The doorway was narrow and the old hand-forged iron latch always stuck a little, generally requiring a thump with a fist and a well-placed kick or two.
To go through the doorway required hunching down a bit, and then maneuvering three, narrow pie-wedged steps before the passage straightened out. The remaining sixteen steps up to the attic were so steep it was difficult to carry anything. Over time, and with many, many trips up and down, I learned how to navigate that treacherous stairway without breaking my neck. But I’ll tell you more about those trips in a little while.
For now, I’d like to tell you about the first time I went up those stairs. When I emerged into the huge space at the top of the steps, I was so astonished I couldn’t move. Two narrow windows inserted beside an ancient red brick chimney helped illuminate the space through their small panes of wavy old glass. Five bare, low-wattage lightbulbs hung in a row from the center beam, each with a threadbare cotton string hanging down from it.
The amber and gold floorboards were incredibly wide and covered the entire length of the attic floor. Worn down in grooves at the top of the steps, you could literally see where hundreds of feet had trod over the years. The dark hand-hewn beams overhead were massive and joined together with hundreds of wooden pegs.
The air in the attic was faintly scented with the fragrance of dried herbs and old woodsmoke. The floorboards were bare and dusty.
I could feel the history of the house in that space. I could so clearly imagine all the other housewives before me drying herbs and storing treasures there.
I quickly learned that the drafty attic space was phenomenal for drying flowers and herbs. I gathered what I could find around the farm before the frost killed everything and filled one of the beams with carefully bundled bouquets. I had plans to sell the dried flowers to help in my perpetual quest for extra money.
The following spring I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of a commercial rose grower in a neighboring town. I had ordered quite a lot of roses for a wedding I was designing, and after I picked my order up on Thursday afternoon I discovered that the grower threw away all the unsold roses at the end of business on Saturday. Threw them away! I was aghast!
I offered to buy all the roses from him each week. He thought about it. “Well,” he said, “I’d have to let you take them away in the rose buckets and how do I know you’ll bring the buckets back?”
Thinking quickly I told him, “Look, I’ll pay you three dollars a bucket for the roses AND I’ll give you a deposit on each bucket!”
He thought for a few more minutes and then agreed.
Each bucket held around ten dozen tightly budded roses neatly rubber-banded together. By recutting the stems and giving each bundle of roses some breathing room, in three or four days I would have gorgeous bouquets of full, beautiful blossoms.
I was careful to hang the roses in the attic right before they bloomed fully. Each rubber band slipped neatly over the nails I had pounded into the low beams. And because the grower had prepared each dozen for commercial sale all the thorns had been stripped from the stems.
Some weeks the rose grower would have four or five buckets of roses for me. Some weeks he would have none.
But over the spring and summer months I dried hundreds and hundreds of bundles of roses in that attic.
It was beautiful and fragrant there. The slight smell of dried herbs and woodsmoke was taken over by the fresh, lovely scent of thousands of roses.
Each beam was a bower of roses in various stages of drying…gorgeous corals, sunny yellows, antique ivory whites, carmine red, pale apricot.
After the roses dried completely, I would slip them into plastic florist sleeves and pack them away in boxes arranged by color.
I made extravagant wreaths covered entirely in dried roses. I put beautiful ribbons around the sparkling cellophane. And every fall I would attend craft fairs and set up a booth filled with hundreds of bundles of dried roses. The colors were so beautiful and the roses were so perfectly preserved that my booth was always crowded with eager buyers. I rarely took any roses home.
Over the years, those dried roses paid for vacations to the ocean with my children. They paid for dentist visits and eyeglasses and sometimes they paid for the electric bill.
I write this memory now with tears on my face.
How blessed I was to have lived so many hours in a house with attic beams bowered in roses.
And how blessed I am that this dear memory has never faded.
This post is linked to Alphabe-Thursday in honor of the letter D. To read other D posts, just click here.