Tuesday, January 20, 2015


The house wasn't much, an old coal camp house by the river, with the railroad tracks running in front. We had to step carefully walking across the front porch as the floor was spongy underfoot. Inside the spare living room a thin woman with white hair greeted us.

"The cabinet is in here," she said, leading us into a surprisingly large kitchen. Our shoes made a sticky sound as we crossed the linoleum floor. "I'm sorry," the woman said, her face apologetic. "My brother lived here alone, you know, after our mother passed away. He wasn't much of a housekeeper, and he was so weak in the weeks before he died."

I could see the signs of his habitation--burnt rings on the counter and table top, a broken chair propped against the wall, and I recalled the bent wheelbarrow and the small pile of coal under the porch.

"My mother kept this place spotless when she was living. She didn't have much but she took care of what she had." The Hoosier cabinet we had come to see was a testament to the mother's housekeeping. It was sparkling clean inside, the drawers neatly lined with shelf paper.

"If there's anything else you're interested in just left me know." The woman opened the front door and held it as we carried the cabinet to our truck. As I passed through the living room my eyes fell on a stack of linens, so when we came back inside I asked, "Would you be interested in selling those?" I pointed at the linens.

She glanced at the pile and shrugged. "You can just have those," she said. "I don't want to deal with them. I had a yard sale and people bought pretty much everything that had any value. No one wanted those, and I don't need them."

I picked up the linens, thanked the woman and carried them out to the truck. Our tires crunched the gravel as we pulled away from the house with its peeling paint,  fallen fence and red rose bush.

When we got home I carried the linens inside and put them in a plastic tote, planning to sort and wash them later. And then I forgot about them for two years. Yesterday as I sorted totes of items to be sold in our booths, I found them again. They were yellowed around the folds from being stored away and unused for at least 4 years before I got them, but the starch was still stiff, and the surfaces of pillowcases and dresser scarves were smooth with ironing.

Today I have them in the washer, and the starch and I hope the yellowing will both be gone. The cottons will be wrinkled, the lace limp. Will I starch and iron them? That is not something I ordinarily do, but somehow I think I will have to, if for no other reason than to honor the woman who took time to do those chores in her small, sagging coal camp house on the banks of the river.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


warren said...

I love to hear stories like this...old folks who remember with pride...how their parents worked hard or kept house or just made do...lovely story

Quinn said...

There's a story behind every thing, isn't there? But we seldom get to hear them firsthand.

Jenny said...

I know just how this lady felt. I gave away so many of my mamma's treasures because I just could not deal with them all. I hope these linens will be loved again. I collect linens because my mother & grandmother loved so very much - this one is so dainty.

Nance said...

awesome story. You did starch and iron her lovely linens, I think?

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