I have an old, tattered book end. It’s quite chipped. On it is an old man with a sombrero and a donkey, moulded out of plaster of paris. I think the set probably was purchased by my parents back in the late thirties shortly after they were married. Is that old Mexican fellow feeding his donkey or is he pulling the stubborn animal, trying to get him to go where he wants him? I prefer the latter story. This old piece of “junk” is probably not worth much on the open market. I doubt I’d get a quarter for it in a yard sale. But, to me – it’s priceless. My sister and I used to make up stories about this old fella when we were kids. It’s place of honor was on a table in the sitting room where the furniture of blond wood and red fabric was a wedding gift from Dad’s best friend. He and Dad had a bet about which of them would marry first. Dad won. The friend bought Dad a red sofa, chair, ottoman, and a table with matching blond wood. My niece has the furniture. My sister, Sally, has one of the book-ends. I have the other.
The book-end sits on the crowded bookshelf in my living room here in Montana. It doesn’t draw much attention to itself in the spot where I have it placed, but yesterday I met the old man’s parents – or maybe his elderly cousins. Made of the same plaster of paris, painted the same hues of yellow and red with touches of green, the elderly couple were front and center on the mantle in a new friend’s home. They were sitting closely on a wooden bench, knapsack thrown to the side where he was sitting, umbrella leaning on her side. Years of living together made them almost look as if they could be brother-sister, but experience told you – no, they were a husband and wife – and if that couple could talk, they’d have 60+ years of stories to share. My eyes were riveted on them as I asked my friend if her honored couple had a story. She didn’t speak. I looked at her. Tears welled up and her voice was husky. She whispered, “Oh yes!”
“Will you tell me?” I asked.
“Do you have time?”
“For this story, I have all the time in the world,” I replied.
We took a seat on her lovely white brocade sofa. “When I was a little girl,” she began… (somehow i knew the piece had to date back fifty years or more, so her introduction didn’t surprise me)… “my dear father used to take my mom every now and then to the local jewelry store and let her pick out a piece of jewelry. My sister and I were not trusted in the store where so many pretty, shiny things were sitting at finger-tip level, so we waited (in good weather) outside the store while they went in to do their shopping. In the window of Severson’s Jewelry Store sat this carving. My sister and I called the old couple Grandma and Grandpa. To pass the time while our parents were inside, we made up stories about them. Our imaginations were wild, and we kept one another well entertained. One day when we arrived at the store, the old carving was not in the window. Mr. Severson had brought it inside. It was in a glass case at the back of the store. He said it was time to revamp the store’s windows. With a promise that we would not touch anything, our parents let us come inside and sit in front of the glass case. By the twinkle in his eye and his occasional chuckle, we could tell the store owner was eavesdropping on our story-telling and enjoying the tales my sis and I created.
“Eventually Mr. Severson retired, the store was closed, and the old couple on the carved bench disappeared. My sister disappeared at about the same time. She was twelve years old when she was tragically killed in a car accident. Mr. and Mrs. Severson came to her funeral to express their condolences. A few years later, we went to Mrs. Severson’s funeral to express our condolences to the jeweler who had become an old friend of the family by that time.
Years went by. I graduated and went away to work. I was home one weekend visiting my parents when there was a knock on the door. Mr. Severson stood there with a wrapped box. Inside was that precious carving – Grandma and Grandpa on the bench. ‘You need this,’ he said. Speechless, I hugged him. ‘It means as much to you as it does to me,’ he explained. ‘It’s time I give it away now.’
“Does it have a story?” my friend repeated my question. “What story would you like to create for Grandma and Grandpa today?”
I came home and pulled my book-end off the shelf. I looked at that old man with the donkey and wondered, is it time to give him away? Should I give it away now? Is there anyone to whom it means as much as it does to me? I wonder…