In those days, I imagined the two figures on the back edge of the ashtray children waiting for a ride to school; he with a book in his hand, a sack lunch by her side. His black shoulder-length hair hangs below a black brimmed hat. A black vest partly covers black suspenders and red shirt; trousers and shoes are also black. Her hair and neck is covered by a plain black bonnet. Only the hem of a long red skirt shows beneath her black coat.
Unsmiling and immobile, the children are stuck to an ashtray, of all places. As a child of five, I smoothed my fingers over the cold miniature children, their sad, old-fashioned clothing. I couldn’t imagine their world, their school, where they played. Granddaddy smoked quietly. I stepped back when he tapped his pipe on their heads, grey ash dropping into their laps. They remained mute, stoic, unprotesting.
One summer weekend, I accompanied my grandparents to their old home places in central Pennsylvania. Through rolling countryside, we passed Amish farmhouses and barns, where blue and black clothes waved high on lines, and the scent of fresh summer-cut hay breezed through the open car windows. Men and boys wearing straw hats drove wagons pulled by mules and horses. I recall Granddaddy teased me, “The brown cows give chocolate milk,” as Nana pointed toward grazing dairy herds, lush green cornfields and glistening wheat. It was a bright, colorful dynamic, one my grandparents expressed in their own attitude toward work.
On Sunday, cars shared country roads with black horse-drawn carriages; the people dressed like those on the ashtray. Nana said the men held bibles, and the women brought food for shared Sunday dinners. So, that was what the ashtray girl carried--a basket! Wiser from the trip, I could see the dichotomy.
A lifetime later, the ashtray reappeared as I packed up my grandparents’ household and memories. I noticed, “Wilton Prod., Wrightsville, PA,” on the bottom, and a bolt, which if turned, could allow the children to be removed. Might I have persuaded my grandfather to set them free?
Here’s rust where he set his pipe. The boy’s nose is chipped, their dreary garb more faded. The girl winks at me as I type, and I smell Granddaddy’s fragrant pipe