Mrs Dustler was old. She lived two doors from me, and everything about her was old.
Her house was old, the external walls often appeared to be pleading for repair, a coat of paint, and the gutters were rusted and when it rained the house had more waterfalls than it should have. Her yard was overgrown, the gardens had grown beyond her care, and all that remained of her front path was a tiny meandering track between the invading shrubs.
Her once grey hair was now white, her skin wrinkled and her rotund and stooped shape waddled when forced to move. For a small woman, she had beautifully long thin fingers, her nails always manicured as if it was through them she clung to vestiges of youth. My mother told me Mrs Dustler had been a milliner as a young woman, which explained Mrs Dustler’s penchant for wearing elaborate hats when she ventured out.
She did so on Tuesday’s when she did her shopping. She’d shuffle off down the street, her hat often of a pink hue with wide brim held in place by giant hatpins and dragging her shopping cart behind her.
Time never seemed an issue to her as she could have caught the bus, and there was community transport, but she preferred to walk. There were places along the way she wanted to stop and look at, the residences of past friends, houses she had once frequented and now occupied by strangers.
All she required each week she could buy at the Goodways store owned by the same family for several generations and who knew Mrs Dustler as a good and loyal customer. Firstly she’d stop into the bank and draw out her shopping money, she had no need of plastic money, and ATM’s in her opinion were complicating what was a simple business.
The Goodways people always packed her shopping cart, made sure it was secure before watching her wriggle her way out the door and disappear towards home.
Her journey home was always slower with a loaded cart. But that meant she had longer to look around, take in the changes she observed in the neighbourhood, and pass the time with anyone she saw in their front garden.
Once home she’d pack everything away, she had invested in a small refrigerator her concession to progress but only after the iceman announced he was delivering any longer. She didn’t believe in microwaves and still ran a fuel stove, chopping and splitting her own firewood.
As a small boy, I visited her a lot. We’d sit in her garden on a bench seat watching the day go by. She always had a piece of straight wire nearby; it was to kill any snake that dared come into her garden. I never saw one, but she’d assure me they were there and she was ready for them.
She had scrapbooks of the floods that had devastated our town in the 1950s, with photographs of the water up behind our houses and stories of the dreaded snakes hiding under the floorboards.
If I asked her for anything, I had to spell the word, like if I wanted a sandwich, I had to spell bread. Mrs Dustler taught me a lot of spelling along with a heap of other stuff.