Another narrative story-telling poem
I must have passed by
the old, horse-drawn sleigh
a good number of times
before I stopped to look at it,
really look at it.
I remember my fingers tracing its mold and balance:
the rusted metal feeling warm beneath the summer sun.
Touching the sleigh
was like touching a gone by day.
I almost could hear myself
flying along whitened country lanes,
snow singing below the runners.
Urgent barking startled me.
Arriving, somewhat behind the collie
that had bounded into the sleigh with me,
was a woman looking quite a bit younger
than the seventy-some-odd years
she later claimed to be.
Though her hair was the color of a winter sky,
her eyes held all the sparkle of a shiny, new penny.
Yankee reserve crumbled
as I rambled on about why I was sitting in her sleigh.
Sunlight streaming through crisp, ruffled curtains
danced leafy patterns across her finely polished kitchen table.
Aghast that I had neglected
to eat a decent meal this morning,
I find myself being asked to breakfast
(in a tone that brooked no refusal).
Lucy Dodge Davidson
was not about to have anybody
fainting away from hunger in her home.
Over a second cup of coffee
she settled in to tell me about the sleigh.
She had an unusual way
of putting her words together,
which combined with her New England accent,
made her fun just to listen to!
"My granddaddy built that sleigh in 1872
to take my grandmother Bridgit a courtin'.
Her Papa said that a man
who didn't have his own barn and his own sleigh
wasn't fit to be wastin' time with women folk.
Well, my granddaddy had a barn,
so he had to build the sleigh.
He sent all the way to Boston for the paint.
Rose of the Evening Red it was called."
she stood and walked over to look out the kitchen window for several minutes.
Turning, she handed me a bowl of potatoes to peel while telling me
that if I wanted to listen she'd go right on spinning tales,
but dinner was coming up fast and I might as well stay.
"You remind me of one of my granddaughters.
You have that open kind of face;
bet it gets you in trouble, too."
Admitting that was sometimes the case,
I mentioned that people did seem to be able to talk to me,
and that, when I was talking to the lady down at the general store,
I'd never get anywhere talking to the lady with the sleigh,
that I might as well give up as try.
"Yes, well," she replied,
"that'd be Sarah Peabody down yonder at the store.
Let's see, she came to these parts oh, some twenty years ago.
Doesn't matter much, really,
what she said.
She's pretty much of a newcomer here after all.
"About the sleigh, yes,
My daddy courted my mamma in that sleigh.
Daddy used to tell me how he took Mamma out sleighing
one winter's eve across the old covered bridge
up to Brannigan's meadow and got the sleigh caught in a drift...
he used to joke about that old song...but,
they came back engaged."
The peeled potatoes were frying up
in an old iron skillet atop the stove.
The table was laid
with linen and stoneware for three.
The food was served up.
As we sat and started to eat,
she saw me glance
at the empty place at the table.
at a photograph hanging on the kitchen wall.
"You may well think I'm a silly old fool,
but be that as it may,
the place is set for my man, Peter.
He's been gone nigh on to four years now.
He always said to set a place for him
whether he'd be here for dinner or not.
Always have and always shall.
A habit I'd just as soon not break if you know what I mean..."
Her eyes misted moist
and, for a moment,
I thought those tears would spill over
onto her tan, sun-weathered cheeks,
Instead she brushed the back of her hand
across her eyes
or perhaps in
some memory that wasn't for sharing with a stranger.
The day was passing.
I'd already spent far more time
talking and listening than I had planned,
but something about this woman
kept me sitting there in her cozy kitchen.
We washed up the dinner dishes and wiped up the table.
"Come round back with me," she said,
drying her hands on her apron.
We strolled companionably back to the sleigh.
"See there, under the edge
by the curl of the runner?
PD and LD.
Yes, ma'am, those be our initials.
My Peter carved them the day
he asked me to marry him right here in this sleigh.
"A couple of years ago
some antique dealer
from down in New York City come by.
Offered me a right pretty penny for my sleigh.
I told him to be on his way.
I wasn't in the least bit interested in what he had to say."
I told Lucy Dodge Davidson
that it was growing late and
I had many miles to drive.
I thanked her for sharing
the history of the sleigh.
I knew I'd never pass it by again
I thought about Lucy
and that sleigh a lot over the years
especially when I felt very far
from anything that seemed like home.
I went back several months ago.
Guess I expected her to still be there,
I didn't expect to see
bulldozers pushing bits and pieces of her home into careless piles.
"That old sleigh?"
The driver laughed.
"Hell, it rusted to pieces years ago.
Who'd care about
a falling apart, rusty old sleigh anyway?"