Once full of chickens, by the time I was old enough to remember, the old shed located just outside my grandma’s back door had started to fill up with other things instead. Now that I am nearly the age she was when I was born and now that the old shed and her house have been long-razed and buried, I have questions about how she managed to acquire the clutter as she was already too old to drive, if she had ever driven anything more modern than a horse and buggy.
Perhaps once even chickens were too much of an endeavor for a woman in her eighties and nineties, she had started to shift items from the big barn that stood in the near distance down a long cement sidewalk to the smaller shed: wheelless bicycles and tricycles, old buckets with holes in the bottom, assorted broken chairs and small tables and an ancient treadle sewing machine. There was nothing atmospheric about the arrangement of her collection. The paper sacks and boxes full of old clothes stacked on the chairs and tables were no doubt collected with the intent of cutting them apart to make quilts or shredding them to create rag rugs, but nibbled openings in the tops and sides of the bags as well as tiny pellets covering the floor around them attested to their colonization by field mice and perhaps rats, which probably explains why the barn cats had also moved into the old shed.
I could not imagine her dragging home the objects that filled the chicken coop. Her own children had been raised on the prairie far from town and paved city sidewalks, long before tricycles of the variety found in her shed had even been produced, and the rusted-silent sewing machine was more or less the same variety as the one she still used that sat piled with projects in her “spare” bedroom opposite the heavy hatch in the floor that, once opened by lifting it’s huge iron ring, revealed wooden stairs that let down to her dirt-floored basement room that contained the rest of her treasures: shelves floor-to-ceiling that contained home-canned food that had gone uneaten after her husband had died and my mother had started providing her with her meals, driving them down to grandma’s house herself before delegating the job to each of us three girls as we grew old enough to drive.
Dependent on others to ferry her back and forth to the few places she still went: church, Sanderson’s store and occasional family dinners at our house or my Aunt Stella’s, I know that she was also given to roaming on her own and the remaining canning jars in her basement not filled with expired food attested to this. They were filled with clutter aplenty of a smaller variety that she collected in her pockets on her walks around the neighborhood: Crackerjack prizes, shards of colored glass, bits of string and pretty rocks and other small treasures abandoned by children: rubber jacks balls, severed limbs of dolls, escaped marbles, rusted tin soldiers. All joined communities of things in the old canning jars that had gone long unused for the purpose for which they were intended.
When she died, all of those objects found graves of their own as the house was razed and covered over to prepare the land for the construction of the new hospital, providing, perhaps, an interesting study for some future archeological study of life in the twentieth century, her accumulation of various objects creating a treasure trove some future civilization will value as much as she did.
Prompts today are the old shed, clutter, atmospheric, aplenty and questions. I cheated a bit on this illustration, as this is actually me with my other grandma, my mom’s mother, rather than my dad’s mother, about whom this essay was written. Since I’ve published photos of my Grandma Dykstra in the past, I decided to seize this opportunity to publish a photo of my other grandma, who died soon after this photo was taken.