Previously Loved Treasures

The Serendipity Series Book Two

Ida Jean Sweetwater

1989

  I fell in love with Big Jim when I was seventeen and never stopped loving him. He was the kind of man you can’t stop loving. He was like his name says: big. As a baby he was born big, and as a boy he grew into a man with a fullness twice the size of life itself. When Jim laughed you’d swear it was a roll of thunder coming down from heaven, and once he’d made love to you, you knew there’d never be anybody else.

There was never a day when I didn’t love Jim, but there were plenty of times when I also came within a hair’s breadth of hating him. During the summer of fifty-five I couldn’t find a kind word to say to him. Even though he was only partly at fault, I blamed him for what happened. More than once I wished he’d walk out the door and never come back. Those were the bad years, but somehow we got through them.

I suppose that’s how marriage is. When the preacher says it’s for better or worse, you’re so blinded by the possibility of better you fail to see the reality of worse. Maybe that’s a good thing. If I had known about the heartache that lay ahead I might have turned my back and walked off. I could have avoided the misery, but I would have missed out on a whole lot of happiness too.

Nineteen fifty-four. That was the year our boy, James, stood toe to toe with his daddy and said it was his life and he’d live it however he damn well pleased. James was just like his Uncle Max, wild and irresponsible. One word led to another, and pretty soon it blossomed into an argument that could’ve been heard fifty miles away. Finally James just turned and walked out the door. That was the last I saw of our boy. He was nineteen.

I pleaded with Jim to go after James and bring him home, but it didn’t happen. Jim was big on a lot of things, but the one thing he wasn’t big on was forgiveness.

This afternoon I said goodbye to Jim, and as I stood there watching them lower him into the ground I decided to do what I should have done over thirty years ago. When that first thump of dirt landed atop his casket I said a prayer asking Jim to please forgive me, but the truth is I know he won’t. As I told you, Jim was not a forgiving man.

The Silent House

In the weeks following Big Jim’s funeral Ida began making plans for her future. Even though Jim was gone, she could set things right by finding James.

The last time she heard from him he was living in Plainview, a town ninety-seven miles north of Rose Hill. A place she’d never before been to. Plainview was where she would start her search. No major highway ran by the town, but a back road wound across a seemingly endless stretch of flat land. Land that was barren and without a gas station or roadside stand where you could stop for a sandwich or cold drink. Ida took a bottle of Pepsi Cola from the refrigerator, tucked it into her purse, then pulled on her sensible walking shoes and climbed into the car.

When she started out Ida felt optimistic, certain she’d find James and just as certain that he’d welcome the thought of returning home. Never mind that thirty years had passed; never mind that he was now a man in his fifties. Ida pictured him as only slightly older than the nineteen-year-old lad who left home, his hair still dark, his face without the creases of age. She even imagined the possibility he could be married and she delighted in thoughts of a grandchild, a feisty little tyke who would scatter toys throughout the rooms and bring the sound of laughter back to the empty house.  In her handbag Ida carried a picture of James. She had taken it the week after graduation; it was the one where he leaned against the side of his green Pontiac and smiled the smile of a man without a care in the world.

Ida arrived in Plainview shortly before noon, drove to the center of town, and parked the car on Market Street. Once she stepped onto the street, the thought of “What next?” settled on her and ripped loose a bit of the optimism she’d started out with. The town was bigger than she thought it would be and busier. Much busier.

A few doors down Ida spied a coffee shop where people hustled in and out.  That seemed as good a place as any to start. She walked in, sat on a counter stool, and waited. Her thought was to start up a casual conversation with the waitress and then work her way around to asking if the girl knew James, but she never got the chance. Before she could pull the picture from her purse, a group of businessmen came in hungry for lunch and in a hurry.  Moments later three ladies followed, and before long every seat in the luncheonette was filled. Ida waited, thinking the rush would slow and the girl would have time to talk. But it didn’t. As soon as one group left, another took its place. After lingering over a single cup of coffee for nearly a half hour, she climbed off the stool and left.

Her next stop was the drug store, where the pharmacist shook his head and said that he couldn’t recall ever seeing such a man. It was the same at the dry cleaner, the hardware store, and the library. Ida had considered the library a long shot anyway, since James wasn’t one for reading. After she’d thumbed through the Plainview telephone directory and stopped in every store on Market Street, Ida drove crosstown to the post office. She handed the elderly clerk the last postcard she’d received from James. On the face of the card was a picture of the three-story Elgin Hotel but no street address.

“I’m looking for a young man who may have been living at this hotel,” Ida said. “Of course by now he’s most likely moved into a more permanent residence, so I was wondering if you might—“

“The Elgin burned to the ground years ago,” the clerk replied.

