The gates had deteriorated since my last visit. One hung at an odd angle, as if the hand of God had attempted to push it over. I tried to remember them as they had been when I walked through them as a child, but I couldn’t see past the stones over grown with moss and rust that covered the tall, slender bars. A deep sigh filled the space. I turned to see who was behind me, but it was only the wind squeezing through the broken out windows of the naked barn. I remembered it being bright red with white trim. Turning back to the gates, I pulled my coat tighter around me and walked between the gates, my eyes straight ahead.
It was a different world on this side of the gate. The wild grass was replaced with worn paths, metal stakes, and small canopies protecting the ancient men and women who sat beneath them selling their equally ancient wares. I wondered toward the knot of people and stuff, avoiding eye contact and conversation. Two women stood at a table stroking an old metal picture frame, memories filling the otherwise empty middle. Further down, an old man rocked in a chair, his eyes closed and his mouth open. The few people around were caught up in a past I couldn’t understand or lost in a present I clung to.
I hated the flea market. I wouldn’t have come if I could have found anything in the modern world that would appease him. He belonged here amongst the reminiscers, junk, and the practical mummies that sold them. I couldn’t fathom what magic I had ever found in this place, why I begged and pleaded to come with him on the third Sunday of every month. I shuddered at the vision of my child-self walking through the stalls and trailing my hands over the disgusting pieces of unwanted things.
“Wha-cha looking for Miss?” I jumped and turned to face the man that had been sleeping in the chair. Up close, he seemed frailer than he had in the chair.
“I… I …. Ummm… I…”
He wiped his watering eye and pointed a shaking finger at my chest. Half of his mouth opened in what appeared to be a smile while the other side stayed close. It reminded me of when my father spoke with a pipe in his mouth. His thin voice broke through my thoughts. “I remember you. You used ta’ come here wish yourgrand fad’r. You was da only lid’l girl who liked ta’ here our stories. My wife lov’d ya. She always looked forward ta’ you comin’. She always made sure to have some cookies baked doze Sata’days.”
I stood and stared at him, trying to find he and his wife in my memories. I thought I saw them, a woman with chocolate chip cookies and marvelous stories waved at the peripheral of my memories. My heart skipped a beat and I felt myself leaning forward to be closer to the wisp of a person that stood before me. “I’m actually here looking for a gift for my grandfather. He’ll turn 100 in a couple of days. I was hoping to find something that he would understand and appreciate. Maybe you could help me?”
He turned and walked back to his chair, his feet shuffling slowly through the dirt path. He settled down. I wasn’t sure if he had heard me or if the short trip had exhausted him. He reached into a small box next to his chair. “You’ grand fad’r is a great man. We had many talks while you sat wish ma’ beautiful Betty. A great man.”
He sat up straight, a small pack of what looked to be loose papers tied together with a piece of string rested in his hands, which lay loose in his lap. “Take deese. Dare’s no cost. It’s a thank you to him. He is a great, great man.”
I picked up the sheath of papers, thanked him warmly, and left a $20 in his change jar. Sitting on the bus a half an hour later, I began flipping through the papers. Most of them were worthless. Or so it seemed to me. One held my attention. My grandfather’s name was written in small, tight letters at the top of the program for Purple Heart recipients.
*** Daily Writing Practice