Standing at our ancient Hoosier cabinet I folded freshly dried clothes. The cabinet is perfect for this task, as it has a porcelain pull-out front, as well as lots of cupboards for housing various laundry room essentials. (It had also lived in our farmhouse kitchen for thirty years, serving me well as a changing table for our children, and as storage for utensils, spices, hand towels and pots and pans before that.)
It also has a wonderful story. I’ve been asked to tell it again.
One lovely July Saturday 50 years ago Joe and I went rummaging. Bridgeport, a small town near Saginaw, Michigan where both our families lived, displayed lots of items on a big, shared lawn that fronted three small, comfortable older homes.
Small children played around fold-out tables displaying tidy stacks of clothing, linens, knick-knacks, and tired paperback books. Serviceable sofas and chairs were sprinkled about, perfect for furnishing startup homes and apartments. Potted red geraniums and bright daisies decorated two generous front porches.
On the other side of the road, a man was pulling out ancient farm machinery and interesting old furniture from a large, ramshackle barn. A hand-painted ‘For Sale’ sign was wedged into a wringer washing machine placed on their lawn.
For Joe and me, newly married and nest-building, that barn’s contents looked promising.
Another extremely old, bent man waved his cane to acknowledge our arrival. He didn’t speak. His son (no spring chicken himself) grinned and adjusted dusty, well-worn overalls.
“We’re selling lots of goodies. Look around…”
We stared at furniture he’d dragged into the sunlight. A thick film of dust covered press-back chairs, a generous, well-scrubbed kitchen table, and two ornate brass bed frames. But one particular cabinet caught the sunlight, and my eye. I gasped, walked around to its front…and fell in love.
While Joe and the younger man entered the barn to admire an old motorcycle I caressed the Hoosier cabinet, thrilled. The old man watched me quietly, and then spoke for the first time.
“Today’s my 94th birthday, young lady, and I asked my son Ethan to clear the barn. Funny sort of present, but it’s what I wanted.”
“You like this cabinet.”
It was a statement, not a question.
I nodded. Oh, I coveted it. I’d sell my soul for that cabinet. But could we afford it?
“I’m tired. It’s past time to clear out things I’ve been holding close for too long. Like this beauty.”
“Sixty-five years ago I married my first wife. Julia was a lovely girl, and when she finally agreed to marry me I was a happy man.”
His toothless smile flashed briefly.
“I was considered a good catch back then, young lady, as I was able to offer her a small farmhouse, land, and dairy cows. This cabinet was meant for our kitchen, and I can still hear her laughing as she planned where to put it. Choosing it really made Julia happy.” He looked away for a little while, then continued.
“On the way home from church the day we married our carriage horse bolted. Julia was thrown out. She hit her head on a big rock and died, right there, still in her wedding garb. I thought I would die, too. Wedding guests following us tried to help, but- it was too late. I don’t remember much after that, not for a long time.”
He rubbed his eyes.
“Eventually I married again, and my wife and I had Ethan, here. But I’ve never allowed her to use this cabinet…” His voice trailed away.
Another sad silence.
Then- he brightened. “You’re newly wed, aren’t you?” Amazed, I asked how he’d known! He threw back his head and laughed, then thought a minute, eyes closed. Nodding to himself strangely, he slowly leaned toward me and looked deeply into my eyes.
“It’s yours. IF- you promise never to sell it, and promise to tell your children its story. You must promise me.”
Stunned by his generosity, I promised.
His lined face was suddenly serene. Then, very quietly, he looked at me and said, “Julia is pleased.”
He walked slowly toward his house, cheeks wet with tears, but not from grief.
We both knew that something wonderful had just happened.