Miss Edna’s Heartifacts

New Edna Window

I never danced on a grave, but did steal something from the dead, once. I spied it, pried it loose, flattened it against the belly beneath my blouse and walked away without contrition.

It happened one sultry late-summer day when ocher leaves are as omnipresent as the sun a half-hour before high noon. I felt myself liquefying in line while waiting my turn to take a number.

“Who was she?” I asked the fidgeter in front of me.

“Nobody,” he said.

“Everyone is somebody,” I suggested.

“Name was Miss Edna,” drawled the clerk recording the details off my driver’s license. “You be biddin’ on the house?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Cuz it hasta be moved. Otherwise, it’ll be bulldozed in two weeks time. Land ain’t fer sale. Yer number seventy-six. Next?”

The house was one of those classic Cracker shacks built on a farm axed out of a forest that encroachment slaughters and sacrifices to almighty developers. Where highways supplant front yards claimed by eminent domain.

Miss Edna’s epitomized such woe, its slats of ill-fitted wood slapdashed together and embalmed in asbestos shingles that the sun blistered into coarse curls. Rust stained the ridged metal roof, inside and out. You could peer through her windows and peek through her walls.

“Did you know Miss Edna?” came a voice.

I turned to see a wisp of a girl, all blond and bowlegged in mismatched plaids and stripes, with dangling plastic beads being balanced on broken fingernails.

“No, I didn’t. Did you?”

“Of her, mostly,” she conceded, evading my eyes as she spoke in halting speech as broken as her spirit. “Mom died birthing her. Dad made her pay for it ‘til he croaked.”

“Never married?” I asked.

She sighed. “Eloped on horseback to the forest. Honeymooned, camped down by the Silver River. But the old man hunted them with dogs. Beat the boy bloody. Strapped his broken body to a horse and jest whipped it on away.”

“Dead?”

“So’s been said. Dragged her back and got a judge to — you know — wipe all records?”

“Expunge.”

“Expunge,” she nodded. “After that, he treated her like scum. Least is, that’s how I heard it.” Sniffling, she turned away and ambled off. “A kind woman. Always kind.”

The contents of Miss Edna’s home were displayed without a modicum of dignity. Dozens of handmade patchwork quilts had been unceremoniously dumped on makeshift tables. The balance of her belongings were heaved from windows, shoved off porches, or dragged by the brown paper bag full into the red clay yard and left to decay until sold to the highest bidder. Some were busily rifling through the offerings, looking slyly around for watchful eyes before switching contents from one numbered boxed-lot to another, intent on stealing a better buy.

Feeling vicariously forsaken, I found myself standing alone in Miss Edna’s pillaged kitchen. The fusty stone fireplace yielded remnants of charred chair legs, rags and rubbish sprawled onto gnawed linoleum, exposing holes in sagging floorboards. A rubber hose running through an outside wall was tied to a wire clothes hanger, nailed to an overhead beam and aimed at a gray metal washtub. It was flanked by a contaminated toilet and corroded sink, all exposed in shamefaced view of anyone entering unexpectedly.

The rest of the house was bone bare, except for an unsung satin dress bequeathed to the back of a closet door, a laundry tag dating from 1931 still pinned to its mother-of-pearl buttons. And there, above it, thumbtacked flat to the wainscoting above the lintel, hung a small, cardboard, sideshow sign with bits of silver glitter flecking off an embossed exalted face and two words.

“Jesus wept.”

# # #
JWept longshot

This freshly edited, updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times three years ago.  (Copyright by Quantaine © 2010/2013)

Please share your thoughts, here, by selecting Reply.

I’m all eyes and heart.

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36 thoughts on “Miss Edna’s Heartifacts

  1. Shawn Cady

    I feel like I was there in the room with you. I love your writing. This piece made me feel sad. It also made me wonder what I will leave behind when I go on to glory. Who will want my cherished possessions? Our time os so short here. You helped keep Miss Edna alive, and I’m sure she’s smiling down on you right now.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I think that’s true, Shawn. As long as there’s someone alive to remember us, we stay here, too. I never met the woman but I felt the presence of her. And, even though I am not a Christian, I couldn’t let that token of her life be demolished with the house. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  2. DOnna K. Wells

    You are a wonderful story teller! This is such a sad story, it made my heart hurt. Thank you for saving something from this womans life, so her memory can live on! Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
  3. margueritequantaine Post author

    You know, Donna, it is sad, but it also demonstrates how strong women are — valiant in the face of adversity, and willing to make do with what’s there. I think the laundered suit shows she maintained hope of wearing it again, someday, hanging for 70 years after the dry-cleaning tag date. She certainly had a story to tell. I’m thankful to have stumbled upon the last fragment of it.

