Plums for Aunt Virginia

Ron Karpinski  1995


The small red and white cinder block building isn't there anymore, long since torn down and paved over; but, in the summer of 1962, Virginia Plummer ran a thriving real estate business at 520 Second Avenue, in the tiny municipality of Gold Hill, Oregon.

Aunt Virginia specialized in ranches, mostly undeveloped acreage; but every once in a while she found an old house that no one else wanted and fixed it up.  Over the years, she bought and sold many homes that way, often underwriting the loans herself.  Thanks to her, countless poor honest folks, turned down by banks, still came to be homeowners.

*          *          *          *          *

While Aunt Virginia traipsed about the county showing property, cousin Jimmy and I watched the office.  Barely teenagers, our duties were limited.  We greeted customers with a smile, answered the phone when it rang, and took notes.

Tourists often dropped in, asking for information.  You could hear them before you could see them, kids and dogs spilling out of a packed station wagon out front at the curb.  They gawked in the window for a minute or two and then came inside.

Like a broken phonograph record, one after the other, each repeated the same line.  The concrete and smog down south had gotten to them, and they wanted to move up north.  They wanted to buy a small piece of God's Country, but only at the right price.

*          *          *          *          *

Once a day, just before lunch, a portly old man in his seventies dropped by.  Fair skinned, he had a large round face with chubby cheeks and light brown eyes.  He wore thick, gold wire-rimmed glasses and kept his thin brown hair cropped short.

Every day, he wore the same white short sleeved shirt, open at the collar, and rumpled khaki pants.  Slumping in a chair next to the desk, he paused for a few minutes to catch his breath.  He wiped his brow and mentioned how hot it had been out on the sidewalk.

So polite, so respectful, he prattled on about how nice it was to be inside and out of the sun.  Odd, the respect he showered on two young boys not yet old enough to shave.  

At last, he handed over a small brown paper bag filled with plums and asked that we give it to Mrs. Plummer.  Over and over, he mentioned what a lovely mother Jimmy had.  Then he rose from his chair, said goodbye, and shuffled out the door.

*          *          *          *          *

Aunt Virginia cherished those plums.  She thought fresh fruit made a perfect gift.  She held one to the light, measuring its color and firmness.  Taking a bite, she savored the pulpy sweetness.  "Fresh fruit always tastes better," she said, "when it's home grown."

Aunt Virginia told us the old man's story, but we were too young to understand.  Jimmy and I thought he was just a curious old man out on the make and wondered if Uncle Charley knew about him.  Today, I wish I'd been a little kinder to that gentle soul.

Mr. Dabrowski spent much of World War II confined at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.  One night, a friendly guard hinted that it would be a good time for him to leave; something terrible had been planned for the next morning. 

He took the hint and slipped off into the night.  Slowly, he worked his way across Europe -- and to freedom.  In time, he emigrated to the United States. 

*          *          *          *          *

Years later, in Gold Hill, Mr. Dabrowski stood each morning on the front porch of his small wood frame house and admired the view across the valley.  Inhaling the fresh country air, he looked down upon the rows of trees on his land and swelled with pride.  

The old man loved his little house and adjoining orchard, and he treasured those little bags of plums.  To him, they symbolized the wonder of creation and the miracle of life; and Aunt Virginia had made it possible for him to live this dream.


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