Kate Harlow

For over 30 years I passed the same mailbox on my way to my grandparent’s house. “Kate Harlow” it said, in capital shiny black and gold letters. As a child I honed in on the name sounded like it belonged to a T.V. news anchor, which was my dream job. But the mailbox didn’t sit across the street from the type of house I imagined a news anchor owned. Instead, it belonged to a white trailer with a plastic awning, blue shutters and ceramic geese in the front lawn.

Often Kate sat on her front porch, which was covered in astroturf. She smoked a cigarette as she watched the cars go by. Who knows what she thought about. 

Every summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas I caught glimpses of Kate from the backseat of my parent’s various cars. She never changed, always in the same metal yard chair, the kind that looked like it belonged in one of my grandparent’s kodachrome photo albums.

As the years went on, Kate’s posture in the chair curled. Her clothes grew shabby and dated. The grass around the geese on the front lawn wasn’t quite as well trimmed. Kate’s face began to betray signs of loneliness. Or maybe I just read into it. I would be lonely. There was never another name on her mailbox. Never another person on the porch with her. Never even another car in the gravel driveway.

Seven years ago I moved into my grandparents house, and now I pass Kate’s house every day. One day this spring, Kate was no longer on her porch. A few weeks later, a “For Sale” sign appeared in the ditch between her yard and the busy road.

“On no! Kate Harlow!” I said to my husband.

“What are you talking about?” he said. He had never noticed the mailbox. 

“Kate Harlow. She always lived in this house,” I said, pointing to the trailer as we drove to church.

“You know her?”

“No. I’ve never met her. I just know her name from her mailbox. But I think she died, her house is for sale,” I said.

“Maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she just moved in with one of her children, or into a nursing home.”

Two weeks later the For Sale sign was gone and a truck appeared in the driveway with what looked like new wood paneling, I’m assuming for the inside of the trailer. Yesterday I drove by and saw a man in his fifties carefully using a X-acto knife to remove Kate’s name from the mailbox.

She’s gone.


Charlottesville, VA

Kristin Sancken is a parent, writer and social worker who has been published in Huffington Post and The Guardian. To view her other work visit www.sancken.com

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