Lunch With The Time Traveler

There aren’t many times when a mother can sit down and eat lunch without being in a hurry. Yesterday, with a toddler running a high fever, was no exception. So, as I sat down and began to eat, I was more than a little irritated to see a truck pull into the drive way. Who comes to visit me? No one. Everyone I know and love knows better than to spring surprise attacks—I mean “visits”—on me.

I watched as an old man slowly unfolded himself from the truck. He looked around, squinting in the afternoon sun. He had on denim overalls and a flannel button down short-sleeved shirt—trademark of an old Sheridan man. He started toward the back door and I quickly finished my bite of lunch and wiped my mouth. I glanced myself over and found I looked very much like the trademark stay-at-home-mom: cut off leggings (oh! and hey! I had on a button down flannel too! Go figure!) and a messy pony tail procured without the use of brush of comb. What a sight!

“Hello,” the old man said when I opened the back door. “I’m here to pay the rent.”

I should pause this story and explain.

When Roger and I bought our house, we kept the agreement of the previous owners that we would continue housing a 1969 Mustang Firebird in our garage for $10 a month. Crazy, right? You might be wondering how such a thing even happens. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good mustang sitting in a crummy off-site garage?

The romantic version of the story has been stitched together in my own imagination with what little of the facts I was given. And it as follows:

In the 70’s, a man loved that prized Mustang of his. He hardly ever drove it and kept it perfect and polished. When he died, his wife wouldn’t dare part with it. They lived around the block from this house, and apparently, an old grandma lived here at the time. She didn’t drive, so the garage was left vacant and in much better shape than it currently is in 2017. The two women (not so old at the time) were friends and one offered to the other to allow her to store the Mustang in her garage until she could convince herself to sell it. The poor widow simply needed to wait until the grief wasn’t so fresh. Ten dollars a month, the widow offered. Her friend accepted with a casual roll of the eyes. She didn’t actually need the money.

So in 2005, two much younger versions of Roger and Andrea Cooper stood in the garage of their new home. It was an old house that was going to need lots of fixing up. Everything about it looked like the 1970’s, but it had good bones and Andrea was in love with it. It looked like time travel…

But that Mustang. My word! Why would anyone leave it in this rundown garage hidden under a tarp? Yet, each March, an old lady would come knock on the front door with a check. “For the Firebird,” she would explain. The grief never seemed to fade enough to let the car go.

Last week, out of curiosity,
I went to make sure the garage still had the Mustang in it. I pulled back the tarp and took in the shiny paint job—the only thing that’s still looking great about the car. The white wall tires that were probably brand new when she was parked in the garage were now flat. I tried to open the door but found that it was locked. I wondered if anyone actually knows where the keys are. And I wonder why they parked the car in the garage and didn’t leave the keys. What if the garage caught fire? And then I worry that maybe I did have the keys and now didn’t know where they were. I am an irresponsible land lord, it would seem.

Anyway, after a solid moment of worrying about garage fires and Mustang keys, I press my face up to the window and shield my eyes to peer inside.


Every inch of the interior is covered in mold.

Was I supposed to do something about that? Was that my fault? Did I fail the old woman and her husband by letting mold grow in his precious Mustang…??? But, at least, what I had actually been worried about hadn’t happened. I thought rodents would have gotten in there and chewed up the leather. Nope. No rodents. Thank God.

Okay. Back to yesterday…

Yet, it occurs to me that I have once again left out important information. Earlier in the year, we drove down Main Street and checked the big paper they tape to the police station window letting us know things like the date of big trash pick-up and who has died (because this is how they do such things in a small farm town). I always hate the idea of my own name one day being written with Sharpie on the paper notices. But it wasn’t my name—obviously—but the name of the woman who pays $10 a month for the Mustang in my garage. Well. Now what?

So here I am with this old man who tells me he is in his 70’s. He wants to give me $120 for the rent of the Mustang—I mean, the garage. He has a younger son who wants to take it and fix it up, but they decided they just don’t have the energy for it, so they will pay for one more year. Maybe this is what his mother said, too? “I don’t have the energy to think about that car—it hurts too much—so I will pay for one more year.”

He gives me the cash and I think about that mold. I don’t really want this rent money. It just sits in there, after all. Are they literally paying for the 4x8 feet of gravel for the thing to be perpetually parked on until my garage catches fire (I don’t think it will, by the way)? The old man asks for a recipet and I blink at him. “Would you like me to write something down on a sheet of paper,” I ask. He nods.  I invite him inside because I’m going to have to hunt through the house for a pen that’s not been broken. He says he will wait right there on the porch.

After stress sweating and running about looking for paper and pen, I scrawl out a little receipt and bring it out to him. I find him sitting in a lawn chair on my porch. He has a wistful smile on his face and he is blinking slowly, as if waking up. There is a sparkle in his eyes. He doesn’t stand up when I exit. Instead, he says, “I used to play in this yard all the time when I was a boy.”

When he says this, my breath catches in my throat. It isn’t because the idea of this old man as a boy startles me. It’s because I can see the boy in his face—in his smile—in his mischeivious eyes. I realize that his isn’t even seeing my yard—but a memory—a whole different time. Seeing this man travel through time and space sends goosebumps across my arms.

“It didn’t look like this, though,” he says. “That big tree wasn’t there.”

I glance at the massive maple tree standing in the very middle of the yard. “That tree right there,” I ask in disbelief.

He turns to me and chuckles. “I am an old man after all.” He looks back and lets his eyes scan the little lot. “Ray and I used to go down the railroad tracks (they’re not there anymore, either) and catch garter snakes. We’d bring them back here and put them right there in that garden.” He points to the spot next to the garage. There is not a garden, but a trampoline. His eyes light up like candles with the memory and he laughs. “His grandma sure didn’t like that much.”

And I stand for a little while listening to this old man who I have never met. He tells me that my mud room used to be an open porch. He tells me things about my home I could never have known. I listen to him marvel about how much everything has changed…and grown…and passed on. He becomes my own little time traveling friend to whisper to me secrets of the past.

Is that how it all goes? We all get our little bit of time? We live in our spaces and change them, grow them, ruin them, rebuild them and make them more beautiful?

Do we all get a little of time to watch old memories of others fade before our eyes as we live and breath new memories?

Do we all get to decide to drive that Mustang or let it sit and become covered in mold?

And all of it before our name gets written and posted in Sharpie.

As for me? I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and think about where those Mustang keys might be.

Oh! And also! Stop being irritated when unexpected visitors stop by. They may have some wonderful stories for you.


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