“Years ago?”

He nodded. “In fifty-eight, or maybe it was fifty-nine.”

That postcard was the last time she’d heard from James; maybe it was because— “Oh my God, did anyone die in the fire?”

The clerk shook his head. “Not to my recollection.”

“What about injuries? Was anyone severely injured?” Ida conjured a picture of James, still a young man but sitting in a wheelchair, incapable of speech, unable to call out for her.

“Unh-unh, the place was empty. It closed down a year or so before the fire.  When Hilda Wilkins owned the Elgin it was a nice hotel, but after she died it pretty much went to ruin.”

After a good fifteen minutes of chit chat about how the town had changed and not for the better, the clerk agreed to check and see if they had a listing or change of address for James Sweetwater. He disappeared into the back room and after a lengthy absence returned, only to say there was nothing.

“Nothing?” Ida repeated. “No address? No change of address?”

It was late in the day when Ida left the post office. By then her legs were tired, her feet ached, and her heart was weighted with more than thirty years of worrying about James.

On the drive home the sky turned from day to dark, and the road seemed to grow longer. The weariness of the years spread throughout Ida’s body. It made her arms heavy and her legs feel as though they had turned to stone. The sorrow of all that had been lost plucked her heart from its rightful place and dropped it into the pit of her stomach.

That’s when she began to sob. She’d been so determined, so convinced she could find James, that the disappointment now felt unbearable. When she pulled into the graveled driveway the house appeared even larger than it had when she left. Larger and emptier.  She climbed from the car and walked toward the door with shoulders hunched, pushing her into a slow step-by-step movement. Once Ida opened the door the only sound she heard was that of a grandfather clock ticking, counting off the seconds, minutes, and hours of loneliness that lay ahead.

Not thinking of food, she climbed the stairs and fell across the bed she’d shared with Big Jim. In the fifty-six years they’d been married she had never once slept apart from him, and now apart was all there was. While the sky filled with stars and the moon rose, Ida wept. She thought back on the night it all began…

It was in the spring of 1954, when Big Jim told the boy if he wasn’t going to college he’d have to get a job and pay ten dollars a week for board. There’d been a big row over it, and James, in that cavalier way he had of talking down to his daddy, said life was too short for nothing but work.

“There’s a lot of fancy living outside of this little peapod town,” James said, “and that’s what I’m after.” Then he continued with the statement that ultimately pierced his daddy’s heart.

“I’m too smart to end up like you, Daddy. Way too smart.”

Such an attitude rankled Jim to the core. He’d grown up poor and gone to work when he was not yet thirteen. As a boy he had loaded trucks during the day, tended a gas station at night, and worked in the print room of the Rose Hill Chronicle on weekends. It mattered not that it was long hours or demeaning work; what mattered was that in time he’d made something of himself. Now when Jim owned the largest house in Rose Hill and had enough money to send his son off to college, the boy looked down his nose at such an opportunity.

Angry words flew back and forth for nearly two hours. Finally James turned and walked out the door. He stopped for one brief second, looked back, and said, “Bye, Mama.”

Ida had held on to that fleeting moment all these years. She told herself James hadn’t wanted to go, and for a long while she blamed Jim for allowing such a thing to happen.

During the first year or two Ida searched for James numerous times. She called the friends he’d known, the places he’d frequented, even a few young ladies who occasionally came knocking on the door. It was always the same story: James had been there and gone. When there was no longer a trace of where he’d been, she held to the belief that he would sow his wild oats and then return home. The months became years and years turned into decades, but still there was no word. With the passing of time, Ida settled into the unhappy realization that the boy did not want to be found.

Although in many ways they were different, Big Jim and his son were very much alike—both of them proud and stubborn.  On bad days when the sky was black and her heart heavy, Ida told herself that in time even the most stubborn heart would grow weary of carrying such a grudge. But it never happened.

Ida lay on the bed sobbing long into the night before her tears ran dry and sleep finally overcame her.  In the morning she woke with her eyes crusted and her hair matted, but during the night she had come to the realization that she needed help if she wanted to do anything more than simply wish for James to come home.

She called Sam Caldwell first. He was not someone she knew but simply a name taken from the yellow pages of the telephone book. “Investigations and surveillance” the ad said. Then it told how Sam had been in business for more than twenty years and was registered with the county and state. But it was the tagline that convinced Ida to make the call. At the bottom of Sam Caldwell’s ad in a seemingly hand-written script it read, “Missing Persons Specialist.”

When Ida Jean Sweetwater walked into Sam Caldwell’s office she was prepared to answer questions about her missing son. She’d brought along a picture and a shirt she’d taken from his closet. She thought she was prepared for anything, but she wasn’t prepared for the sizable price tag hanging on Sam Caldwell’s services.

