A few months ago, I posted something hugely sentimental on Craigslist: a butterfly-shaped candle holder that my partner had bought for me when we first started dating—way back when Eisenhower was president. Or maybe Clinton. I don’t know; it was a long time ago. Anyhow. The candle holder was tremendously sweet, albeit not quite my style. Nevertheless, I held onto it for years, giving it a place of honor on my dresser. Then on top of a bookcase. Then on top of a stereo speaker. Then on top of a pile of miscellaneous things in our spare room closet.
That’s just no way to treat a pretty, little thing. Especially one with such sentimental value. After much deliberation, I posted it in the free section along with everyone else’s cast-offs. But in the ad, I told a little story. I wanted to make sure the person who inherited this candle holder knew its history. And more important than that, I wanted to know theirs. At least a little bit of it.
Boy, did the e-mails pour in! Several people just wanted to tell me that I was crazy for giving away something so sentimental. (Thanks for the guilt trip!) Others, in typical Craigslist fashion wanted me to call them if it was still available, disregarding my interest in why they were interested in my candle holder. And then there was this guy who wanted me to deliver it to his Aunt Edna. Despite my “you must come and pick it up” rule, I agreed to make this special delivery without hesitation.
One of her elderly friends had recently passed on, and despite Edna’s usual upbeat disposition, her nephew knew that she was hurting. He said that if I could just leave at her door with a note that it would absolutely brighten up her day. Aunt Edna loves anything and everything with a butterfly motif, and would most certainly give it a good home.
Aunt Edna lived in a public housing complex that was not too far out of the way on my way home from work. It was an unseasonably warm day—our first after a long winter—and my boss let us out a bit early. Perhaps it was all this bright sunshine, or the gift of time, or knowing I was going to brighten up a stranger’s day, but rather than leave the candle holder in Aunt Edna’s lobby, I had decided to ring the buzzer and deliver the gift-wrapped candle holder in person.
After a few technical difficulties, Aunt Edna buzzed me in. I stepped into the elevator and wrapped my way down the institutional-looking hall. Standing in the doorway was a short, grey-haired, smiling lady, ready to welcome me into her home. In an instant, I recalled all the after-school specials and cautionary tales of my youth that warned me about unsuspecting strangers, brushed aside my qualms, and stepped into her apartment.
Aunt Edna was delighted to have a visitor (her nephew had given her a head’s up that I’d be coming that day), and in her sweet, septuagenarian way, proceeded to tell me the story behind each and every one of her butterfly knick-knacks—as well as her Elvis memorabilia, and the lone rooster decoration from her ex husband. She introduced me to her family members, both living and passed, whose pictures hung on her metal closet door, and showed me the 40-year sobriety medallion that she had received at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the night before. She whispered as she spoke. “It’s not something that everybody in the building needs to know about me.” The butterflies she surrounded herself with gave her a reliable sense of carefreeness and joy.
A good 45 minutes later, after we recounted the stories of so many of her belongings, Edna gave me a hug and thanked me for choosing her to take good care of the butterfly candle holder from my beloved. She had set it on an end table in her living room, right in front of her rotating fiber-optic butterfly lamp. A place of honor, no doubt.
© 2010 Good Karma Housekeeping. Because the perfect space for that knicknack may be in someone else’s home. (Amazing, luminous butterfly photo by audreyjm529 via Creative Commons.)