Friday, October 2, 2009

Six Degrees of Garage Sale

Dottie's and Bob's Daughter
Dottie and Bob's Wedding Gift Table 1949
Mister Earl c. 1959
Sister Earl c. 1959

Today I was in Orange County visiting my mom, who has been having some health issues. I spent the day running back and forth between her apartment in a senior community and the assisted-living facility where she is at the moment. On one of these trips I noticed a very professional-looking sign saying that there was a garage sale in a nearby neighborhood. It was a Friday afternoon and I figured a sale with such a professional-looking sign would probably be pretty good.

I pulled up to the house and began to look around the driveway, which was filled with all sorts of knickknacks. There seemed to 5 senior citizens presiding over the sale: a husband and wife in their 80s, another couple in their 70s, and another male friend in his 70s. I noticed a framed chalk drawing of a young girl with big wide eyes and picked it up. "We have a drawing just like this," I said. "My sister and I had chalk drawings done one day when we were kids." "That's my daughter, " said the older lady. "She hates that drawing." "Ours were done in San Francisco, at Fisherman's Wharf, probably around 1960," I said. The lady nodded, "So was that." "You're kidding. San Francisco? Fisherman's Wharf?" "Yes, it was a young man who was doing kids' pictures." "I can't believe it," I said, "it must be the same guy. My mom has those drawings of me and my sister hanging in her apartment just down the street."

A few minutes later, the 80-something husband came out from the back of the garage with a watercolor painting of a woman probably in her 30s, who looked like a cross between Dale Evans and Della Street. "Who do you think this is?" he asked me. "It must be your wife," I said. "No, it's my girlfriend," he joked. "Are you selling that?' I asked. "No," said the wife, "I want him to throw it away." "Why don't you give it to your kids?" "They don't want it. I don't want it. What's past is past. I want it thrown away." "How about if I take it?" "No, I want it thrown away." At this point, one of the 70-something men was spiriting it away in the back of the garage, hoping to save it from the trash bin no doubt. A few moments later, the two 70s men called me over and said, "Look at this." It was photos of the older couple's wedding back in the 1940s. There was a photo of the table full of wedding gifts. Just a photo of 1940s appliances would have been worth having. There was some discussion between the older lady and these fellows about whether they should keep her wedding photos or throw them away. The men and the lady were in a struggle over whether her memories should go into the trash or be saved.

"I feel like I just walked into the middle of an I Love Lucy episode," I said. She buried her face in her hands, laughing uncontrollably for several minutes. "Touche!" she said. After a few more comments about the coincidence of the chalk drawings by the same street artist from 45 years ago, I said goodbye, but as I said it, I got an idea.

I went back to my mom's place to get her some shoes to wear at physical therapy and I took the chalk drawings of my sister and me off the wall. After I delivered the shoes to my mom and did a couple errands for her, I returned to the garage sale. I walked up the driveway, picked up the chalk drawing of her daughter, and brought her the three drawings. "Here they are." "Yes," she said, "It's the same eyes. It's definitely the same artist." We then began to talk about how she and her husband were finally selling their house and moving to a retirement home. I pointed to my mom's car, which is covered with scrapes and dings. "We're going to have to take her driving privileges away from her. It's getting too dangerous. Look at that car." "Yes," she said. I'm going to have to give up my license soon too." "It's going to be rough on my mom," I said, "She won't like it." "Tell her if she keeps driving and hurts someone it will probably be a child, and the pain of hurting a child will be unbearable and will kill her." We talked a little more, told each other our names. "You must be a very gentle man," she said, "Because you brought those drawings over." As I was leaving I saw a box with a ceramic figurine in it that said, "Bears from the Past." "What's in that box?" I asked. She opened it carefully and said, "It's a unicorn. Take it to your mother." And so I did. It's a magical unicorn with a missing horn.