“It’s an eight hundred-dollar retainer to cover the first two weeks,” he said, “then three hundred a week for as long as I’m actively working the case.”

Ida gasped.  “Doesn’t that seem rather high?”

“Not really,” Sam answered. Then he explained that expenses were extra.

Ida hesitated for a moment, picturing the balance in her checking account. “How long do you think it would take to find James?”

Caldwell shrugged. “Could be days, could be months.”

Ida pictured the bank account again. There had been so many expenses: Jim’s illness, the doctor bills, the funeral. She could swing two months if she cut back on groceries and Sam’s expenses didn’t cost too much.

“Okay,” she said. “You’re hired.”

She pulled out the checkbook that still had Jim’s name on it and in a shaky hand wrote the check for eight hundred dollars. She had never in all her life written a check for that much money.

That night Ida heated a can of chicken rice soup for her dinner then sat down at the table with her checkbook and stack of bills. On a yellow tablet she wrote columns of what had to be paid and what could wait, what was necessary and what could be considered a luxury, and in very small box at the bottom of the page she added up any income she expected. With Jim gone the Social Security would be considerably less, and most of their savings had gone to pay doctors during Jim’s long illness.

On a second sheet of paper Ida began to list the things she might do to make some money. First she’d sell the little bit of jewelry she had, all but the thin gold band Jim placed on her finger the day they were married. That she’d never sell. It no longer fit her arthritic finger, but it dangled from a chain around her neck and nested in the crevice between her breasts.  As the hours of the evening slid by, Ida added any number of other thoughts to the list: babysitting, sewing, light housework, homemade pies.

When she crawled into bed that night Ida knew that somehow, someway she would find the money to pay Sam Caldwell for as long as it took to find James. Whatever she had to do, it would be easier than living with the silence of the house.

Pies, Lies, & Max

A week passed before Ida heard back from Sam Caldwell, and even then it was just a piddling bit about how James had left Plainview in 1958 and moved to Lodi, New Jersey.

“He left Lodi in sixty,” Sam explained, “and it looks like he moved down to Nashville.”

“That’s quite possible,” Ida answered. “James always liked music. In high school he played a saxophone in the band.”

When Ida began to sound a bit too optimistic, Sam said, “Bear in mind this was twenty-nine years ago. A lot could have changed by now.”

“Oh.” Ida sighed. “I’d rather hoped…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find him. It’s just a question of time.”

Although she didn’t say it aloud Ida thought, Time and money. Hopefully she wouldn’t run out of either before he found James.

 Two days before she had to make her first three-hundred-dollar payment to Sam Caldwell, Ida walked into Suzanne’s Bake Shop with two pies, one apple and one peach. She set them on the counter and said, “I thought you might be interested in ordering some homemade pies.”

Suzanne laughed. “I sell pies, not buy them.”

With her bank account going down faster than the lake in a drought season, Ida reached down to the soles of her feet and hauled up enough courage to say what she’d come to say. “You don’t sell pies like these.”

Suzanne chuckled. “Says who?”

Ida pulled a pie server and small china plate from her tote bag. First she cut into the apple, which was her particular favorite, carved off a good size slice, and handed it to Suzanne. “Taste this. If you don’t agree, I’ll leave and not bother you again.”

The bakeshop owner forked a bite into her mouth and chewed. After what seemed to Ida an excruciatingly long time Suzanne looked over with a raised eyebrow. “You make this yourself?”

“Yes, indeed,” Ida answered. “And there’s plenty more where that came from.”  She explained that she wanted three dollars each for pies that could easily be sold for six. “I’ve got apple, peach, and blueberry, and I can do nine pies a day.”

“No question the pies are tasty,” Suzanne replied, “but three dollars?”

Ida then did something she’d never even imagined herself capable of. She told a barefaced lie. “The Muffin Tin didn’t think so. In fact they said—“

In the space of that few minutes Suzanne had already dug into the peach pie and was busily chewing a sample. “Hold on a minute,” she garbled. “I’m willing to pay the three dollars, but I want an exclusive.”

Ida tried to imagine herself as Big Jim. He was such an admirable businessman, so strong and staunch. She hesitated a moment, then spoke as she believed he would have.  “An exclusive’s more.”

“Three-twenty-five per pie,” Suzanne offered, “and I can take up to twenty a week.”

Ida smiled. “You’ve got a deal.”

As she drove home Ida began singing along with the radio. She was certain Big Jim was looking down and feeling mighty proud of her. As a matter of fact, she felt pretty proud of herself.

