This is not Lillie Blume

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
An old photo in an antique store brings back floods of memories.

Submitted: December 03, 2011

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Submitted: December 03, 2011



The reader is asked to imagine and old photo of a grand dame sitting serenely in a distinguished sitting room next to a tall fireplace with a mantle with richly framed family pictures.


This is not Lillie Blume.  This photo was purchased at a local antique store, where I decided to check out a storewide sale the other day.  The last time I had been there was either late October or early November of 2006, when they had a grand opening type of event, perhaps welcoming new owners or an expansion, since that store had been there for quite some time.  At the time I bought an old guitar with a really cool woven strap.  As with most of my old guitars, they were absorbed into family or friends or at least one fell and broke its neck and was unplayable after that.


This time around, though, there were no instruments to be had, neither guitars, pianos, violins or even a harmonica, though I can’t be sure about the latter, since it would be small.  Scanning the heavily embroidered old-fashioned pillows, the ornate and very weighty pieces of furniture, I could see a decorator using almost any of those pieces as a touch of the eclectic in a severely industrial, high tech interior.  These pieces were timeless appearing, restful, surely made by expert, loving hands that did not rush about with power saws or pulling out sheets of prefabricated paneling or, heaven forbid, particle board, to make the furniture.


My time for weighty furniture, or high tech showrooms, for that matter, was over, had been over for quite a while.  In the early nineties I did all that at the showroom and even as late as my move to another county in November of 2006, I contemplated steel and glass tables, torchaire lamps and Bauhaus type sofas and chairs.  Soon enough, however, I leaned toward wood, functional, simple, lighter in weight, warmer in feel.  It was a time to warm my soul, to get into comfort and cozy, away from the hip and cool.  Things do change, however, and I was as surprised at my new preferences as anyone.  Soon I began to avoid warm and cozy, curtains, drapes, rugs, pillows and particularly objects d’art, in other words, tchatchkes.


I spent time almost daily looking about, wondering what I could get rid of in this studio apartment, all of which I could survey from my couch, another large, persimmon monster I was beginning to have a separation wish from.  I began to hyper-focus on the weight of things.  Can I move it myself, became a big criterion.  It’s true that my lifting ability had whittled down to perhaps five pounds of groceries, if that much, but there were always friends and family and movers or delivery men who could easily lift a couch or whatever, in case a move was necessary.  This logic did not appeal to me.  I must have light things in my space, that’s all.


That’s why it’s odd that I very much admire the massive, severely turned Spanish furniture in the lobby of my apartment building in deep South Florida.  If anything can be more satisfying to me than the delights of a Vizcaya or Versailles, the Spanish look is it.  I love to sit on those deep leather sofas, admiring the oversize urns, tiles and giant flower vases in very Iberian splendor.  Several garrisons from Andalusia would easily get hernias trying to move just one of the sparse but oh so Spanish occasional pieces.


Yet, if a nobleman from Madrid wished to gift me with a massive, iron and marble tables, I would politely decline. I’ll keep my plastic stackable occasional table, weight ten ounces, thank you very much.  It must be a psychological state to be welcomed, though, to love something and yet not wish to acquire it for my very own.  That reminds me of some affairs I have endured.  But that’s another matter.  Let me go back to that antique store, where one of the introductory questions to me was, “Do you collect anything?”


So, looking at all the doilies, ornate pieces, crystal goblets and antique dolls with quizzical expressions, I wondered what I was doing there in the first place.  These pieces did not cry out to me “Take me home, you need me.”  And then I saw it.  It was just a box, sitting casually on a chair, a fine one, I’m sure.  Some old photos were deposited there in no particular order, some labeled two or three dollars, some were not marked, and there was a sheet of stickers which someone had been using for labels, but had given up the chore, perhaps when a customer walked in.


That box, much like a shelf of old books would, filled my heart and soul with the word – possibility.  What treasures might be hidden there amid the stiff faced, stiff necked people of another era, sandwiched between the ordinary expressions of some shoe salesman or an uppity woman.  This moment, this very moment I have picked up this incomplete story of at least a year ago, and remember that a well-known poetess wrote “I live in possibility.” Sometimes I call myself a poet and am delighted that the word possibility was so important to a woman who never left her house in New England.


The minute I saw the above photo, memories flooded my mind of Lillie Blume.  She was a distinguished old lady who lived in the complex where I stayed for a year and a half.  Working as a night clerk, I spent many an hour visiting with Lillie, who took all afternoon to get dressed (she slept till about noon) and then made her appearance around eight o’clock in the evening.  She used a walker with a seat, but seldom sat in it.  She would stand with fine posture, in full regalia – necklace, earrings, makeup, lipstick, hair done perfectly, elegant outfits of matching colors, the kind worn fifty years ago by women of substance.


Lillie was not really a woman of fine background or credentials, she was much more than that.  Her family, immigrants, lived in inner city neighborhoods and her father had beaten her brother – an event that apparently had scarred her life, as had the memory of a bus trip to visit her aunt in another state and Lillie, the teenager, was too shy to ask to go to the bathroom, holding her bladder for hours and hours.  She had been a dancer with a group at some time in her young life. Mostly, however, she worked in offices, as a receptionist.  Receptionists are known to try to look more attractive than persons back in the file room, although there is no hard and fast rule there.


What I remember most about Lillie, is that she always smiled and said hello to everyone who passed by the night clerk’s desk.  It was not just a casual hello.  It was as if that person had just won the academy award and Lillie was the gracious hostess.  Mostly, she told me the same things over and over again, but with the beautifully made up face, the fine posture, the lovely outfits, I was glad to listen.  Actually, her enthusiasm and love of life and of reaching out to me, who was not particularly noteworthy, is what I remember most.  Yes, she complained about aches and pains, but we always ended up laughing over those challenges of the golden years.


One evening she showed me a nasty blue mark on her leg.  She had slipped in the shower and fell ‘splat’ on the wet floor.  I asked her why she had not pulled the emergency cord in the bathroom.  She responded that since she was naked, she did not want anyone to see her.  Eventually she had crawled her way to some clothes and I suppose could not wait to tell me, the night clerk, of this adventure.


I moved away and stayed in touch with her for a time.  She always sent holiday cards and little trinkets or mementos, and her handwriting was careful and graceful.  Even the paper of the stationery was fine.  When the letters stopped coming, I guessed what had happened.  Another tenant, who I stayed in touch with, confirmed that Lillie went on to the Senior Center in the Sky.


Lillie never had a proper place, like the lady in the photograph. She never married, and only had one boyfriend, who had died a long time ago.  When I saw that photo in the antique store basket, it was as if Lillie was back in town and better than ever.  The calm, pleasant expression on that woman may well be that of Lillie up there in the clouds somewhere.  I suppose the lesson here is – take the time to visit with someone, and just maybe, they will remember you when you are gone.

© Copyright 2018 Liilian. All rights reserved.

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