Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Duane L. Herrmann

The forty-year-old man walked numbly between the rows of household items. It was so unreal. Here were all of his grandmother’s possessions spread out for all the world to see. Until yesterday, Ted had not even known there would be an estate sale. Neither had his mother. His mother’s brothers, who had resented her birth, and had dominated and terrorized her all her life, were no more compassionate now that their parents were both dead; their father having died several years ago. They were the ones who had decided on the sale and hired outsiders to arrange it. His mother only incidentally learned about it when a neighbor asked her if she might add something of her own to the sale.

Here were bits and pieces of Ted’s childhood that had been buried and forgotten for years and years.  As a boy he had often sought refuge at his grandparent’s house.  He had run away from home almost weekly and headed directly to Granma’s house. The bar and fields of the farm were Granpa’s realm.  They sustained the farm. The house, gardens and chicken house were his grandmother’s realm; from them she had fed and clothed the family. Together, they kept the family going.

His father was abusive and Granma’s house was a safe haven.  When Ted grew up her house was a quarter of a mile away across the fields, but the distance was irrelevant to the little boy.  He could walk and he would be safe at Granma’s.

His uncles had grudgingly allowed his mother and himself to come early to the sale and pick some things for themselves. Their own children had already come and taken what they wanted before the house was even emptied. Only Ted and his mother had been locked out. It was the only time in his life that Ted had been locked out of Granma’s house; that was sufficient trauma in itself.

Ted decided to return to the yard where items were spread out for sale to see if there were some other things he might want. His toys, would he want any of them? When younger he had often brought toys with him when he had walked to Granma’s, and left them there. At least his father would not destroy them at her house. When Ted would confide in her some of the things his father had done, she would shake her head and wonder how he could have turned out that way. The toys were the link to his only safe place. 

Granma saved everything. He could trust her for that. Maybe he could find one or two of his own toys that he might like to keep. When he was little, he would often bring a toy he was playing with, then forget to take it home. His mother would be surprised to see some of his toys she hadn’t known were there.

Back at the sale tables, he found old toys he’d never seen before. Were they his uncles’, or some Granma had picked up at a random sale? She didn’t like people to feel bad if no one bought anything, so she would buy things she had no use for. If they were his uncles’, they hadn’t wanted them, nor had their children, or they wouldn’t be for sale. It didn’t matter now, whose they had been. He selected some that were the most interesting to him: a tin truck with squares of glass that resembled blocks of ice, an antique marble game that consisted of a circular channel with holes in a cross channel for scoring points, a red racing car, and a jigsaw puzzle so old the pieces were made of wood.

Then he saw the old toy clowns, cut out of wood with painted features, which he remembered playing with. They had odd-shaped feet and shoulders which enabled them to stand on each other making a pyramid. He could never make a very high pyramid, but he enjoyed trying time and again. He took them to his car and decided to ask his mother about them later. He’d ask her now, but he was sure she was having her own difficult time. He did find a few of his own toys that he’d once left at Granma’s, but decided he didn’t really want them, then he was drawn to the tables of linens.

He picked out a few of his grandmother’s towels; the special ones that she particularly liked and had saved for company. Consequently, they still appeared brand new. She only used the “ordinary” ones for everyday. Some of them were now essentially rags, but she had taken such good care of them too, that they could still be sold. Then there were the doilies she had crocheted. She began making them when her hands started to stiffen up. She wanted to keep her fingers busy, so she began to crochet in earnest. She made hundreds of doily sets and given them away to lots of people for every conceivable occasion. She hadn’t thought a boy would want any, but now he picked up several since they had been specially made by her. He didn’t know what he would do with them, that didn’t matter: strangers didn’t need to get them all.  They would mean nothing to them. Maybe he could frame them on the wall as art. They were intricately beautiful.

On the tables of kitchen things, he found his special cup and saucer. Granma always drank a cup of tea in the afternoon, and she provided his own service so he could have a cup with her. It quickly joined the other things in his car. And there was his cereal bowl! He was glad his cousins hadn’t cared for such mundane items. Each of these brought memories of the good times of his childhood.  He was glad they would not be lost forever.

