of wood,
of glass and
of rope:
remarkable
tables,
ships, and stairways.
I love
all
things,
not because they are
passionate
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
because
this ocean is yours,
and mine;
these buttons
and wheels
and little
forgotten
treasures,
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms
glasses, knives and
scissors –
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
lost
in the depths of forgetfulness.
I pause in houses,
streets and
elevators
touching things,
identifying objects
that I secretly covet;
this one because it rings,
that one because
it’s as soft
as the softness of a woman’s hip,
that one there for its deep-sea color,
and that one for its velvet feel.
O irrevocable
river
of things:
no one can say
that I loved
only
fish,
or the plants of the jungle and the field,
that I loved
only
those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.
It’s not true:
many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
they were
so close
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.

9 thoughts on “A Tribute to Old and Forgotten Things, Which Intrigue and Sometimes Terrify Me

  1. Both of these writings touched my heart.

    I knew her as Ms. Bobby~~~~~ I stayed with her when Granny needed a break. Lovely woman who did sleep a lot.
    I am braiding a rug, Granny and Trish showed us how as kids. Your story brought back all the roadside stops we made as we traveled up and down 1A.Trish and Granny hated 95 and only used if time was an issue. Don’t know why tho. Trish only rolled at 4am. Ask any family we went to visit?.lol Thats when kids would sleep and no traffic. Makes perfect sense..

    What a troubled time that was in my life..Lessons learned……

    1. Did you ever hear the stories about her ancestors? We drove by the house last year when we went to visit Uncle John and it brought all the memories back to me. I don’t remember Ms. Bobby at all.

      I recall Aunt Trish arriving in the middle of the night all of the time! It does make sense, knowing how my own kids act on a roadtrip. I would fall asleep myself, though, driving in silence and darkness.

      1. Yep as a kid it was highly embarrassing. I would hear some of the inl-aws gripping about how inconsiderate. When we lived at your mom and dads old at Regency mall with Granny, Trish would pack us up in the truck and drive to Melanie s, just in time for dinner…lol

        I dont remember any stories, I was to busy living the fast life to pay attention back then. It was right after Terry and I split.

      2. “Yep as a kid it was highly embarrassing. I would hear some of the inl-aws gripping about how inconsiderate.”

        ^ “I recall Aunt Trish arriving in the middle of the night all of the time! It does make sense, knowing how my own kids act on a road trip.”

        When we lived at your mom and dads old (HOUSE) at Regency mall

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