The Ice River History Museum, Formerly Saint Catherine’s Convent

Jenn Hollmeyer Click to

Jenn Hollmeyer is a founding editor of Fifth Wednesday Journal and holds an MFA in writing and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars.  Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Post Road, Salamander, Meridian, Etchings and other publications.  Jenn and her husband live near Chicago in a blue jhouse with a white dog named Red.


 Dot hobbled along with her walker, making apologies for moving slow since her fall. The docent asked what happened, and she explained about the dark cat in the dark hallway. Then she pointed at his ankle and asked him what happened. He adjusted his pants leg so it covered the monitoring device. A dark man in a dark alley, he said.

The docent paused at the first room and held out his hand. This is what a nun’s room looked like. Here’s where she kept her vows. Here’s her bed, her bible, the sink where she splashed water on her face.

Dot and her daughter Mary stood in the doorway, feeling the thickness of the barrier rope against their shins.

And here’s what their chapel looked like. Here’s a pew, a kneeler, an altar. 

This here is the religious artifacts room. The docent gestured to a headless mannequin modeling a faded habit. A forest of crucifixes grew around her.

And the last room is the biggest one. The collected curios of Ice River’s residents. There was no rope here, so Dot and Mary stepped inside and followed the docent toward the doll collection.

These are some of the finest porcelain dolls in the world, the docent said.

I used to have one just like that, Dot said, pointing to the one with chipped lips.

They wandered among bookshelves stacked high with old photo albums, paperweight fetishes and a small herd of taxidermy — pheasants, mostly. There was Celia Smith’s candlestick collection, still dripped full of wax, and Thelma Logan’s wigs on plastic heads. She was the mayor’s mistress in the fifties, the docent said.

Yes, I knew her, Dot said. She lumbered ahead with her walker, past the record collections and on to the display of Patty Singleton’s crystal Christmas ornaments. I knew her, too, Dot said. She was a real bitch.

Mary didn’t think her mother was capable of saying that word — especially in a holy place, or a place that used to be holy.

            Dot moved on, pushing past the docent. Here they are, she said, stopping mid-stride so that Mary nearly ran up on her heels. My elephants. A typed card taped to the shelf explained that there were a hundred and seventy-eight of them, made of ivory and wood and stone and brass and jewels.

“These are yours?” Mary asked.

“Well, my goodness,” the docent said. “Thank you for your generosity.”

“You never asked if I wanted any of these,” Mary said.

“Because you don’t,” Dot said. “They only have meaning for me. When I worked at the embassy, I had friends from India and Africa and all over Asia, and they sent them for me to remember them by. But they’re all dead now.”

“I don’t think our donors have ever come in here. They’re usually dead, too,” the docent said. “We should interview you for the newsletter about the work you did.”

“Interview my daughter,” Dot said. “See if she can even tell you.” 

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” Mary said. “I’m still trying to figure out why you gave all these to a stranger instead of your only daughter.” She was staring at the leg where the docent wore his monitor.

Dot pulled a small white elephant from the back of a shelf. “Here. This one is for you.”

Mary turned the misshapen lump in her hand. “Great. Thanks.”

“See, you don’t know the value of anything. That piece is pure ivory. It’s three thousand years old.” Dot turned to the docent. “Bet you didn’t know that, did you?”

He turned red, as though he’d been caught stealing.

Mary looked the elephant in its dull eye and tried to imagine what it had seen in its long life that started before there was a difference between things that are holy and things that are not. But she couldn’t see that far, couldn’t see beyond this day, this walker plodding ahead of her, this handbag into which she dropped the elephant among the things that matter.


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