Well, I’m back from Wisconsin. It was an emotional trip this time… because apparently, Murphy thought I needed blog material. So let start with Saturday-Sucked part 1: Life’s half-off sale.
I love finding treasures among the stacks—antique stores, strange little second-hand shops, estate sales, etc. I blame my mother for this. I grew up going to every little out of the way stop she could find, and still giggle knowing her habit of slamming on the breaks to check out a country garage sale or out of the way antique store.
And I blame her for this blog entry.
Saturday, mom said there was an estate sale. She was told it was for a photographer/professor. Bob and I looked at each other, imagining the books that may be there, and gleefully agreed to go check it out with her. We all hopped in the car and headed into town to find treasures.
Now, as I said, I love estate sales. Everything but the kitchen sink, and sometimes even those, are tagged for clearance. You can find books and dishes and furniture, antiques and games and even dice. But I generally run into a problem at them—because I’m a sentimental pansy. At some point during every estate sale, I see something with a price tag on it that just shouldn’t be for sale. Something that rings of history with personal value. Something that smells like a family heirloom an unknowing relative has put out for sale. Something that just should not be sold for any amount, because it has intrinsic value rather than commercial.
This maudlin moment generally comes with an overwhelming sadness, as I realize I’m walking through someone’s life. This person spent a lifetime collecting these items, and their family has put a price tag on everything important, trivial, hand picked, purchased on vacation, etc. It’s depressing and kills the treasure hunting bug in me. The feeling then twists into something morbid and I wonder what my estate sale will look like. What will they put a price tag on that they shouldn’t. What item should be passed along to my grandchild, but will instead be marked $3… half-off tomorrow?
That moment struck me when I saw the wedding veil for $15. Something in me twisted and cracked and the fun became sadness. I continued to walk through the house, but there was a cloud over me now. I went to the basement and saw tools and old jars and boxes of photographs and the dark room. I found Bob and we briefly discussed our belief that the deceased may have been a writer due to telltale items on his bookshelves, and questioned whether the family knew the value of the antique photography equipment or not.
And then I saw a table completely covered with photos of nature and still shots, in both color and black and white. Above the table was an 8×10 glossy “Photography of Richard Leighty.”
I froze. My stomach flipped. My mouth went dry. Tears threatened my mascara.
Bob asked if I was okay. I wasn’t. I was speechless. I think I may have shook my head and mumbled something to let him know that I thought this was my English teacher’s house. And I darted up the stairs to find the girl at the cash register.
Happy and bubbly, she talked to everyone as she took their cash and gave away her loved one’s memories. I stood in front of her for a moment unable to form words. My mom, at a nearby bookshelf, gave me a questioning look. I finally popped the shock-bubble in my voice box and asked the girl, “Is this Richard Leighty the high school English teacher?”
“Yes it is.”
A flush of emotion ran through me that I could not control and my eyes watered up.
“Is he…. gone?” I cringed, afraid of the answer. Afraid that one of the most amazing teachers in existence was no longer in existence.
“Oh no, he’s in assisted living.”
I may never be able to explain the cool spread of relief that met with a renewed anger at his memories being sold. I talked to the girl for a few moments about him. Mom and I rehashed classroom memories (she had him years before I did). Bob came up from the basement to tell us another student of Leighty’s was talking to him downstairs and telling him how great this guy was.
And I looked at the book in my hand that I had pulled from a shelf before my discovery. A book of poetry from one of my favorite inspirational teachers suddenly had much more value than the $2 written on the inside cover. I looked around the house with different eyes. I handed it to Bob for checkout and talked to mom for a moment. Then I basically ran from the house for fresh air.
We talked about him all the way back to mom’s. We told Bob what kind of man he was, and what kind of teacher he was, and I relived some of my favorite high school moments. Mom talked about treasure hunting and how, while it may be morbid, she enjoys it more when she knows who it belonged to. I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.
I had two amazing English teachers—one that sharpened the pencil and one that beat me with a red pen. They are absolutely part of the reason that I do what I do. I’ve talked about them before and I’m sure I will for years to come. After much talk and consoling, I remembered that people get old. People die. But memories don’t. My closing comment on the thought was a very serious, “He needs to stay with us long enough to get a copy of my novel.” And we went back Sunday morning for the half-off sale—I needed to get his address, so I could send him a copy of the novel when it comes out.
We went back that morning, and with a bit of depression I looked through the house again. I got an 8×10 dragonfly photo he’d done, a coffee cup from his kitchen that says “those who can, teach”, and his copy of The Exorcist. Because it was his copy.
And I snagged his old wire-rim glasses.
After all, he had looked at me over their edge, repeatedly, as he beat me into what I am. They may not have enough value for the family, but they are full of memories for me. And they deserve a place on my bookshelf…