December 6, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Big Nancy

By |2018-03-21T20:02:46+01:00August 31st, 2016|"Lost In Translation"|
Meticulously arranged and catalogued in the "music room."

e drove up a long winding dirt road, passing used metal shipping containers, old broken down trucks and tractors, parking the car in front of a beat up little house that sat beside a gigantic shop. I looked to my friend who’d been driving.

Wide-eyed and maybe a tad worried, I said, “You told someone where we we’re going, didn’t you? I swear, I’d better not end up tied up in one of these freaking containers.”

He laughed.

When I agreed to go on the little adventure to help haul an enormous collection of records purchased by my friend, I had no idea it would take us through woods, six miles of dirt roads, let alone to what seemed like the could-be home of the Unabomber.

Then, Nancy appeared at the door. She was a big woman, with a toothless smile, a long greyish ponytail, and a tank top large enough to cover her extra large bosom. Her swollen bluish ankles peered through her acid washed jeans and sandals.

After we made our introductions she invited us in. The smell of cigarettes wafted from the living room, where she’d been sitting on the couch, fans aimed directly on her large body to combat the stifling August heat. Rock from the 1980s blared from the stereo. She didn’t turn it down, just talked over it. I liked her instantly.

“I’ll show you the room,” she said, taking a few steps to a closed bedroom door.

When she opened it and walked inside, what hit me was her size: she seemed extra large, like a Gandalf wizard in a small bedroom. Then I glanced around the room. Our mouths dropped open at the shelves upon shelves of records. Catalogued and so obviously loved, they covered every square inch of wall space the little bedroom provided.

“They were my husband’s,” she said in her scratchy smoker’s voice. “Now he’s gone and I don’t really know what to do with them anymore. I don’t know what they’re worth. My friend came over and helped me count them and we got somewhere around 3,000.”

My stomach sank slightly. We both knew she needed the money, but the prospect of dismantling what had been the couple’s “music room” for some 25 years must have been tough on her.

Music, it seemed, had been a great part of Nancy’s life. And we were there to clean that part of her life out. Not erase it, mind you, just tidy it up.

My friend got to work transferring massive stacks of records from the room to the waiting large SUV. Nancy stayed and helped for a while, then quietly left the room. While carrying my own pile of records to the car I noticed her sitting on the couch looking down at the floor, the 1980s music still blaring. I let her be.

Some time later she re-entered the room, ready to help again. We talked a little about music and her favorite bands of the 80s. Then I asked how long her husband had collected records.

“He wasn’t a collector,” she said almost defensively. “He just loved music. We’d go to every garage sale we could find and buy all the records they had.”

I asked when he died. She explained that four months ago they’d gone out to the store and all seemed fine. After dinner, he’d gone to work in their shop. Later, while she lay in bed reading, she heard him come back and enter the bathroom. What followed was a large thump on the floor. The heart attack killed him almost instantly at the age of 61.

Someone very close to me died suddenly. I’m intimately aware of the shell shock that comes with it. I recognized the dazed and confused look she had while sitting on the couch looking at the floor. I also knew there was nothing I could say except “I’m sorry,” which wouldn’t do a damn thing to help. Eventually she’d feel better, or so I hoped.

That’s generally how death works for the living, and the left behind. Eventually they wake up less confused. But eventually can be a long time.

With the SUV loaded floor-to-ceiling and a rather substantial check signed over, we said our goodbyes, shook sweaty hands, and left the compound. We played music the entire way home, both of us thinking about the past, dirt roads, death, records, and Big Nancy.

About the Author:

Jennifer Allison wrote the "lost in Translation" column from 2014 to mid-2018.