Bobbi A. Chukran “Sadie and the Museum Lady”

An old woman lived back behind us, catty-corner from our place. Everyone called her Goat Woman, although her real name was Sadie Luella Mason. Mama warned us to stay away from her because she was odd, maybe even loony. I thought Sadie was a unique individual. I wasn’t sure what they thought she’d do, but I was never worried. Odd never killed anyone, far as I could see.

Sadie used to keep goats, and neighbors complained about the smell. That’s how she got the name Goat Woman. I don’t know why they thought there was something wrong with keeping goats—most of us had kinfolks who were farmers. Sadie said that the goats smelled better than most people did. Eventually the ruckus died down about the goats, and then she added a few chickens.

Sadie collected roadkill and rusty metal bits from the side of the highway and made stuff from them. Ever once in a while I’d find some piece of crusty metal down by the railroad tracks. I’d sneak over, leave my offering on her porch, then hurry back before Mama missed me. I wondered what she’d make from those.

Sadie was a character. She wore old overalls with huge pockets that drooped from the weight of flattened bottle caps and old Coke cans–the rustier the better, she once told me. She spent the early mornings gathering junk then carried it home on an old bicycle she found down at the dump, the tires wibbly-wobbly on the rough pavement. She buried the carcasses of the road kill in her garden until they were nothing but bare bones, then dug them up later and soaked them in a bucket of bleach water so they’d be nice and white.

Sadie lived in a little ramshackle frame house with peeling white paint. She had an old shack out back with dusty windows and a splintery workbench that used to be someone’s old kitchen countertop. She spent most of her time out there working on her art.

Sadie recycled before any of the rest of us ever heard of it. Out there on that old bench, that woman performed magic, you ask me. You couldn’t really call it anything else.

She spent hours alone with her treasures, snipping the metals and sorting them into little bins, separated by color. Once she got them sorted to her satisfaction, she’d squinch up her eyes, and ask the pieces what they wanted to be. Strangest thing I ever saw, her sitting there, her lips moving with not a sound coming out. After a few minutes, she would begin to get a vision, I guess.

Once I asked her about it and she said it was like seeing colors swirling around that coalesced…that’s the word she used, “coalesced”…into some new shape and form. Then she’d get busy hammering, soldering, and connecting piece to piece or attaching them onto old wood she scrounged from construction site trash heaps. You wouldn’t believe the things she made—robots with arms made of old forks and spoons with a skull from an old skunk, birds made from rusty shovels and old broomstick legs—crazy, amazing stuff. She said that God gave her the ideas, and put those bits and pieces of metal in her path for her to find. I couldn’t argue with that, since our own preacher once said we were the hands of God. Who knows what kind of strange creativity God might get up to in the hands of someone like Sadie.

Every Saturday morning, Sadie put a sign out in front of her house that said *Art 4 Sale.* People would drive by just to see what she’d done that week, what creations she’d made out of her junk. It got to be a destination for many folks after the Sunday church service. Most of them just laughed and shook their heads at the strangeness of it all, but she did manage to sell a few pieces to out-of-towners looking for collectible folk art—a good investment down the road, they said.

One day, the Museum Lady came and discovered Sadie—called her an Outsider Artist. She drove up in a Mercedes and bought everything that Sadie made, then promised to come back for more. Nobody believed her, but sure enough, a few weeks later she came back and bought Sadie’s new creations.

Turns out, she hauled them down to Houston and sold them in a fancy gallery, and jacked up the prices ten times what she had paid Sadie for them.

 

When Sadie found out about it, she was fit to be tied! The next time Museum Lady showed up at Sadie’s door, she came out with her shotgun and told that woman to get off her property. Everybody knew that Sadie didn’t keep bullets in that thing—everybody but the Museum Lady. She high-tailed it out of there like the Devil hisself was on her bumper.

 

Sadie laughed. She said that she made stuff for fun, and didn’t want nobody to get rich off it, much less some woman from Houston, driving a Mercedes. Getting money for her work, Sadie said, sort of defeated the purpose. My mama thought she was loony, having a chance like that and turning it down, but Sadie was stubborn as a dead mule.

 

Sadie became somewhat of a local legend. Later we found out that she’d graduated from college with an art degree. After that unpleasantness with the Museum Lady, people in town started taking things to Sadie—rusty bottle caps and old bottles they dug up from their yards. They crept up to her porch late at night, afraid to be seen. Old habits die hard with some folks. Sadie finally put an old wooden crate on the porch, to hold their offerings.

 

She always seemed to know who brought what. We’d wake up now and then to find a handful of fresh eggs laid out on our doorsteps.