Back in my day. Cat fur for kitten britches, I’ve done it, I’m back in my day.
On Sunday, I’d taken a drive through Rives Junction. When I saw a “for sale” sign in the front yard of an old farmhouse that I had always admired, I stopped to ask about it. I couldn’t imagine the Bishops ever selling the place. They’d been sitting on its front porch for as long as I could remember, and they were sitting there now.
I ducked under the low-hanging branches of the cherry tree that was coved in fragrant blossoms and approached the couple. I extended my hand and introduced myself. “I’m Wyatt Richards and I would like to talk with you about buying your beautiful old farmhouse.”
When I shook Mr. Bishop’s hand, he explained, “Clara and I will be leaving soon. We’ve had a good many years here watching the grass grow but it’s time we got on with it. We raised a family in this house, ate well from our garden out back,” and winking, he added, “we did a mess of skinny dipping in the pond that’s behind the house. I bought this place as a wedding gift to my girl, and we’ve loved it into old age. Me and my missus; we’re hoping to find someone who will love it the way we have. Sit and tell us about yourself.”
I smiled because I could see that who they sold their home to, mattered. “I was born in Jackson. I’ve been the city librarian for thirty-five years at the branch out at Palmer Creek. I’ve always had a love of books, especially history books.” I talked about how the farmhouse reminded me of one that I’d lived in as a child. “I used to lay on the floor of my bedroom and put my ear on the floor vent so I could listen to my parents talking over a late-night snack in the kitchen below.” For some reason, I felt comfortable enough to admit, “I will be living alone because my wife who passed a few months ago, will eternally be a part of me, and no one else will ever do. If you trust me with your home, I will take care of it for as long as life allows me to do so, and then I will leave it in the hands of someone else who will love it.”
In those minutes of conversation, the three of us forged a bond. I must have said all the right things because they agreed to sell it to me. They had priced the house low for a quick sale, and as they had requested, I went to the bank and made a withdrawal, and then went back and paid them in cash.
When I was given the key, I was also given an envelope that smelled like Evening in Paris, an old favorite of mine that my wife used to wear. Clara said, “Please, don’t open this envelope until you’re moved in.” I gave my word.
When I pulled up the following morning with the moving truck, Max and Clara were gone. It was curious to me how they could move out overnight, but they had. As soon as the movers carried my belongings in, I sat down to sate my curiosity. I took the envelope Clara had given me out of my pocket, inhaled the memory-stirring scent, and carefully opened it.
We know we put our home in the right hands. Let it nurture you as it has us. We’ve left you a gift. It’s in the attic at the end of the upstairs hallway. Be patient, do not use it until your heart tells you it is the right time. Safe travels.
Max and Clara
Wyatt scratched his head and wrinkled his brow. The cryptic message sent a shiver through him. He jumped up and took the hall stairs two at a time. The cord for the pulldown attic stairs dangled as if waiting for him. The ladder creaked as it stretched to the floor, and without taking time to breathe, he scrambled up.
The attic was full of boxes and dust-covered furniture, but his eye found their gift immediately. It looked like a sled, with a large fan mounted behind it. The cab was red with ornate carvings all over it, and there was a threadbare velvet bench seat inside that had seen better times. There was a dashboard full of curious charts, dials, ticking clocks, and leather-covered levers. A large crystal dial that was dead center of the panel caught his eye. A note was taped to it.
“This machine will take you anywhere you want to go but don’t be in a rush. Choose a time carefully, it’s a one-way trip.”
I stared at the machine in disbelief for several long minutes, and then suddenly I was spooked by my thoughts. I hurried down from the attic, quickly raised the ladder, and then rushed into the bathroom and threw up my breakfast. Call it excitement; call it fear; call it impossible.
Over the next few weeks, I settled into the farmhouse and I did my best to not think about the contraption in the attic, mostly because it scared the holy hell out of me. I told myself that it had been left by an eccentric old couple with vivid imaginations, but they had moved out quickly. I muttered, “Time travel? I’m not that big of a fool, am I?”
I unpacked and made the place my home, and even though I continued to live my life and go about my business, every night when the house was quiet, I could hear creaking reminders of that thing in the attic. I shook it off, after all, all old houses have noises in the night.
True to the words I’d shared with the Bishops, I never remarried. In hindsight, I know that I wasted years just existing instead of living, but isn’t that what everyone does? I just went to work and came home, puttered in the garden, and occasionally took my lunch out where I could dangle my feet in the pond, but at night I lay in bed all alone, clutching the memories of my wife.
On my 75th birthday, I made a decision. I put a for sale sign in the front yard and waited for the right person to want the farmhouse. Several people slowed and stared, but when a young couple came up the sidewalk and asked about the house, I knew they were the right ones. I sold it to them – for cash. I felt good about the sale and it was time; I was ready to leave. I handed them the key and a scented pink envelope with the same message the Bishops had given to me. I made them promise not to read it until they were moved in. They gave their word.
That night I tucked the cash I’d been paid for the house into my pocket and climbed the ladder to the attic. I’d come to the conclusion that it was time for me to believe in something more. I sat on the red velvet cushion and studied the machine’s dashboard. Suddenly I knew what I wanted. I wanted to go back to that day in seventh grade when I’d first seen Sara. She had been walking home from school when she dropped the stack of books she was carrying. At the time, I just watched her struggle because I was too shy to offer my help.
I set the dials for February 1, 1957, and I turned the crystal knob. I closed my eyes and waited for something to happen. The machine sat still and silent, and as my hope started to drain out of my eyes, I chastised myself for thinking that the silly machine was actually going to…suddenly the fan behind me began to spin. Sparks flew off of the machine as it shook and shuddered, and in a blinding flash, the attic disappeared.
Just as I rounded the corner, I saw the cutest girl with bouncing blonde curls struggling with an armload of books. I figured she was new at school because I’d never seen her before. What I wouldn’t give for an excuse to say hi to her. Suddenly, she dropped her books.