The bus ride had been longer than she had anticipated, but hopefully it would be worth it. A street fair was going on, a sad vision of a deteriorating town. At one booth she was told the one in the summer was much better and to come back, but she had simply stopped to garner some shade and check the direction to Cooper Pennies, an antique store in town. The fair caught her unaware and only seemed an obstacle to her destination.
This year she moved slower than last year, noticing how time crept slowly into her bones, filling her with aches and pains, rising from her toes to her shoulders. Her posture was more stooped than ever, but she wore her Sunday best, despite the effort it took. Her milliner hat of creme and orange, with matching overcoat. Sturdy, but attractive shoes and her signature melon lipstick. For an 85 year old woman, most people would say she looked well. But she knew differently. Rachel knew she had little time to stock her photo album of memories. Perhaps she had a month or two, at most a year.
The store had a small sign over its narrow entrance. When walking in she was greeted by the Andrew Sisters singing, carrying her immediately back in time. She remembered James and falling in love, meeting him in the cigarette-filled atmosphere of the USO club dance floor, near Broadway. Her heart skipped a beat. It amazed Rachel she could feel so young at heart in such a withered body. What was truly remarkable was her uncanny mind and how some memories she could pull to the surface with the finest of detail and other memories were fading or completely lost.
To the left were hats designed by the owner’s wife, according to a sign, a former costume designer for theater. She took off her hat and put one of the designs on. Looking in the mirror she could see the brim and feather sitting precariously on her head. She liked it. Off that went and on went one that resembled an Easter bonnet, resplendent with flowers and leaves. Too much. She gingerly replaced it on the hat rack and continued down the very narrow aisle. Here where the books were there was a musty smell. The books were protesting their older ways, but wanting to still be held and gingerly examined. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught her eye and she leafed through it, which was difficult because of her arthritic fingers. She still did not see what she had come all this way in search of, so she continued through the maze of orphaned relics, all hoping for a new home.
In the back of a store was a small area set up like a bedroom, including bed, bed cover, curtains, dressing table and paintings. On one low bookshelf was an extensive assortment of old photographs and a gold-leafed journal, which was empty. What a treasure and perfect find!
Gently she took one photo to examine. Yes, this would do perfectly. Her mother would be Genevieve, in a white starched shirt and dark skirt. A kind, but stern parent. Another fit her ideal image of William, her brother. She had thought of him as older, but younger would be fine. Then a photograph of herself as a baby…she certainly had been a cute little thing. Next her father – austere with his barbershop mustache and staid posture. A glimpse of their summer home and lake was behind the picture of a slightly older her, smiling mischievously at the camera. She would have it that she was eager for the picture to be taken so she could go out canoeing with a boy that lived next door. With a chaperone, of course.
Rachel’s lonliness and need for memories was being alleviated one photo at a time. Her story became filled in, one picture after another. She thought of how, when she got home, she would place each picture and what each caption would read. How fortunate she was to find her family, as she knew she would. No need to pay for the pictures, they were hers after all. The thought crossed her mind as to who would have taken them from her, but no matter. They were back where they rightfully belonged. She collected thirty photographs, including images of her grandparents and great grandparents, slipped them into the journal and walked, slowly, out of the store. Before leaving she smiled at the owner and wished him a good day. He nodded to her, out of obligatory courtesy, and went back to helping a young couple.