Later that night Ida sat down at the table and tallied her income and expenses again. “Oh dear,” she said. Although the pie money helped, she was still way short of the amount needed. One day at a time. She would simply have to take it a single day at a time. That’s all she could do. Tomorrow she would post a notice on the supermarket bulletin board announcing that she was available for babysitting.

Two days later when Ida was up to her elbows in flour and Crisco, the doorbell rang. She slid the fourth peach pie into the oven, swiped her hands across her apron, and hurried to the door.

She’d expected it to be a neighbor or perhaps a harried mother responding to her babysitting services sign. But when she opened the door there stood Alfred Maxwell Sweetwater or Max as everyone had come to know him. A large brown suitcase stood alongside of him.

“How’s my favorite sister-in-law?” Max pulled the bewildered Ida into a bear hug that left his brown shirt dotted with flour and bits of pastry dough.

Ida wriggled loose, then backed up and looked him square in the eye. “What are you looking for, Max?”

That may have seemed a harsh question, but in truth it was quite appropriate. Max was Big Jim’s younger brother, and they were as different as day is from night. Jim was hard working, generous, and faithful as a Baptist preacher. Max was none of those things. He’d go a mile out his way to avoid work, was selfish to the core, and a scoundrel with the ladies. Before he turned forty he’d been married to four different women, and after those marriages went south he took to living with first one woman and then another. There were no shades of grey where Max was concerned; he was the blackest of black sheep.

“What makes you think I’m after something?” Max grinned. “I just got to worrying about my big brother’s wife being here all alone and thought I’d come and check on you.”

“With a suitcase?”

“I was figuring to maybe stay a while.”

“Well, you can figure again. I’m too busy for your nonsense, and I’ve got no money to lend you.”

Max saw a window of opportunity and jumped on it. “That’s exactly why I’m here. To help out financially.”

“Help out financially?” Ida repeated dubiously. “How?”

“Well, you’ve got this big house and all these empty rooms. I was thinking I could move into one of them, help keep an eye on things, and pay a bit of rent.”

The thought caught hold in Ida’s head. “How much rent?”

“Fifteen, maybe twenty dollars a week.”

“Twenty-five, and you get the small guestroom at the end of the hallway.”

“That include meals?”

Ida eyed Max. He was small and skinny. How much could he possibly eat?

“Okay,” she said. “Meals, but nothing fancy, just home cooking.  And no ladies in the room.”

“Why, Ida,” Max said, “I’m surprised you’d think such a thing of me.”

Ida wanted to tell him she didn’t think it, she knew it, but by then he’d grabbed his suitcase and was halfway down the hall.

 The first three weeks of Sam Caldwell’s search uncovered very little other than the fact that James spent a considerable amount of time moving from place to place and apparently got tangled up with a singer named Joelle Williams in Nashville. But following such a haphazard trail of breadcrumbs involved a considerable amount of traveling from state to state and subsequently a larger-than-anticipated amount of expenses. In addition to the three-hundred-dollar fee for that week, Ida had to pay one hundred and seventy-three dollars in expenses.

On top of that, not one person had called for babysitting services.

At the end of his first week Max handed Ida twenty-five dollars, and that’s when she got the idea. If she could rent a room to Max, why not rent out two or three of the other rooms? That afternoon she typed up a new sign and took it down to the Piggly Wiggly.

Ida removed the babysitting services sign and posted her new one.

“Room for Rent” it read and stated that the price was $30 a week with meals included.

Before nightfall she had received two calls.

Ida Sweetwater

I suppose you can tell I don’t have much use for Max, and given his history such a feeling is justifiable. Max and Jim had different daddies, and you knew it just by looking at them.  Jim’s daddy was a carpenter, a man who got up every morning, went to work, and provided for his family, but the Lord called him home when Jim was only five years old.

With Mama Sweetwater being a grieving widow I guess she was easily suckered in, because along came a slick-talking salesman and before she could reconsider what she was doing they were married.  He moved in, parked himself in the front parlor, and started calling for her to bring him a cold beer. A year later the poor woman had Max and a husband who’d run off with a waitress from the diner.

An experience like that most likely soured Missus Sweetwater on any further thoughts of marriage, because once Max’s daddy was gone she raised both boys by herself. I know that’s neither here nor there, but the problem is Max is just like his daddy. He’s a man who don’t know how to keep his pants zipped. When you meet a man like Max, you’ve got to keep a sharp eye on what he’s up to.

I know you’re probably wondering why I’d let a scoundrel like that move in; I know if I was you I’d be wondering. 

