Treasure of Straw
By B. Gallatin
Published: October 21, 2007
Soon after the funeral of my favorite aunt, who never married. I was left with one last task that I dreaded almost as much as attending her services. Not because I didn’t care for her but for the pain of losing her. No one ever knew why she didn’t marry but there was speculation among the family. Some thought her gay or odd. Others said she lost the only man she ever loved and never loved again. I think the latter. It’s too bad she never was a parent for she would have been a great one.
I arrived at her home late that day, on purpose. I didn't want to witness the greedy hoard as they fought and argued over the material objects representing my aunt's life. The family had gathered one week after her passing to go through her things and clean the house up for selling. There were cars and trucks parked everywhere stuffed with her belongings. The vehicles were filling the driveway and spilling onto her yard that she kept up so diligently.
'If she were alive she’d be raising hell', I thought to myself.
Vehicles parked dangerously close to the bench under the spreading arms of her favorite centenarian old oak tree along side the porch.
I paused on the porch and stared at the old tree and the glossy white wooden bench encircling its base. I helped paint that bench and remember sitting there with her as she gestured over her shoulder with her thumb,
"This tree is so old it was alive during the Civil War, you know. If trees could talk this one could tell us a lot."
That’s where my aunt I sat when she patiently showed me how to hand feed nuts to the chipmunks in her yard. I remember wanting to touch one so badly because they were so tiny and cute. My eyes blurred with tears, I could almost see and hear her saying,
"You must not make any sudden moves or they will be frightened and run away. You must sit very still and be patient. Just hold out the nut in the palm of your open hand and wait they’ll come and take it"
I thought I would explode from energy while trying to sit still and not scratch my itchy nose but after what seemed like a very long time, here they came to pluck the nuts from my hand. I thought that was the neatest thing I’d ever done. I realized then that everyone and everything trusted my aunt. She was a gentle soul.
Entering the house, looking around and ignoring the mumblings about my
being late and missing my share. My family looked like a rampaging mob of looters, arguing, bickering and negotiating over her stuff. All of the very large pieces of furniture had been spoken for having been tagged with the name of its new owner to be picked up later. As I wandered through the house the dust created by the moving of furniture toward the front rooms for ease of egress was highlighted by the shafts of sunlight coming through the naked, now dirty windows. The curtains and cornices had been taken down.
I didn't want anything in particular I just wanted something to remember her by. I kept wandering, going room to room hoping to find that special little something. It was creepy seeing the walls bare with only the places showing where pictures had been. There was evidence of strategically placed throw rugs and other furnishings hiding worn floorboards. The place was nearly picked clean. I was about to give up and leave when I decided to go to the kitchen. I entered through the dinning room door and gazed across the empty kitchen out through the multi-paned kitchen door that opened onto the screened back porch. I saw my perfect remembrance framed by a beam of sunlight, the perfect remembrance of my aunt.
It was her tan straw fishing hat. The one she wore when she taught me to fish as a child. It had shiny multi-colored artificial flies and lures stuck all over it. She never used those lures I suppose they were no more than ornamental. We always fished with crickets or worms for bait. I held it out at arms length and rolled it around noting the discoloration from her perspiration on the sweat-band, but overall it was bleached nearly white by the many hours in the sun on the lake. I brought it to my nose and the fragrance of her favorite perfume was still there and the memories rushed into my mind of us sitting at the kitchen table before daylight having breakfast. Her rushing me along saying,
"Hurry up now, finish up; gotta' get to the bait shop".
Then, smiling at me as she rattled her keys to the old, red Ford pick-up saying,
“Come on now times a wasting “
My hand in hers we dashed out the back door hesitating only briefly to snatch the fishing hat off the peg as we rushed out the screen door and down the back stairs with her exclaiming,
"Can't go fishin' without my lucky hat. Ifin' we want fish for supper."
Most everyone had gone when I strolled back to my car with my treasure I'd found. My cousin said,
"Is that all you want; that stupid old hat?"
I never answered, ignoring him I kept walking. I knew he wouldn't understand.
On the drive home I made a point of passing by the lake, though it was out of the way. I parked and walked down to the dock. I knew that’s where her spirit would be. I sat for a while remembering the good times then walked back toward the car, turning to take one last look at the lake. My throat nearly choked with emotion I said my final goodbye, “Hope they’re biting today”