It’s funny what can be found in old attics when you are a new homeowner and especially in the attics of really old homes. There could be rags or riches… Gold or garbage but what there would always be an abundance of memories.
I was recently divorced and had decided to move to the country, in the attempt to leave a horrid part of my past behind. My ex-wife and I didn’t have any children, unless you counted the evil chihuahua that never liked me. They say that dogs are good judges of people, but I think that worked the other way around as well, as the hell-hound was her master’s minion.
The house I bought was in Indiana, Pennsylvania, which was a small town of about fourteen thousand people and famous for being the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was apparently the Christmas tree capital of the world. It was also the home of Bob’s Pizza, which was where I had stopped for lunch. I was confused at first, as I couldn’t find an actual pizza menu. There were no references to ‘Vegetarian’ or ‘Meat lovers’ or anything of the sort. Instead, the purveyor of pizza asked,
“With or without?”
After a few confusing and embarrassing minutes, I discovered they only made two types of pizza. Tomato sauce, cheese and either ‘with’ or ‘without’ pepperoni but either way, the pizza was amazing.
After I finished lunch, I drove my moving van to Church street, which was where my old two story, whether board home was located. I had bought the home sight unseen off the internet as it seemed like it had a lot of character and it was a great price. It was cream colored, simple in design and had a window in the attic that faced the street.
I was a writer and I imagined myself looking from the window while trying to get inspiration for my next book. When I showed the internet photos to my brother, he said it looked creepy and haunted but as they say, creepy is in the eye of the beholder.
It was a cool Fall day but quite sunny when I parked my moving van in front of the narrow yard. I stood looking around the beautiful and quiet street, then started carrying the boxes that contained the wreck of my life into the house.
“Well… It looks like you packed pretty well but how are you going to get that mattress in the house all by yourself?”
Asked Roy, my real-estate agent.
“Funny that you asked, Roy. It’ll be quite easy… with your help.”
I said with a smile. Roy was kind enough to meet me there when I first arrived, and I was somehow able to wrangle him into helping me unload my van.
Roy seemed to be about my age, so mid-thirties and we hit it off over the phone and email, before I even stepped into town. He then turned to me and said,
“OK, Jack. Like I said in our last phone call, the previous owners had left a few large pieces of old furniture, as they couldn’t be bothered moving or throwing them out but they’re decent enough to use until you decide to replace them.”
I could tell by the pictures that he had sent to me, that they weren’t old enough to be considered antiques. Just plain old…
“OK. Thanks, Roy. Hey, I’ll call you one of these nights and invite you out for drinks. I owe you a few.”
We said our goodbyes and I went straight to work, then once I turned on the water, power and the heat, I made myself at home. The streetlights came on and I thought about what I would need for the night and the following day, then decided to drive to the local Walmart and buy milk, bread and a few other things.
Once I had the internet and cable connected, I started making dinner – Grilled cheese and tomato soup but I didn’t stay up very late at all. By ten o’clock I was fast asleep, and it was the first night that I had dreamed of the attic, which I hadn’t even stepped into yet. In my dream, I stood at the attic window and watched storm clouds approach.
The next morning, I rolled out of bed and started the process of making the place mine, one room at a time, starting with the attic. The attic stairs came down pretty easily and I made my way up with a bucket full of cleaning supplies and a vacuum cleaner. I began cleaning from the ceiling and worked my way down then once I was done, I looked out the attic window and had a feeling of deja vus.
I turned around and was about to head downstairs when I spotted the one piece of furniture that I hadn’t yet cleaned. A buffet and hutch that was tricky to open so I decided to pull out the sticky draws and see what I could do to make them functional gain. After pulling out the stickiest of the draws, I fell on my butt but from that height, I found a box sitting way back in the draw tracks. Someone must have placed the box in the draw but then it somehow fell into the rear cavity space.
It took a few moments to scoot over and grab the box and I was surprised to see it was heart shaped and fastened by a red ribbon. Apart from holding the box closed, the ribbon also held a card, so I blew the dust off the box and found it was a Cadbury heart-shaped gift box. I checked the expiration date and couldn’t believe my eyes. November 1st. 1940. Needless to say, that I wasn’t taking the chance of eating any, then I pulled out the envelope, opened it and read the card enclosed.