I could say it’s because he’s Big Jim’s brother and let on like it’s a family responsibility, but that would be a flat-outt lie. The truth is having a bad egg is better than having no egg at all.  Since Jim’s been gone, my ears ache from the sound of quiet. Max is company. He’s somebody who I’ve got to get up and make breakfast for, somebody who’s sitting across the table at dinnertime.

I miss Big Jim more than I ever thought humanly possible. If I take a cup from the cupboard, I think about how he liked his coffee. If I put clothes in the washing machine, I start wishing I had one more pair of dirty overalls to wash. But most of all I miss the sound of him playing the television too loud, and I think back on how I used to holler for him to turn it down. If I had my Jim back I’d never again say a word about how loud that television was; in fact, I’d sit down alongside of him and watch those football games. 

You just never know how much you’re gonna miss someone until they’re gone. And then it’s too damn late to do a thing about it.

The Rosewood Bed

Nine days after Max arrived Ida Sweetwater took in her second boarder. She’d hoped it would be a gentleman, not a forty-six-year-old widow with hair the color of a chili pepper. But when Harriet Chowder came knocking at the door, her face was creased with misery and her eyes rimmed with a color close to that of her hair.

“What am I to do?” Harriet sobbed. Then she told of a son-in-law who was dead set against relatives living in his house. “His house,” she reiterated. “It’s Sue Ellen’s house the same as it’s his, but did she say a word? No, not a word.  The fact that I’m her mother didn’t make a bean of difference. Sue Ellen just stood there nodding while Walter, in that snooty way he has of talking to people, said I should find another place to live.”

With Harriet teetering on the brink of tears, Ida simply didn’t have the heart to turn her away. She did, however, give her the upstairs bedroom, far away from where Max slept; hopefully the distance would be enough to discourage any funny business.

Ida charged Harriet five dollars more than Max but felt justified in that Harriet’s room had a new bedspread and a writing desk. Besides, Harriet had not even questioned the amount. Moments after she’d seen the room, Harriet began hauling two large trunks up the stairs and down the long hallway. She made one last trip back to the car and carried in a little transistor radio. Before she’d unpacked her clothes Harriet found a music station that blasted out the golden oldies and started singing along. Every so often the announcer screamed out, “You’re at WXRM, all music, all day, every day, so stay tuned!”

On the third day of listening to golden oldies, Ida was about to mention how for the past two nights the music had kept her awake long past her bedtime, but as soon as she said, “I heard the music last night…” Harriet grabbed the conversation and ran away with it.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” she gushed. “Such a happy sound. I hear music like that, and I’ve just got to sing along.”

“I’ve noticed,” Ida answered, then said nothing more. Listening to a bit of music seemed a small sacrifice in return for having a regular income.

Other than the music, which was way louder than Big Jim’s television, the first few days went quite well. Harriet had nothing but glowing things to say about the room. Her view of the backyard was lovely, such attractive curtains, the meatloaf was one of the best she ever tasted.  And, much to Ida’s delight, Max made no advances, even though Harriet was a reasonably attractive woman.

Now that she was selling her homemade pies and collecting rent from two boarders, Ida thought she would have enough money to keep Sam Caldwell searching for James.  That was, until she received the second bill for his expenses.

“Three hundred and eighty-seven dollars!” Ida gasped. “Isn’t that a bit much?” What she meant was that it was exorbitantly high but she held back on saying it because such a statement could sound antagonistic. One thing Ida did not want to do was antagonize Sam Caldwell, especially when he was so close to finding James.

After her conversation with Sam, Ida returned to the table and recalculated her cash flow. That’s when she realized she was nowhere near having the amount of money she needed. Since renting rooms was working out so well, the most obvious answer seemed to be to take in a few more boarders. If you had to cook dinner anyway, Ida reasoned, it simply meant you’d set out another plate or two.

That week Ida began to ready the house. She cleaned and polished even the most forgotten corners of rooms that had long gone unused.  She scoured yellow grime from the top of the refrigerator, swept away the dust balls at the far back of the closets, and dusted beneath bric-a-brac that hadn’t been disturbed in more than a decade.

With the help of a young man who lived three doors down, she made room for a bed in the sitting room and set the burgundy velvet sofa out for the trash man.  At one time that sofa was the most beautiful piece of furniture she’d ever seen, but that was forty years ago, before James left home and left a hole in her heart. As she returned to the house Ida glanced back for one last look at the sofa, and for the flicker of a second she saw James jumping up and down on it.

During the night Ida heard the rumble of thunder, and then came the rain. It didn’t start as a drizzle but came rushing in like an angry river. Ida thought of the sofa. It was old, not worth much perhaps, but the thought of it sitting out there in the rain pained her heart. She climbed from the bed and stood alongside the window, watching. Remembering the good times. Regretting the bad ones.

