Ever hear of a Gladiron? I hadn’t either until I stumbled (literally, it was quite dark) on one, in the attic at an estate sale. I didn’t get to see the actually machine, as it was in its 1950’s box, but saw a drawing of it on the cover, with a ecstatic housewife in a perky apron, ironing away.
There was also a baby carriage from around the same time, with those large thin metal spoke wheels, and an old highchair. There was the white Christmas tree that for the past ten years, I’d seen lit up in their front window – this house was actually a neighbor’s. They were gone now. But in ten years, not only had I never met them, I’d never even actually seen them, except for a shadowy figure in a window which I now knew, from having rummaged through some old glassware laid out on the counters, was over the kitchen sink.
I don’t usually stand in those lines for estate sales, but since this one was on my street, I couldn’t resist. There was a plastic flower wreathe still on the front door, and a bent old Welcome sign creaking in a breeze, as we all waited for the next batch of eager scavengers to be allowed entrance; it was still early, but a couple of vans had already loaded up the big finds, a dining room table, velvet apholstered chairs.
I didn’t know that once inside, how much I would feel just like that, a vulture scavenging old bones. Rummaging through old clothes, books, costume jewelry and faded china, I was getting to know this family better now that they were gone, than in the ten years we’d lived there. I’d driven by their house countless times. I’d seen an old Lincoln in the driveway. And that shadowy figure in the kitchen window. Other than that, the only sign of life had been a new geranium hanging on the porch every summer. From the walkers, canes and wheelchairs in the basement, I imagined they’d long since become housebound.
I liked to think that they’d been an older couple who had sold the house to retire somewhere warm, Florida, or to be nearer their children. But they seemed to have taken nothing with them; except for the big grandfather clock in a corner, everything they’d ever own seemed to be for sale. I gathered now that they had died. I just hoped there was at least one child somewhere, who was interested in preserving something of this family’s past. Before this house will probably be gutted, the old carpeting and paneling ripped out.
I considered a couple of old Christmas ornaments, and a cracked cedar chest. I didn’t have the heart to buy a thing, and left the tag sale empty-handed. Left to wonder again, as I did this winter after the elderly lady living right next door to us died, how little we know about our neighbors. At least about this last generation, the one who'd been around long enough to remember Gladirons. But is now gradually, quietly, being phased out, to make room for us, the newer preoccupied generation, the one that seems rarely to be home, in the full sense of actually getting to know the housebound elderly couple down the street. Before it comes to that, rummaging through their past long after they are gone.