Key to the Past

You never know when something surprising will come to the surface (literally!) We had a truckload of topsoil dropped off on Friday so that we could re-gradeΒ a few sections of our property, including our side hill. As Mr. Thistle worked at moving the dirt, he came across something unexpected: A heavy-duty, old key, which, by the looks of it, once opened a door. I happen to have spent ten years being responsible for keys like this, so the sight was familiar, to say the least!

This key looks to me like many of the keys used in the early-to-mid 19th century on interior passage doors and exterior locks. It’s hard to say which one this is with certainty, but of course my imagination kicks into gear: I see a woman leaving her dwelling, headed to the market or perhaps the grocer. She wrangles a large basket, and pulls her wrap tighter around her shoulders in the stiff breeze. The weather is threatening, and she must make haste. In a hurry, she pulls the heavy key from her pocket beneath her outer skirts, and turns the lock. As she pivots and strides away from the locked door, she slips the key back into her pocket. Or … almost. The key tumbles silently into the shaggy, soft grass, unnoticed.

Despite the search that takes place (“Now, where is that key? How tiresome.”) the key remains undetected. Rains fall, leaves drift from the trees, and the key burrows deeper into the soil. A man pushes a reel mower overhead, nearly treading on the key, but instead steps to the side to dislodge a pesky stick caught in the blade. Rabbits and squirrels frolic nearby, and birds tug worms from their earthy tunnels. Years pass, then decades. People come and go above, while the key rests quietly in the soil, not far beneath the surface, just waiting.

The house is torn down to make way for “progress.” Debris litters the ground as the old house falls, but it is pushed and clawed by heavy machinery, and loaded onto trucks to be taken away. The ground is cleared, and the soil stripped and sifted. Somehow, even as rocks are filtered away, the key slips through the sifters. It is loaded and unloaded several times, from truck to pile, until it comes cascading down one last time in a magnificent pile of dirt. It is covered with a tarp, and night falls.

Overnight, it rains, large drops beating on the tarp and running in rivulets down its sides. In the morning, the skies clear, the tarp is pulled back, and a square shovel plunges into the soft dirt. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow empties onto the hill, and then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, a hand reaches down, after all these years, and grasps the key. The key rests in the palm of the hand, which hesitates for a moment, and then closes around the dirt-encrusted metal. The key is borne to the door, where it changes hands, resting once more in the palm of the lady of the house.


With Peace,



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