When I was a kid, my Aunt Kathleen lived 1/4 mile away from us. She and Grandpa shared a two-story, ramshackle stone house that had been built in 1856. Judging from the amount of stuff in it, that’s when my aunt started collecting. Now I know her problem is called “hoarding” but as a child, her home was a funhouse stuffed with ancient games and dress up clothes.
I can close my eyes right now and remember the sensation of stepping from the hot summer sun into the dark cool kitchen. It smelled like a combination of percolating coffee and layers of dust, with the slightly earthy hint of decaying food, a fragrance I found oddly comforting.
I’d stop at the dining room table, slide an Oreo from it’s package and pat the mammoth orange tom cat that slept next to it. Then I’d inch past Grandpa sleeping in his chair, his one millionth game of solitaire laid out on a board across his lap.
As I twisted the Oreo apart and scraped the creamy filling off with my teeth, I’d wave to Aunt Kathleen. Her jet-black hair, piled in a beehive a yard high, wrapped turban-style with tissue paper and fastened with long pink clips. She’d be on the phone, talking to her friends or, just listening in on the party line.
If she was talking, I’d sit on the floor next to the stereo and wait for the next 45 to drop, while I eavesdropped on her conversation. If she put her fingers to her lips, that meant she was listening and I would tiptoe up the rickety staircase to the second floor, first room on the left.
Here, was magic – The Playroom. I’d don a battered Raggedy Ann wig, toss a molting fur wrap across my shoulders and slip into a mismatched pair of sequined shoes, demanding that the armless one-eyed doll do my bidding. Perhaps, I’d pull on a pair of too big overalls and buckle a six-shooter around my waist. Then I’d climb up on the molting rocking horse that no longer rocked and ride off into the sunset.
After fifteen minutes, or maybe two hours, Kathleen would call me down for an iced tea laced with spoonfuls of sugar. We’d sit out on the front porch in the swing. She’d point out the latest addition to her treasure trove and our conversation would go something like this:
“I found that boot on the side of the road. I thought I’d keep it. You know, in case someone breaks their leg and they need one shoe.”
“A’cept, wouldn’t they haveta have broken their left leg?” I questioned.
“That’s true.” Aunt Kathleen gave the giant swing a push. “Still, I have a 50/50 chance of having the shoe they need.”
“Yeah-but, wouldn’t ya it need to be the right size?”
“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that.” She stopped the swing and hauled herself up. “Run get me that shovel on the side of the shed.”
We moved slowly out to the center of the yard, her faded pink rubber flip-flops slapping against her wide heels. She thrust the rusty shovel into a patch of weeds and flowers.
Ten minutes later, the boot stood on the top step of the broken wooden porch with an orange day lily leaping out it.