Almost ten years ago, my mother called saying that the sister of a good friend of hers had a farm covered with old cars and trucks, and she needed some help. I called Zella, 84 at the time, met her a few days later at her farm near Pierce, and found her mourning her husband and totally overwhelmed by the massive number of vehicles and implements on the farm.
Zella smells of mice. Her home, shop, cars, clothes, and farm smell of mice. I am sure that at least a million mice call her shop building home and many more her old two-story house. Early in our relationship, I asked her if she had considered using mouse poison. Her reply was, "I could never kill one of God's creatures." Her face is lined and rugged with 93 years of hard times, good times, and farming. Zella's hands are gnarled into fists by arthritis, but she smiles and laughs quickly and often. Her long gray hair blows around her face as we sit on her stoop and talk. I probably only get out to see her about once a month, and it is nice to see how excited she is to have some company. Born in 1918 and growing to adulthood very poor during the Great Depression, she brings that experience into every conversation. Zella is convinced that another depression is imminent, and she said recently that such an experience would be good for the current generation of "throw it away" young people.
Her gray- green eyes show great sadness, and every time we talk she mentions how much she misses Leo, her husband of 61 years. Although he died a year before I met Zella, I have gotten to know him by working on his treasures and hearing Zella's stories about him. He was a photographer, musician, piano tuner, mechanic, welder, and whatever else he needed to be on the farm. His five old tractors each had a different implement so he wouldn't have to change them for different jobs, and I think he really liked keeping the old machines running. Everywhere I look on the farm, there is a testimonial to making do with little or nothing. Unfortunately, when he died after a five-year illness he left the farm covered with unfinished projects - cars, trucks, tractors, and farm equipment, some dating back a century. I have sold ten cars, five trucks, five tractors, and two motorcycles, the newest of which was a 1975 Cadillac and the oldest a 1936 John Deere tractor.
I have had great fun hauling Zella's vehicles and implements home, getting them working, and finding someone who wants to buy them— the ultimate in recycling, since nearly all of this equipment would probably have been hauled off as junk. Zella gets a little money and buyers are happy. In the process, I have the fun of getting to know Zella, working on her old equipment, and seeing her happiness in receiving cash for the items that meant a lot to her husband but were a burden to her. She appreciates what I do for her and loves my company, but also I think she sees some of Leo in me.
This story was written in 2012. Recently Zella’s niece called to inform me that Zella had passed away behind the wheel of her van after feeding and spending time with her cats, whom she loved. I miss her.