Thursday, November 21, 2013

So Much Depends on a Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends on a red wheel barrow. Sometimes, it's memories of your loved ones, and sometimes it is true love.

I grew up next door to my grandparents, our house perched above theirs on the hill at the quiet dead end of a busy street. I doubt there was a day in my life, other than vacations, when I didn't catch at least a glance of my grandparents' house outside our living room windows. A staple part of that view, for most of our lives, was the wheelbarrow.

My parents with the wheelbarrow in the early 1970s.
So much a part of the landscape was it that I didn't think about it as being a moveable, separate object until it was gone. When I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, my grandparents and my family had a joint garage sale, which mostly consisted of us trading our junk for each others treasures. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes you don't realize which pieces of your junk are somebody else's treasures until it is too late. I managed to scoop up some sentimental knick knacks before some stranger scored a bargain on a piece of our family history. The wheelbarrow, however, was sold before anyone in my family even realized that my grandparents were going to sell it. Perhaps they hadn't even planned on selling it until somebody saw it and made an offer on it. In any case, the wheelbarrow was loaded and gone before we could salvage it. The person most disappointed was my older sister, who had always been fond of it and was at the age at which the reality of dreaming of having her own family, home, and yard was not so distant in the future anymore. The wheelbarrow, rich with memories and family history, would have been a meaningful fixture in her own yard, perhaps, one day.

Within a couple of years, our beloved Granddad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of seventy-three. It's funny how as a sixteen year old, seventy-three seemed pretty old to me, and not that different than eighty-three or ninety-three. The older I get, the younger seventy-three seems. Parents and grandparents grow up too quickly, just like kids, I suppose. After his passing, every tangible item that stirred memories of Granddad became precious, and the loss of the wheelbarrow stung a little bit more for my sister.

Around the same time, one of us made an incredible discovery while riding the bus to university. The elevation of the bus made it possible to see over the hedges of yards just enough more than our car that we spotted the red and white wheelbarrow in a yard just a few minutes away from our house, where it had been all this time. Even though the wheelbarrow was not in the family anymore, at least we could take a peek at it now and then.

By this time, my sister had started dating a young man who loved poetry and good quality woodworking tools. He soon became a regular fixture around our house, and when he wasn't at our house, our phone line was inevitably tied up with their phone calls. This was during the infancy stage of the internet at our home, when the internet connection ran through the phone lines and was disconnected by anybody picking up the phone. There were some pretty epic battles between us three sisters for use of the phone line in those days. One successfully uninterrupted phone conversation led my older sister to tell her new suitor about the Disappointment of the Wheelbarrow, and the ensuing discovery of the proximity of the wheelbarrow to our house.

One night, they met as usual at the church's young adult's group, and he surprised my sister with a gift: a framed photograph of the wheelbarrow, and this William Carlos Williams poem:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The photo of the wheelbarrow at the buyer's house.

It was, she says, the moment she knew without a doubt that she loved him.

Fast forward about fourteen years to this Fall. On a drive in my parents' neighbourhood, I was a little crestfallen when I saw a "For Sale" sign with a "Sold" sticker on the house where the wheelbarrow lived. I wondered what would become of the wheelbarrow.

My uncle, who lives in a third house next door to my parents and grandparents, received a call late at night around that time from a woman whom he had never met. She explained that about fourteen years earlier, a young man had come to her door and asked if he could take pictures of her wheelbarrow, which must have seemed bizarre until he explained that it used to belong to his girlfriend's late grandfather, and had always been special to her. He asked the woman to please let him know if they ever decided to sell the wheelbarrow, and he would gladly buy it back for the family. She remembered after all these years how earnest he was, and wanted to return the wheelbarrow, free of charge, now that she was selling her house and moving. She described the young man to my uncle, and my uncle figured out whom she was talking about. My uncle was still puzzled, however, how this woman had found his phone number. Somehow, she remembered where she had bought the wheelbarrow, and drove back to my grandparents' house. Upon arriving there, however, she realized that at her age, she was not able to walk down the steep driveway to knock on the door. With incredible kindness and impressive disregard for the human gag reflex, she took the admirable and socially risky step of poking through the garbage bag at the end of the driveway, which was actually from my Uncle and Aunt's house, long enough to find a name and phone number. My brother-in-law was thrilled to be able to call and thank this woman, and tell her that he's now been married to that sweet girl for twelve years and they have two little girls of their own. A day later, the wheelbarrow was loaded up and brought back to their home and my sister has her wheelbarrow full of memories and love.

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