Granma’s hobby had been collecting salt and pepper sets. They filled nearly one whole table. She would use them all from time to time. He never knew which ones he might find on the table when he came to her house. There was the rooster and hen set, and the two tiny ears of corn, and… there he saw it, his favorite, the slices of bread in the miniature toaster. One slice was white, the other, brown. He would ask to play with them when Granma wasn’t using them for salt and pepper. Quickly he picked up all three sets. Time was running out, soon the sale would be open to the public.

Seeing the stuff jumbled in the back seat of his car, he wished he had brought a box or bag, but coming here was so sudden, he hadn’t been able to think about that. Then he remembered the quilts. In the winters Granma worked on quilts; where any still here? He hurried over to the bedding and… there was one left! He didn’t remember it, but that didn’t matter. He quickly went and picked it up. People were coming onto the grounds, the sale was open to the public and his time was up. Then he saw it – the blue blanket.

Memories of feeling secure and comforted swept over him.  He felt so good!

Instinctively he reached for the old blue blanket, “his blanket,” the special one that Granma had kept just for him. She called it a sheet-blanket: light, airy and fuzzy. It had strips of pink and yellow as a kind of plaid. The threads of the fabric were thin enough and far enough apart that light came through.  Being inside it was like being inside a bubble of color! He had used it to make all kinds of tents and houses and forts, draping it over various pieces of furniture to create wondrous small places just his size. His grandmother didn’t mind. It was an amazing thing. His most successful creations were those with some blanket left over on one side in which he could curl up. Then he had an enchanting tiny colorful space AND a cozy bed! He never tired of the places he could make with that blanket!

And when he was sick, simply being wrapped in that blanket and held by Granma made him feel a whole lot better! She would hum and rock and hold him close.

Hugging it to his chest now, Ted didn’t see or hear anyone as he stumbled back to his car. The tears in his eyes blurred his sight, but that didn’t matter either.

Once inside the privacy of his car he did not have to hold back any longer, great aching sobs racked his body. Here was his blanket; he was “safe” again.

He tossed the quilt into the backseat then partially unfolded the blue blanket so he could bury his head in its folds and smells. Faint traces of Granma’s perfume still lingered deep in the threads. He took great shuddering breaths, bringing back memories of safety and peace and sobbed great heaving sobs. 

His life now was not much better than childhood had been. After witnessing the horrors of his parents’ marriage, he was afraid to marry and only did so late in life. But it was a disaster anyway. He had vowed to be nothing like his father, so unconsciously he had become like his mother. His wife had lured him into the relationship and arranged a quick wedding before he was really sure he wanted to marry. Then, before he knew it, she became a different person entirely. He had no manipulative skills, nor was he able to scream back at her. The resulting marriage was a reverse image of his parents’. He now knew that he had to get out. The safety of the blanket made that clear to him.

After some time, the intensity of his sobs diminished. He slowly brought the blanket down from his eyes and glanced around to see if anyone had observed him. There was no one nearby. He didn’t really care if anyone had seen him cry, but he was glad no one had. He was drained and emotionally exhausted. The morning had been more intense than he’d imagined possible. There just hadn’t been time to think about anything. He had dreaded coming, but he had known he had to, thought he wasn’t sure why. Now he knew. There was a peace inside him now and confidence. He knew what he needed to do, and he had this reassurance from his grandmother with him for confirmation.


Herrmann’s work was first published in 1969.  Since that time his writing has appeared in a dozen countries in several languages and has been cited or quoted in even more.  His fiction and poetry has appeared in such places as: The Wagon Magazine, Midwest Quarterly, Voices Israel, Flint Hills Review, Hawai’l Review, as well as many anthologies, most recently – Topically Challenged, vol1, and several from Poet’s Choice.  He could not read in school and still can’t spell, but he has persisted.  Dyslexia, ADHD, cyclothymia and PTSD have only slowed him down, but he has not given up.  This story is one result.

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