“Janice, hurry up. This is a catastrophe!” My scream pierced the early morning air.

I had bounded up the stairs shortly after 7:00 a.m. to check the bedrooms before the Ruth Longenecker property sale. Prospective buyers were already milling through our aunt’s house from cellar to attic, inspecting the house and its contents.

Opening the door to Grandma’s bedroom, to my consternation I found this, a heap of debris. My husband Cliff was not far behind, summoned by my shrieks. And Jan’s husband also rushed to the scene. What greeted us was a pile of broken plaster with attached wallpaper that had apparently hung on for dear life during its crazy ride from ceiling to floor. My sister and our husbands gaped in disbelief. Then the four of us got to work.


A rainstorm from the night before evidently had loosened the lathe attached to the ceiling. The consequences were plain to see. How could such a thing have happened? Yes, there was a bulge in the ceiling, but the slate roof had been repaired. We didn’t expect this!

The truth hit us like a ton of bricks. On a day when we wanted to put our best foot forward, the sky had fallen in, not in a Chicken Little sort of way, but more like a dizzy ballerina performing with mud on her tutu.

* * *

Hours later after the mess was cleared and the sale underway, I caught up with Aunt Ruthie’s neighbor Anna Martha, whom I had known from childhood. A few weeks earlier I had found a postcard her brother John (now deceased) had sent to Aunt Ruthie when he was a child. I intended to surprise Anna Martha with the card.


John Groff, an elementary school student at the time, wrote this message to his neighbor, my Aunt Ruthie, when she attended college at Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Virginia, June 4, 1936.


I looked and looked for Anna Martha, so I could present her the card from long ago. Where did I find her? In Grandma’s bedroom looking at the furniture, on the other side of the wall where the debris had lain hours earlier.



The next day, Sunday, we visited Hershey Gardens and spotted this wooden sculpture in the rose garden. A mountaineer. Right?


But look again. Notice the long stick between the symmetry of the man’s handlebar moustache. Is it a pipe? Or something else?

Squint so you can see the skinny rod protruding. It’s actually the perch for a bird house.

* * *

Originally, this post was titled “Things are Not as They Seem.”

It is true, isn’t it? Sometimes the snapshot of our lives visible to others does not match what is really going on behind the scenes.

And sometimes what we do see is a false representation of reality.

Viewpoint counts. It’s all in the perspective.

New Yorker Cartoon: Roz Chast



Note: The buyers, a young couple, had toured the house weeks before the auction. On the day of the sale, they were out of the country, leading a class tour group. Enterprising and energetic, they probably viewed the collapsed ceiling as the first step in the restoration. Apparently so. They were not deterred from closing on the sale in late August.





How about you?

Has an upset in your life not been apparent to others? What other anecdotes come to mind from your (or other’s) experience?

Can you think of a saying that matches my anecdote – or this theme?


Winner of Lucinda Miller’s Book Giveaway will be announced next Wednesday, September 20.