The next morning when she awoke, the sofa was gone. There was no trace of it ever having been there.

 That afternoon Ida went shopping for a bed. The downtown area of Rose Hill was hardly what one could consider a downtown. It was little more than a scattering of stores that stretched along the last four blocks of Hillmoor Street. For as long as she could remember, Ida had shopped up and down Hillmoor and she knew every store on the street.

That’s why she came up short when she saw the carved headboard in the front window of a store that had sat empty for decades.

Two days ago the store was nothing more than a black hole behind soot-covered glass. It had been that way for more than twenty years. Ages ago it housed a silver shop, an elegant place where a dark-eyed young woman sold silver tea sets and bracelets that jangled.  It was rumored that the girl was a gypsy and the silver came from the graves of her ancestors, but such rumors are seldom more than old wives’ tales. That’s what the residents of Rose Hill told one another, until the morning they found the girl with a silver dagger stuck straight through her heart.

After that no one dared rent the store, and it remained empty. Two years later Parker Henry, the thirty-two-year-old owner of the building, suffered a massive heart attack and died. That was enough to convince the residents of Rose Hill that the rumors were true. So the building sat there, an unclaimed eyesore, for decades.

Ida squinted at the bright gold lettering stretched across the front of the store.  “Previously Loved Treasures,” it read. In the bottom corner of the front window there was a row of tiny letters too small for her to read from where she stood. She crossed the street and walked up to the glass. It was not just clean, it was sparkling, and the words she’d been unable to read from a distance read “Peter P. Pennington, Proprietor.”  Ida touched her finger to the glass and felt a pulse, a heartbeat almost.

“Oh,” she said, and stepped back so quickly she almost stumbled.

A hand reached out and steadied her.

Ida thought she was alone; she’d not seen anyone coming. Yet there he was, standing in back of her lest she topple over. “Where on earth did you come from?” she asked.

The man was small with the slight build of a boy and heavy wire-rimmed glasses. Despite the warmth of the Georgia sun he was wearing a black suit, white dress shirt, and red bow tie.

“I pop up whenever I’m needed,” he said and gave a mischievous grin.  He extended his hand. “Peter Pennington.”

Ida laughed and returned his handshake. “So you’re the owner of this store?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded proudly.

Ida eyed the front window display. If you looked only at the beaded vest you might think it a clothing store, or the crystal perfume bottle might mean an apothecary, but then there were several other unrelated things and in the window was the carved rosewood headboard, none of it the sort of junk you’d find in a thrift shop.

“What exactly are previously loved treasures?”

Peter Pennington pushed the heavy glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. “They’re the things you need, things other people no longer needed.”

“How would you know what I need?” Ida said doubtfully.

“I read the need in people’s face,” he replied. “Right now I can see you’re in need of a bed, and you’re considering this rosewood beauty in the window.”

Ida laughed. “Read the need, indeed. You saw me looking at that bed from across the street.”

“That may be,” he said, “but you have to admit that I did have the bed here ready and waiting when you were in need of one.”

“Oh, I get it.” Ida chuckled. “You tell me the bed was special ordered for me, then charge twice what it’s worth.”

He shook his head side to side. “No, ma’am. That bed is fair-priced at five dollars.”

Ida’s jaw dropped open. “Five dollars?”

He pushed the glasses back onto his nose a second time and nodded.

“Five dollars is not fair-priced,” she said indignantly. “I may not be wealthy, but I’m certainly not looking for charity!”

“And I’m not giving any,” Peter replied. “You’ve got to understand, when people sell previously loved treasures it’s not about the money. It’s about finding the right home for something they’ve spent years loving.”

The dubious look remained on Ida’s face. “Okay, so you charge me five dollars, and I give the bed a good home. Then what? You charge two hundred for delivery?”

“Delivery’s free.”

“Free?” Ida thought back on how Big Jim always said, You get what you pay for, and she searched her mind for what the catch might be but could not find one. Again she clarified the terms. “So this is a one-time payment of five dollars, and you deliver the bed free?”

Peter nodded. “That’s the deal, Missus Sweetwater.”

“How’d you know my name?”

“I make it my business to know the names of people in town.”

Ida could feel a ball of suspicion pushing against her chest, but she was torn between heeding such a warning and wanting the bed. After several more questions, she followed Peter Pennington inside the store, pulled five dollars from her purse, and paid cash for the bed. As she turned to leave, the funny-looking little man said, “I think you might also need a picture for that room.”

“Picture?”

“Yes.” He reached beneath the counter and pulled out a framed photograph of a young man. “This one.”

“Ha. Seems your ‘read the need’ is no longer working. I have no need of a picture like that.”

