Thirty years had passed on by. A long time when you are a young man with time ahead but only a flash as you reflect back. The old school house, front yards, the beautiful public library, all seem to have shrunk with time. The back alley where we played stick ball seemed hardly wide enough for a car to pass. I remember when it felt like Yankee Stadium. The crowd would roar as I did my impersonation of Mickey Mantle. Poor little Billy Epps was forever the victim of my mighty swing.
It caught my eye as I drove past. Tacked on a tree, an old water oak that I knew well was a sign that read "Yard Sale Today." Somewhere beneath the chipped bark, "Father Time" had smoothed the initials of the neighborhood of '58. The beautiful old tree, like everything else, had shrunk. With the widening of Bull Street, the curb almost touched her trunk. Perhaps damage to the long roots accounted for the haggard look, along with the ravages of time.
A small crowd had already gathered in the front yard. Curiosity and time to kill, I parked.
The card tables and plywood stretched between chairs supported pots, pans, trinkets and a lifetime of knickknacks. A white picket fence had replaced the wrought iron that had protected the yard when we passed by on our way to school. Many were the mornings I grabbed hold of the rail with one hand, swinging a make-believe sword with the other. Sinbad the sailor, protector of my sister and all the other kids in the neighborhood. As brave as I thought I was, I still ran when Mrs. Bealey's chow chased us. I just pretended not to run as fast.
She sat on the porch in an old rocker. I'd never forget her. Never did know her name but she always smiled and waved at us kids. The chair didn't move now. Legs that once motored the chair back and forth were shriveled with age. Her skinny arms slumped loose at her side, leaving the arms of the chair bare as if she were being engulfed by the ancient piece of furniture.
Collectors and the curious touched and rubbed trinkets. I would come to know the very loud lady as her daughter. I cringed at a few of her remarks to potential customers. I kept looking to the porch for some reaction as these treasures were bargained for.
"Oh, that ol' piece of junk," the daughter said to the young couple, "that old churn isn't worth much. Five dollars will be fine."
Quickly, I remembered a hot May afternoon on the way home from school. My sister and I took her offering of homemade ice cream in two paper cups. "So that was the churn," I found myself mumbling.
More people came. The tables became bare. She never moved, just stared straight ahead. I hoped she couldn't hear the fish market atmosphere as her treasures were tarnished by strangers.
"That's mother on the porch. She' out of it," the daughter spoke to a friend. "Once we sell off all this junk, we are selling the house and getting her in the 'Willows'. I hear that place is so nice and they take such good care of her kind."
I cringed. I looked at the porch.
Unnoticed by all the shoppers, the quilt still hung on the crochet rack off to the side. That must have been the piece she was working on all those afternoons when we would pass by. That ol' rocker going at a steady pace, her glasses slightly down on her pointed nose; she always had time to wave.
"How much for the quilt?" I asked as the crowd thinned out.
"I didn't even notice that," the daughter said. "That ol' thing is just a dust collector. You can have it for ten dollars."
She flinched, moving her hand slightly. The rocker creaked. It was special, this quilt.
I paid ten. Walking up the rickety stairs, I placed it on her lap. She smiled.