Wouldn't it be great if people could begin their lives
again, if we could get a clean slate? That's what I was
thinking as I drove through a quiet Boise neighborhood on
a warm Friday morning in August.
When I was a kid, we called that a "do over." I wanted
a "do over" in life. Of course, I knew I wouldn't get one.
You got what you got, and you might as well make the best
Leland, my husband of twenty-four years, seemed content
enough. So did Traci, our daughter.
But I kept feeling like there should be something ... oh,
I don't know. Something more.
At my age—forty-four this year—I thought I should know
what life was about, but I didn't. It all seemed pretty
futile. I only had to look at the newspaper headlines or
listen to the evening news to confirm those feelings.
Leland knew I was at loose ends, restless, discontented.
Poor man. He'd tried a dozen different remedies to lift my
spirits, all to no avail.
I sighed deeply, my gaze fixed on the more-than-a-century-
old homes, looking for my destination. In this part of
town, the blocks were laid out in precise, orderly
squares, the ancient trees gnarled, their roots buckling
the sidewalks from the underside.
Spying the sign I was searching for—Estate Sale Preview
Today, it proclaimed in large red letters—I pressed on the
brake pedal and pulled to the curb.
I stared at the two-story Victorian-era house and sighed
again. Normally I loved coming to these old homes and
looking for that special find. But today ... well, I
doubted anything would interest me in my present mood.
"You're here," I muttered. "Make the best of it."
I grabbed my purse from the passenger seat, opened the
door, and got out.
I was greeted on the front porch by an attractive young
woman— twenty-something and ultrathin—in a white silk
suit, the jacket long, the skirt short. She had legs that
didn't end, straight blond hair cut in a Jennifer Aniston
style, striking blue eyes, and a thousand-watt smile.
Not exactly the sort of girl who made a forty-something
woman in an identity crisis feel good about herself.
"Welcome," she said as she handed me a brochure. "Feel
free to browse. Everything in the house is for sale. If
you have questions, ask one of the setup crew. The auction
will begin tomorrow morning at ten."
"Thanks," I mumbled as I moved toward the open doorway.
The moment my foot fell on the parquet floor of the entry,
I felt surrounded by the past. The paper on the walls was
reminiscent of the 1950s, a pastoral scene on an off-white
background with pale green trees, grazing sheep, and
shepherdesses with hooped skirts and crooked staffs. The
baseboard and wainscoting had been painted the same shade
of green as that in the wallpaper. It made me think of my
I paused, closed my eyes, and breathed in. Yes, it even
smelled a bit like Grandma's house used to. A hint of rose
petals. A little musty. A dash of old age and disuse.
I heard voices behind me and quickly moved forward. There
were more people in the living room off to my right, so
after a quick glance inside, I bypassed it, heading
instead for the stairs.
I liked to do my antique browsing alone.
There were two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small sitting
room on the second floor of the house. No one was in the
sitting room, so I went in and closed the door behind me.
It wasn't until I was inside that I realized the room
seemed to be set up for a meeting. An odd collection of
chairs—a wooden rocker, a love seat, a recliner, an
upholstered wing-backed chair—formed a circle around an
oval coffee table. Atop the table was a plain brown
cardboard box, perhaps three feet by three feet in size. I
might not have paid any more attention if it weren't for
the green satin ribbon tied around the box.
I crossed the room for a closer look.
The top panels had been folded over one another rather
than being taped, and across one of those panels, someone
had written with a black marker: My life.
That was all. Just those two words, in large bold script.
Should I look? I wondered as I gingerly touched the box.
"She did say everything in the house is for sale," I
answered myself aloud.
That seemed justification enough to untie the ribbon and
see what was inside.
What I found was not momentous, as I'd hoped. It was
merely an odd collection of items, none of them of any
apparent value. A rolled-up poster. A tan-colored serving
tray, the kind used in cafeterias, only smaller; this one
had been decorated with stickers, glitter, and Bible
verses. A soldier's service cap, faded by time. A Nixon
campaign button. A pair of gold filigree earrings. A
striking black-and-white photograph of a majestic mountain
range at either sunset or sunrise; it had been framed in
black wrought iron, and the glass was cracked in the lower
right corner. And finally, a soda-fountain glass, the kind
they used to serve milk shakes in when I was a kid.
"So much for your life, whoever you are."
What would I put into a box marked "My life"?
Given the way I'd been feeling of late, that was a
frightening thought. Except for raising my daughter, it
didn't seem my life had accounted for anything.
The door to the sitting room squeaked open, revealing an
elderly man, stoop-shouldered, bald-headed, and leaning on
a cane. He raised his bushy gray eyebrows when he saw me.
"Sorry, miss," he said in a papery thin voice. "I was told
I'd find—" he stopped abruptly when his gaze settled on
the open box. "There it is." He shuffled forward. "Miriam
would sure be surprised if she knew I got here before the
others. She always complained about me bein' late."
The man came to stand before me and stared inside the
box. "My, oh, my. How'd she manage to hang on to that all
these years?" He pulled the rocking chair close and sat
down. Motioning with a quivering index finger, he
said, "Hand me that poster, will you?"
I obliged, at the same time wondering how to gracefully
make my escape. The curious sort I might be, but I knew
some folks tended to talk at length about things that
didn't interest me in the least.
The elderly gentleman unrolled the poster. I couldn't tell
if he was about to cry or if his eyes were simply watery
from old age.
"I was with Miriam the night she got this," he
said. "Let's see now. That would've been about 1936, I
reckon. Yes, that's when it would've been. I
remember 'cause that was the same year I took a job at
Tucker's Insurance. My father'd had a hard time after
losing our farm. All of us living with his cousin, and he
couldn't get a job. He needed my help."
What was I supposed to say to all that?
His gaze met mine. "Guess 1936 seems a long time ago to
someone as young as you."
"I'm not all that young."
"Reckon that's what you think now. Time'll change that,
same as it changed Miriam and me."
"Was she your wife?"
"Nope." He shook his head. "She wouldn't have me. Not
in '36, and not later either."
Heaven only knew what possessed me to ask, "Why not?"
He didn't seem to hear me. He was staring at the poster,
unrolled on his lap, his gnarled hands holding it in
place, but his eyes had a faraway look in them. "She was
fifteen that summer, prettiest girl in town and full of
the dickens. When I think about some of the stunts she
pulled, nothin' short of a miracle that she lived to see
twenty, let alone eighty." He chuckled softly. "A regular
spitfire, she was back then."