    Reply
  4. Yvonne Heidt

    So touching. I worked at an auction house for several years and we saw situations like this more than most. It’s so sad. I’d like to dream that she met her beau and they rode through the woods by her house once more.

    Reply
  5. Kieran York

    What an amazing read, Marguerite. This story will stay with me just as so many of the other great pieces of literature have remained in my mind. This story will resurface and awaken a memory that Miss Edna was indeed a person. Thank you for a brilliant reminder.

    Reply
  6. Ann

    Hi Marguerite, I was fortunate to have read this earlier and am glad to see it shared here again now. For me it’s a great reminder that what is left of importance when we’re gone, whether we have family or not, is only the memories others have of us – how our being impacted their lives. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I so agree, Ann. I doubt anyone recorded the provenance of what they bought at this sale, other than me an this cardboard souvenir that has her name on the back, birthdate, death, and burial place. I’m not of the Christian faith but ponder, still, her reason for hanging this as high as the ceiling in her bedroom. Of all the books and all verses, why did this one reign supreme over her?

      Reply
  7. joskehan

    The story is sad but it also tells quietly of the courage and strength this woman had, and that she had her comforts and small pleasures in life (perhaps patchworking the nights away), in spite of all the hurt and grief and cruelty endured in her youth. Thank you Marguerite….enjoyed it as always. xx

    Reply
  8. margueritequantaine Post author

    Nice observation, Jo. There were at least 75-100 scrap quilts. I wondered at the time about them. I didn’t see a means of heating other than the fireplace so perhaps they were to keep her warm in the winter? Or, as you suggest, a hobby.

    Reply
    1. Judy Perry

      I think quilting was a practical necessity for many people, or as a cultural hobby, until about the 1980s. My mother learned it from her grandmother, who regularly recycled and ironed gift wrapping. It was a way of recycling tattered clothes or other cloth into a new life, as attractive as they could make it. Quilting was a staple of westward moving pioneer culture, kept alive for quite a while in the Mormon communities of the American southwest. My mother taught it beginning in the late 1960s in adult education and only when cloth became more expensive to buy for quilting and making your own clothing, did her classes seem to dwindle.

      Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      No, thank YOU. It’s been like pulling wisdom teeth to get this story read and I wish I knew why. I’m Jewish, but even I recognized the width and depth of this Bible verse when applied to everyday life – which Edna did.

      Reply
  9. Lisa Hurt

    Wow, this story touches deeply into the heart. I am glad Kieran posted that it is a must read. You have crafted a beautiful story that reads like a poem. I was immediately taken by your words. These are such haunting and vivid scenes that rocked my core. Jesus wept and so did Miss Edna.

    Reply
  10. luigifun

    A beautiful piece of writing. My favourite line from the Bible (not one of my favourite books) is ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’. You’ve particularised that general observation beautifully here, and much else besides.

    Reply
  11. Inspirational Muse

    Poor Miss Edna. Such a sad story, but told so vividly I pictured her home and belongings “displayed without a modicum of dignity.”
    I’m curious about the item you chose.
    You have such interesting stories, Marguerite, which piqué my interest immediately.
    Thank you for sharing them and inspiring me.
    ~Michelle

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I indicated, in the opening paragraph what it might be, without saying what it was. In the last paragraph, I revealed it with a photograph of the wall, and the ceiling, and the hangman’s light. The souvenir sign. Thirteen years have passed and I’m uncertain what to do with it as I’m not a Christian. But it keeps me wondering how she got the sign (they were given as prizes at sideshow games), and if she saw herself as tragic. Did she choose it for herself? Or, was it won for her? And the rest, as they say, is mystery.

      Reply

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