By now, you should have received a letter that I had sent, telling you to pull out the centre draw of our buffet and hutch and to look for the box of chocolate candy that I had hidden behind it. I should be in France by now with my platoon, but I couldn’t miss giving you a gift on Valentine’s day.
Happy Valentine’s day, precious. All my love.
I read it a few times and it dawned on me what had occurred. Poor Lawrence had died before sending Mary the letter and the heartfelt, heart-shaped gift was never received.
Once I was done with the attic, I continued with each of the upstairs rooms and it took me a few days to do the whole house, but my mind kept going back to the heart-shaped box. A few nights later, I dreamed that I was standing at the attic window but this time, I was watching myself. I again spotted the storm approaching but this time, there were loud mechanical noises.
The next day, I set up my little desk in front of the attic window and placed my laptop on top of if but every time I tried to work on my book, I thought about the old box of chocolates. Finally, I gave up and called Roy to invite him out for a beer.
I caught up with Roy later that evening and he brought along his wife, Sarah. We chatted about the reason for my move, a little about them and we really hit it off. After a few hours, I asked Roy,
“Do you know much about the previous owner of my home?”
Roy thought for a moment then said,
“Yeah… A lady in her nineties lived there but her family took her to a nursing home, as they were worried that she would fall down the stairs. I don’t know how she was able to live there all by herself, to tell you the truth. Apparently, she’s lived there since the forties.”
I thought about what he said then asked,
“Her name wouldn’t be… Mary, by chance. Would it?”
“Yeah! How did you know?”
I then told them about the box of chocolates and the card.
“Do you know what retirement home that they took her to?”
I asked. Roy didn’t know but said that he’ll try and locate her children’s contact details. That night, I dreamed that I was watching myself, looking out the attic window. Well… I initially thought it was me, but it was actually a man in an army uniform, then when I looked out the window, I found thick diesel smoke and noisy tanks approaching. One of the tanks swung its machine gun towards me but I woke up panting and covered in sweat. My heart was racing, and I could still see the tank that I had dreamed of.
A few days later, Roy called me with the name of the nursing home that Mary was residing in. Later that day, I drove to the other end of town and parked in the Parking lot of the aged care facilities then walked into the reception area. A nurse gave me Mary’s room number and I walked hesitantly toward it while holding the heart shaped box of chocolates.
I knocked on the door and was greeted by a pretty girl who looked at me and the box of chocolates with a little confusion.
“Can I help you?”
“Uhm… Yeah. I’m here to see Mary. Mary Pollock?”
I responded. She looked even more confused and a little concerned, when she said.
“I’m Mary Pollock…”
I looked back down at the old box and tried to make sense of things, when she said,
“You must mean my Grand Mother, Marjorie. She goes by Mary as well. Is there something that I can help you with?”
At first, I hesitated but I eventually told ‘young’ Mary the story while I watched her confusion turn to awe and when I finished, she said,
“That’s amazing! Would you like to give her the candy, or should I?”
I thought about it and responded,
“This might sound strange but… I think your grandfather wants me to give her the candy. I uhm… I think I’ve been dreaming about him. Did he die in a battle involving tanks?”
Mary’s eyes glistened a little and she nodded her head. A moment later, I was at the foot of Mary’s bed. She seemed quite frail but otherwise lucid, so I told her who I was and the reason for my visit. She started to smile with tears in her eyes and said,
“I can’t believe that I had a secret gift from my sweet husband in that house for all that time and didn’t even realize but I’ve always felt his presence with me.”
I turned back to Mary who smiled at me then said,
“I think so too.”
I hung around for a few more minutes just chatting, joked about not eating the candy, while Mary kept trying to set me up with her recently single Granddaughter, who was twenty nine, worked as a vet in town, went to IUP and had apparently lost her front teeth in a scooter accident when she was ten years old. I said my goodbyes and left for home, feeling good about what I had done.
I had stopped dreaming of Lawrence, as I thought that he did what he had set out to do. Namely facilitating a task that was meant to have been completed a long, long ago. It was amazing to me that love could span years… decades and even beyond life itself and I hoped that one day that I had that type of love.
A few weeks later, I checked my calendar and found that Valentine’s Day was fast approaching so while shopping in Walmart, I bought a heart shaped box of Cadbury chocolate, then drove to a local