It was sunny when I left home, so I didn’t take my umbrella. An hour later, I was caught in a torrential downpour. I run into the first store I can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet me. She offers her hand to shake in greeting and I take it in mine. I see her old gold ring with the band worn thin, and feel her skin that is a sheen of crepe after years of life and work. I look into her dim eyes and see the reflection telling me she has cataracts, and I smile. “Ma’am, I’ve been caught in the rain and I’m soaked through. I don’t have money to shop much today but could I bother you for the bathroom? I could dry off with some paper towels and wait out the storm if you don’t mind.”
She answers “Sure honey, it’s right over there.” With a crooked arthritic hand she points me towards the back right corner, then turns and shuffles off to rearrange the dust on the old books in the front display case.
I head back to the bathroom, slowing to see the vintage jewelry in the glass case by the register. I’ve always been a sucker for old jewelry. I never actually buy it because I am also a sucker for simplicity and my wedding rings, simple necklace and hoop earrings are the extent of my jewelry repertoire. I continue back to the bathroom and do as I said I would do, take handfuls of paper towels, those brown scratchy ones, and use them to suck the moisture out of my shirt, the top of my bra and my hair. I wish for an industrial strength hand dryer, the ones that move your skin because they blow so hard. No such luck. It’s a simple bathroom, one toilet, one sink, a small dingy mirror and a little side table that holds the paper towels and a small container of lotion. I finish drying up, at least enough that I won’t get the shivers while I wait, and I walk back out into the shop.
I see the lady up front and I walk up to join her, looking outside to see if the storm has slowed down. I introduce myself and get her name, Anna. What a lovely name I say. I ask her how long she’s been working here and she begins to tell me her story.
Her mother was a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, and she was born two years later in 1915. Her father was a dapper irish businessman, and he was clever enough to start a business of shipping Victorian era furnishings, fabrics and jewelry to the states and selling it at high price to the wealthy Americans in New York. After the second world war he had downsized dramatically and stopped importing goods. They moved south to Beaufort, South Carolina (where we are now) and he had greatly contributed, financially and with his business sense, in helping revitalize the downtown area. She goes on to tell me that that was where she stopped being a shopgirl spinster and finally fell in love, with a Marine of course. If someone is going to catch your heart forever, it might as well be a rugged Marine. Her husband had never married, and was working as a drill instructor when she’d met him as he walked into their little shop, which was this little shop. She talks of children, homes and hurricanes. She talks of birth and war and death and healing. As she winds down, at the end of telling me her literal life story, the rain slows. I want the rain to go on so we can sit here forever. Her stories wind in and out of time and draw me in. I feel the joy over her joyous times, and I cry when she tells me the stories of death and destruction. I want to capture all her words forever, and hide them away because they are so precious. SHE is so precious.
As the rain stops, she finishes her stories as if by magic the rain had lasted exactly as long as it took her story to be told.
As if by magic.
I say my thanks and promise to return soon and with all best intentions I mean it.
I go about my life, head out the door and to home. A few days later as I sit at my kitchen table having my morning coffee and reading the paper, a name catches my eye. ‘Oh no’ I think as I realize the name is in the obituaries. Her name. Anna Galvin Salvo.
Anna Galvin Salvo passed away on Friday July 25, 2014
She was born in 1915 to Seamus and Abigail Galvin, in New York City, NY.
She was married to Mark Salvo of the U.S.M.C in 1947
She was preceded in death by her husband and three sons.
She has no surviving family members.
A memorial service will be held at her shop “Galvins Fine Things” on Thursday the 31 of July
All who frequented her shop are invited to this service.
I set the paper down and cry. Crying thanks for having met her, and crying grief that these precious women of old are passing away. Fine and kind and mannerly, honoring their husbands and working diligently with their children. This is the end of an era, and it is sad. I am sad.
This post inspired by Daily Post, writing prompts. A fun exercise you should try!