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I still wonder about Mary. Long before our attention was called to the lifestyle which has been named HOARDERS, Miss Mary was a source of wonderment to me, for I watched her overflowing basket, week after week, as she prowled the vast echoes of the charity shop where I volunteered on Thursdays. Over the years, we could set our clocks by Miss Mary. She would appear in the door just after we opened on mark-down day, her iron-gray permanent scraped stiffly backward under one of her many bright headbands, her unmistakable harlequins catching the gleam of the fluorescents as she rounded the long rows of aisles, picking up a plate here, an outdated skirt there, a cheery sweatshirt with teddies and hearts and bells.
Her husband, Mr. John (yes, they REALLY WERE John and Mary) was a man of quiet ways, a familiar farmer-in-a-cap, of tall spare frame and the particular bowed gait which bespeaks a man of work, of a well-loved pickup into which he slides his jeans-clad spindle-shanks with their permanent wallet-outline on one back pocket, more often than he eats or sleeps.
He seldom entered the shop, save to carry out her big purchases---once a set of little nesting tables---one true find, for the gilt and graceful cabrioles had set the pricing ladies all a-twitter over the charm of them. He’d sit in the parking lot, listening to the news or weather or whatever interests a man of the soil, then clomp in, his cowboy bootheels right at home on that century-old plank floor which could have graced any western saloon, nod us all a “Hidey” and sigh with resignation as he picked up all the once-ours, now-his in those big white bags.
Miss Mary picked up at random, but with a sense of a driving purpose---as I pulled the overdues and re-priced the things which had overstayed their welcome, I moved aside as she gently inserted herself into the space beside the basket of bargains, fingering and squinting at brand names on china, then just blindly grabbing up a Last Supper plaque, a plastic Louis-Whicheverth-style clock with one hand missing, or a heavy vase-shape in garish colors, with cookie-cutter-cutouts of clay laid haphazardly on, seeming a product of some long-ago therapy workshop.
And I think of all those mis-matched, homeless items, from all corners of the globe, come together in that ever-filling house. Surely she didn’t have a place for all those oddities---the clothes she sometimes remarked were for her daughters, but everything else---worn purses and dishes and wall-hangings of chipped plaster and wood---I just had the impression that they were taken home and set on every available surface or nail-pounded into walls already frescoed in junk.
The shop is long since gone, with its final burdens-after-the-sale donated to a nice man who also volunteered and had a small second-hand shop of his own. And Miss Mary was there to see the doors close, grabbing up one final garish horse-head plaque before the cash register rang its last.
I just hope she had a happy life---she seemed much older than I, and I waver between hoping that she did not die in a house so filled that she could not breathe for it, and wondering if they let her take some of her things into her room at Golden Years, and how she chose them.
Or did she have to be unearthed, years later, having perished beneath an avalanche of painted eagles and chipped swans and plaster cats with eyelashes?
Perhaps her children were left with the gleanings---all those Thursdays of joyful pursuit, all those big bags lugged out to the pickup, all those small artifacts from other people’s lives, crammed into one vast junkyard of a house. I hope their memories of their Mother were not of tacky gew-gaws, but of her kind smile and her gentle voice, for she was a sweet woman. I hope she fared well and enjoyed every cluttered moment of her life, and I hope they remember her as kindly as I do.