Margaret Harmon

There was once a woman who had trouble getting rid of anything she’d ever liked.  As a teenager, when she outgrew clothes, she put them in suitcases and saved them in the attic.  In her twenties, she rescued toasters, irons, vacuum cleaners, lamps, and phonographs that broke after years of faithful service.  She placed them loyally on shelves in the garage.

Of course, she couldn’t marry because she’d have to leave her parents and the home of her childhood.  Eventually, however, her parents died and left her alone in the house she’d grown up in.  She packed their things in tissue paper, in trunks, and converted their bedroom into a storage room.

Most magazines and nearly all books had to be stored—and newspapers of important days—until her father’s study gradually filled with boxes so heavy that silverfish caught in the bottom boxes were trapped, airless, to dry into mummies.

She bought a new car every ten or fifteen years, but never sold an old one.  She couldn’t forget the lovely places she’d driven in the cars.  So she stored each one on blocks in the garage until she had to start putting them in the tool shed, the potting shed, and, finally, the patio.

Of course, she saved the furniture, art, jewelry, and dishes of her parents and grandparents.  She also saved their tools and utensils, cosmetics and spices, razors and curling irons, TV trays and shower shoes.  She saved Wheaties boxes and Mickey Mouse spoons, pretty bottles and plastic flowers, unusual bottle caps and colorful stamps, matchbook covers and garden sprinklers.  She saved everything she’d ever liked.

Any pet she bought as a puppy, kitten, or baby bird or fish lived out its last blind, toothless, balding, tumorous, cranky days with her because the woman could not bear to have any pet put to sleep.

Eventually, she grew old and feeble herself.  It became more and more difficult for her to get around, as the pathways between the boxes and trunks narrowed while her own joints stiffened and her eyes dimmed.  Her last dog, a blind, deaf, arthritic St. Bernard with a wheezing condition, was an additional hazard because he could neither see nor hear that he needed to get out of the way, nor could he see or hear where to go.

At last one day the old woman was found dead, sprawled across the St. Bernard, but reaching in the direction of the telephone.  Experts surmised that she had suffered a heart attack but been prevented from summoning help by the enormity and immobility of the dog.  Anyway, the telephone was wedged between a carton of her favorite cheese labels and a trunk of antique dolls; she could never have wrenched the receiver free in her weakened state.

Her will was read with great curiosity because she had no descendants.  It revealed that the woman had bequeathed all her worldly possessions to the city zoo, site of cherished childhood memories.

The zoo director was the first to see the old woman’s house.  He was horrified, then furious.  It was a trick, he raged—a hoax wasting the time of already overworked zoo personnel.

But his assistant, a young slim man with bright brown eyes, peeked in some of the boxes and squeezed himself down the passageways leading to all the overstuffed rooms.  He asked to be in charge of the case.  The director agreed.

The young assistant was an avid collector of antiques and nostalgia pieces.  He recognized the old woman’s home as a warehouse of treasure—and a fine gift to the zoo.  He catalogued the materials and marketed them shrewdly, amassing a gift of two and a half million tax-free dollars from the old woman to her fondly remembered zoo.

The assistant, who soon became director of the zoo, used the money to build an animal nursery and a huge paddock full of furry animals to be petted and squeezed by children.  The nursery and paddock were named after the old woman in an impressive ceremony attended by the mayor, zoo board members, and many school children.  The woman’s profile, in bronze, was embedded like a big cheerful penny in one wall of the paddock, and wonderful stories were printed in all the newspapers about the fine old woman who left her immense fortune to the children and furry animals of her city.

~  The end  ~

Margaret Harmon is the author and illustrator of A Field Guide to North American Birders–A Parody and The Man Who Learned to Walk In Shoes That Pinch, Contemporary Fables by Margaret Harmon. Her humorous essays, short stories, fables, and feature articles appear in newspapers, journals, magazines, and on public radio. Click on the above link to get an autographed copy of her book where this fable is published or click here to buy on Amazon The Man Who Learned to Walk in Shoes That Pinch: Contemporary Fables