13 May, 1850.
I am in fear for my life as I lie under a blanket, in this musty old wagon, in the middle of a prairie, surrounded by paint-faced Indians bent for Jesus on killing us all. And I am only 13, too young to die, and too small to fight. If I live through this, I promise you diary that I will keep account of every blessed thing that happens to me from now on…
Elsie looked up from reading the first passage of the diary she had just discovered in the attic of her grandmother‘s San Francisco home. She realized she had found a treasure long overdue after having spent the last 8 months cleaning out the overly cluttered fire-hazard of a house on top of Portrero Hill.
It was the summer of 1966, the Vietnam war was in full bloom as were the protesters demonstrating in Haight-Ashbury, their clothes reeking of patchouli oil and marijuana, their eyes glazed over from LSD, and their radios playing the songs of their hero’s and gurus. And in the midst of all of this San Francisco madness, was Elsie, who, at the tender age of 15, was earning money for a trip to England next summer.
The deal had started out with her grandmother wanting Elsie to go find her old wedding album so that she could show Elsie her wedding dress. Grandmother believed that one day Elsie herself would marry a nice man and this would be a wonderful style of dress for her. Elsie complied and dutifully trod up to the attic to begin her own mining expedition.
Two hours later, Grandma showed up, looking for her wayward granddaughter only to find she hadn’t even made a dent into the massive piles of memorabilia; as Grandpa had called it; before he passed.
Then it was a done deal. Elsie would dig, sort, clean, sell or otherwise get rid of the mess in the attic and Grandma would pay her handsomely. She would have fully half of the money she needed for the trip.
It was now, into her eighth month of weekend cleaning that she had first found out that there was a light fixture above where she had been working. She had pulled out, sorted, and cleaned up enough merchandise for two huge yard sales, and with the help of her brother and the grace of the City’s refuse service to have one pick up of any large appliances and furniture, that she got rid of much more.
Now with the old rust-stained toilets, folded mattresses, ratty sofas and useless refrigerators out of the way, she could get down to the boxes. A myriad of boxes stacked from floor to ceiling and every way outward. Some were old Coke boxes made out of wood, and others were plain old cardboard boxes retrieved from the grocer’s produce man. All had something in them Grandpa considered treasures: Old Reader’s Digests, Life Magazines, ashtrays and pill bottles. He had even saved all of his old pill bottles.
Elsie, now covered in dust, the smell of mildew tickling her nose, gathered up the old diaries with their stained, parched, pages, and headed home. She would have to do more digging tomorrow.