“Oh, but you do,” Pennington assured her. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Ida laughed so hard her belly bounced. “Well, when I figure out what I need it for, I’ll be back,” she said and left the store still chuckling.

On the way home Ida again found herself singing along with the radio. Peter P. Pennington was indeed a strange little man, but despite the suspicions picking at her she liked him. And the rosewood bed was every bit as beautiful as the burgundy sofa she had let go.

And Then They Were Five

Late in the afternoon a van pulled into Ida Sweetwater’s driveway. There was no name on the side of the van, and it was painted a shade of green that made it almost invisible when it rolled to a stop alongside the azalea bushes. With flickers of sun bouncing off the grill, even the letters of the license plate disappeared into nothingness.  Peter Pennington stepped out, still wearing his three-piece black suit.  When he spotted Ida standing at the door, he announced, “I’ve come to deliver your bed.”

“By yourself?” He was a small man and not one she would have thought capable of lifting a bed of such heft.

Pennington nodded, circled around to the back of the van, and hauled out the rosewood headboard. He carried it as though it was made of nothing more than balsa wood. After setting it down in what was once the sitting room, he returned to the van for the other pieces.

When he came through the door with a mattress wrapped in plastic, obviously fresh from the factory, the first thing that popped into Ida’s head was You get what you pay for.

“I didn’t buy a mattress,” she said.

“It’s included.”

“Included? That mattress is new, never before slept on—it’s not a previous loved anything. It’s brand new!”

Pennington ignored the comment and circled the bed, making certain the latches were latched and the set up was sturdy. Once he was satisfied that everything was as it should be, he thanked Ida for her business and started to leave. He had one foot out the door when he turned back and said, “I think you need that picture to finish off this room.”

Although she was delighted with the beautiful bed, a blunt needle of suspicion still prickled Ida. “No, thanks,” she said and closed the door before he had the chance to explain why she needed the picture.

After the van disappeared down the driveway, Ida called three of her neighbors. Not one of them had ever seen or shopped at the Previously Loved Treasures store.  Nina Mae, a woman whose husband had grown rich selling used cars with faulty engines, said, “It sounds like that Mister Pennington is up to no good.” She advised Ida to make certain her doors and windows were locked when she went to bed for the night.

For three days and nights Ida remained in the house with all of the doors and windows locked tight. On the second day Maxwell went down to the Owl’s Nest after dinner, and when he returned hours after midnight he had to pound on the door for a good twenty minutes before Ida answered. When she finally opened the door he was snorting like an angry bull.

“You locked me out!” he steamed.

“I didn’t do it intentionally,” Ida said. “I was just being cautious.”

“Cautious about what?” Without really expecting an answer he started down the hall, listing to the right after his evening of drink.

“Burglars,” Ida said to his back. “Burglars and shifty swindlers.”

Max stopped and turned around. “Ha. In Rose Hill? Not likely.” After that he stumbled into his room and fell asleep still wearing the day’s clothes.

The next day Ida drove down to the hardware store and had six keys made. She gave one to Max and one to Harriet Chowder. The remainder would be for new guests when she added them.

 After the transformation of the sitting room was complete, Ida stepped back and admired it. The five-dollar rosewood bed was a thing of beauty, making this room by far the nicest in the house. This room had to be for someone special.  For this room she would charge forty-five dollars a week.

That same day Ida called the Chronicle and placed an ad offering a spacious room with a wood-burning fireplace at forty-five dollars a week, including delicious home-cooked meals and desserts. She’d added desserts thinking it would be easy enough to pop an extra pie or two in the oven.

The first call she received was from a truck driver named Louie Marino. “Friday’s my last run,” he said. “I’m retiring and looking for a place to settle down.”

Ida simply could not picture a gruff-voiced truck driver sleeping in the rosewood bed. “I’m afraid the room advertised is more of a lady’s boudoir, but I’ve other rooms if you’re interested.”

“The other rooms, they come with the same cooking?”

“Oh, yes,” Ida assured him. “A hot home-cooked breakfast and dinner. Lunch is mostly salads and sandwiches.”

“The sandwiches ain’t those little bitty tea room things, are they?”

“No, sir. I believe in feeding folks proper. You’ll never walk away from the table hungry, that’s for sure.”

“I’ll take it,” Louie said.

“But you haven’t seen the room or asked about the rent—”

“I’m in Pittsburgh today,” Louie said, “but I could come by tomorrow night.”

By the time Ida hung up the telephone she’d decided that since the cost of rent seemed of little importance to Louie Marino, she would offer him the upstairs bedroom with a connecting bath and charge the same forty-five dollars she planned to charge for the sitting room now dubbed the Rosewood Room.

