As I made my way up the narrow steps, I got a whiff of what smelled like burning wood. I knew that everyone smoked back in those days, but this smell was not from cigarettes. It was more like the smell of a roaring fireplace that lent warmth and possibly, once a year, licked the toes of carefully hung childrens’ Christmas stockings.
Reaching the top, I could see right away that I was right. There must have been a fire at some point. Burned rafters were visible, but they were still sturdy enough to hold up the roof. The attic was huge and I felt like I was still on a treasure hunt. I saw a set of rusted old bed springs in the corner, the kind of springs that my Grandparents had in their house.
Jumping on the bed was strictly forbidden, but when their backs were turned, I discovered that the springs almost sang as I jumped on different parts of the bed. Inevitably, the slats would fall out and with an innocent face, I would disavow any knowledge of how it happened. I remember once telling my Grandma that when I walked into the room, the bed just fell right on the floor. Grandpa would have to put those slats back on the side rails, and he wasn’t particularly happy about it, but he never showed any anger.
As I continued to scan the attic, I saw several old doors, which had to have been original to the house and I wondered where they had once been. There were boxes everywhere. Some of them held elaborately embellished door hinges and curtain rod holders labeled with an “R” and an “L.” There were crystal and milk glass doorknobs, old window latches and a large number of skeleton keys.
Opening another box, my eyes grew wide with excitement as I found myself gazing at several old toys. There was a top, and although the upper part was somewhat cloudy with age, it was clear enough to see that a train went around a track when the handle was pushed down. I pushed the handle down and I thought I could hear just the faintest whistle of the train as it slowly strained to move around the track. Beside it was a badly dented, musical Easter egg, painted red with a white bunny and some flowers. A quick look on the back said “Mattel.” With a little coaxing, I was able to turn the crank, but the music had been silenced many years ago.
A little wooden radio with a pretend antenna made from a red ball on top of a spring was decorated with what looked like the remnants of the story “Mary had a little lamb.” I tried to turn the knob but it was frozen. My best guess was that these toys were from the fifties, and I wondered if they belonged to her.
I decided not to leave them frozen and forgotten in their cardboard tomb. They would come downstairs and find a place in the living room, perhaps gently resting in a carefully chosen basket, sitting beside my childhood rocking chair.
In another box, I found a plate. It was thick and heavy and had little partitions in it. A small coffee cup had been wrapped in newspaper and the green stripe that encircled the top, matched the one around the plate. They were clearly old, and didn’t look like household dishes. They looked more like they had come from some long ago closed down little side-road café, where everyone went to sup on some good old home cooked food. They too, would find a new home downstairs on my antique Hoosier cabinet.
As I meandered around the attic, I took care where I stepped, as only a few planks were positioned to allow one to walk around. Near the front of the house was a small round window. It had been nailed shut in a way that almost seemed threatening. I walked carefully, praying for a quick death should I miss and fall through the ceiling. Stuck around the window were more notes. I noticed several more, peering from the rafters.
“This is almost like a wailing wall,” I thought. I began taking them down and carefully put them into one of the small boxes I had just emptied, despite the remnants of what appeared to have been a recent rats’ nest. There were small pieces of ribbon, wrapped around protruding nails. I unwrapped them and put them in with the notes.
Making my way to the back wall, I found a doll, hanging from a ribbon. Her hair had been cut off at the roots and Band-Aids were wrapped around her arms and legs. It was a little creepy at first, but I reasoned that maybe our little author and artist was playing hairdresser and doctor. The little doll went into the box with all of my other treasures.
I decided to take a break and read a few of the notes. The first one said, “Dear God. Would you give me wings so I can fly away?” It was dated 1958. First there had been a prayer to be a horse and now she was praying for wings. Why did this little girl want to fly away? The next note made me giggle. It said, “Dear God. I drowned a worm. I didn’t mean to. Please don’t let me go to Hell. Dated 1958.
The next note said, “Dear God. Are you there? Granny says that you are everywhere. Please don’t let her die.” The date was 1959. It was the second note, pleading for her Grandmothers’ life. I wondered if her Grandmother was sick.
The third note I unfolded was another one that made me laugh. It said, “Dear God. I climbed out on the roof today. Please don’t tell my daddy. He’ll whip me.” It was dated 1959. How did that little girl managed to climb onto the roof? I could hardly make it from one side of the attic to the other. Did she climb out of that little window? Is that why it had been nailed shut? The attic was three stories up and surely if there had been a ladder, she would have been seen.
I wondered if the attic had been her playroom, or hiding place, or maybe even her refuge. Maybe she played dress-up. Maybe she pretended to be the fair maiden trapped in the tower, or maybe it was a make-shift, make-believe hospital.
I decided to read the rest of the notes later, while relaxing and having a much deserved cup of tea. Before I went back downstairs, I decided to open one more box. It was a rather large box and inside I found a picture. It was a scene of trees, painted entirely in blues. I couldn’t tell if it had been painted with oils or acrylics, but it was almost hauntingly beautiful and like the picture of the horse and the notes, it wasn’t signed. I wondered if it had been painted by her or by someone else. I decided to name it “The Mysterious Blue Forest.” It was dated 1960.
I thought it would look lovely in a frame and it would find a home on a wall somewhere, even though for reasons I couldn’t explain, I had always such an aversion to the color blue. Blue always seemed so cold and lonesome, much like I viewed the ocean. I wondered if the little girl felt the same way and that’s why normally lush, green trees were painted in somber, subdued blues.
I pulled out crumpled newspapers, dated from the fifties and sixties. They were almost as intriguing as the treasures they wrapped. Scanning the advertisements sent me back to a time that to me, was unfamiliar. French fries at McDonalds’ were 12 cents. Admission to Disneyland was $3.75 for an adult and $2.75 for a child under the age of 12.
The strangest one was an advertisement for “Cocaine Toothache Drops.” Price 15 cents. I imagine a little cocaine would fix you right up, toothache or not, and wondered if it really did have cocaine in it, like the old Coca Colas.
This grand lady was holding so many memories and bits and pieces of the past, which I appreciated. So often, it’s out with the old and in with the new, but I had always had a reverence for old things, and old people as well.
One last peek into the box before I went back downstairs, revealed another picture, and this one gave me chills.
To be continued_____________________