“Ya know that old trees just grow stronger
and old rivers grow wilder everyday
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say “hello in there, hello”
And so this is how it was told to me one day.
“I had wandered into the back to the hardware store just off Parker Av in our little southwestern Virginia town. It was autumn and all the citizens were enjoying the last breaths of the gentle fall. Winter was coming and it wasn’t far off. If it was anything like last winter, I shudder to think about it as much for my sanity as anything. On the cork board by the restrooms, were thumb nailed notes with everything for sale or trade, from ATVs to knitting needles. This was the poor mans swap shop. I never really needed anything from this board but I always enjoyed reading it. It made me curious about the different lives right here in my town. The lives that were lived behind the doors and curtains. Beyond the hello’s and handshakes.
The one that caught my eye was written as simple as it could be. “Dishes for sale. Not a full set, but none broken. All for $10. The next week I was back again for kerosene for my generator. I was another note with same writing. “Bed sheets and towels, mixed colors $1 each. I wondered why the writer hadn’t written a note with more items at a time. Curious people for sure, and the long winters in backwoods Virginia could do funny things to a mind.
I couldn’t resist any longer. I called the number and the elderly sounding lady said she still had several towels left and a few sheets. I could come over now if I had time. Before I got out of my car, I could see the sheers moving a little and then the door swung open wide. All 5’2″ of Mrs. Pope, or should I say now Ms. Pope was standing there welcoming me in. Coffee? “no ma’m, thank you though”, I told her. I didn’t have to ask questions nor am I that kind, but I began to hear more details of Mrs. Pope’s life than I could endure. I heard about Gerald Pope, husband of 57 years, who got on his tractor one morning and that’s where they found him, without so much as two rows planted. I heard of her daughter Jessica’s baby and Jessica’s divorce. All for the best she said, but wished her little grandbaby didn’t live so far away. Once all of the polite Southern pleasantries were exchanged and with gentle nudging, I paid for 4 towels and 2 sets of sheets. Another offer of coffee. Another “I’m sorry”. Another empty look in her eyes, another empty spot in my heart.
Each week, I saw more of Ms. Pope’s postings at the hardware store. What could she be doing? Why not just have a big garage sale and get it over with? It baffled me. It would baffle any younger person with people in their lives to be with. Friends to call. Places to go.
About 3 months later in the dead of winter, I noticed there were no more postcards thumbnailed by Mrs. Pope. I thought it was odd, but then thought well she had sold what she needed. Later that week, I saw it in the paper. Obituary for Mrs. Pope. I sat on the old recliner and re read that several times. Feeling empty, somehow like I had lost a loved one, but didn’t know why. The paper said Mrs. Pope was survived by two sons, Harold and Archer of Eugene Oregon, one daughter and one great grandaughter of Camden, Al.
I thought I should go pay my respects since I didn’t think hardly anyone would be there. I took a while to get a parking spot at the Miller Brothers funeral home. I ever did find Eugene or Archer. Jessica and her baby had already come and gone. as I spoke to the other folks at the funeral home, I found out that they didn’t really know Mrs. Pope any better than I did. On a table, by her coffin, was a bowl full of index cards. All in Mrs. Popes writing ! “Lamps for sale, gently used, $5 each”. “Tools, sprinklers and lawnmower all for $35”. I counted over 50 cards, then it dawned on me, and when it did it hit me like a ton of regrets. Poor Mrs. Pope had been selling off her possessions simply for company. Simply to be able to say hello to someone, and maybe better yet for someone to say hello to her.
It can come for us all. This loneliness, this emptiness, where voices and needs once stood. where love had flowed both ways long ago. Now the mailman, the doctor twice a month, that’s about it. It made me wish I had bought everything she had to sell, one towel at a time. One cook pot, one lamp.”
So if your walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t pass em by and stare
As if you don’t care, say “hello in there, hello”
Thanks to Kent Nerburn from his book “Road Angels” as well as John Prines lyric to “Hello in There”