 The second caller was a silky-voiced woman who spoke with the slightest touch of an accent. She introduced herself as Laricka Marie McGuigan Herrman.

“Good gracious,” Ida said. “That’s a lot of name for one person.”

The woman laughed. Not a guffaw, but a soft chuckle that made Ida want to like her.  “I know. But I hang on to each of those names because they mean something. My father worked in a Cuban cigar factory and named me after their best cigar. It was called La Ricka, meaning the rich one.”

“Oh, so you’re a wealthy woman?” For a fleeting moment Ida wondered if forty-five dollars was enough to be asking for rent.

Laricka laughed. “In some things, yes. But when it comes to money, unfortunately no.”

The answer put a quick end to Ida’s thoughts of higher rent.

That afternoon when Laricka came to look at the room, twin grandsons who appeared to be ten or eleven accompanied her. Although Ida was none too happy with the boys since they constantly poked and jabbed at each other, she was overwhelmingly pleased with Laricka herself. The woman was soft-spoken and pleasant, the type Ida could see as a friend. As Laricka walked around the room oohing and awing at most everything, Ida was already picturing them lingering at the breakfast table long after the others had departed. She could almost hear bits and pieces of conversations about planting flowers, needlepoint patterns, and recipes.

“I love the room,” Laricka said wistfully, “and it’s so close to my daughter’s house…” Her smile slid into a downward slope. “But with being on a limited budget I can only afford forty.”

Ida hesitated. It was the most beautiful room in the house, and the bed was almost majestic. It was worth forty-five. She knew she should stick to her guns, but the truth was she had already pictured Laricka sleeping in the rosewood bed. She’d already imagined the conversations they’d have. Letting her walk away would be like losing a friend.

“Okay,” she said. “It’s a deal.”

The next morning Laricka moved in with nine trunks of clothing, a sewing machine, and Bobo, a yappy little dog who nipped at Ida’s heels.

“You never mentioned a dog,” Ida said.

“I didn’t?” Laricka filled the dog’s bowl with water and set it on the kitchen floor. “I can’t imagine how I forgot a thing like that.”

With Bobo’s constant yapping, Ida could no longer hear the conversations she thought she’d be having with Laricka. She now wished she’d stuck with her request of forty-five dollars for rent.

 By the end of the week Ida had five boarders. Louie moved into the upstairs room with a connecting bath, and the last bedroom she rented to a bachelor dentist who pompously referred to himself as Doctor Payne. Although he was a bit uppity for Ida’s liking, he was willing to pay forty dollars for a much smaller room with no fireplace and no private bath. The only bedroom not occupied was the one that belonged to James. Ida had purposely not rented that room.

On Friday Sam Caldwell telephoned Ida with the news that he had a lead on Joelle Williams.  “She gave up her apartment and left Nashville with James. The two of them moved to New Orleans and lived together three or four years, but there’s no record of them ever being married.”

“Living together and not married?” Ida replied. “That doesn’t sound like my James.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” Sam said, “because when Joelle Williams moved from New Orleans she left a forwarding address for Cherry Hill, New Jersey.”

“Did James move with her?”

“I don’t think so. According to the superintendent of the building they lived in, James had been gone for five or six years before she left.”

“Well, then, shouldn’t you be looking for him instead of this woman?”

“I haven’t been able to find anything on him, but I think Joelle may know where he is because they had a kid together.”

Ida gasped. “My James has a child?”

“That’s what it looks like. The superintendent said the girl was about eight or nine when Joelle moved out.”

“This girl,” Ida stammered, “she’s my granddaughter?”

Sam laughed. “So it would seem.” He said he would go to Cherry Hill in the coming week, and there’d be plane fare involved.

“Do whatever you have to do,” Ida said, disregarding the ridiculously low balance in her bank account. She knew somehow things would work out. She had a full house now and a successful pie-making business.

…to continue reading CLICK HERE to buy the book

Editorial Reviews

“Be prepared to be swept away into the life of a girl who will tug at your emotions while never leaving your heart. Crosby has crafted a story that will enchant readers”
Steena Holmes

Author of Finding Emma

“Crosby’s talent lies in not only telling a good, compelling story, but telling it from a unique perspective. The Twelfth Child is an extraordinarily heartwarming story”
Reader Views

“Once again, Crosby writes about an ordinary woman with an ordinary life, but makes it fascinating”
Jeanne

Amazon Reviewer

“I can’t praise this book and the author enough…Crosby is amazing. Her writing is smooth, detailed, interesting, and it pulls you right into the story with believable characters and a wonderful flowing storyline”
Silver’s Reviews

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