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I took Nova Mae to potty just a few minutes after eight o'clock. Melissa and I had plans, and Nova would be in the house for several hours.
Ken walked up the steps outside the condominium as we were walking down. He had a fishing pole in his hand and a smile on his face. He pointed the rod toward the house across the street, while telling his story: "I asked the guy what he wanted for it, and he said, 'What are you offering?' I said, how about five bucks? He said, 'How about ten?' So, I said, 'How about eight?' Then he said, 'You just bought a fishing pole.'" I congratulated Ken on his find.
For the past couple of weeks, there's been a buzz about the big day coming. Neighbors conversing, "Are you ready? Are you excited? You're going, aren't you?" Occasionally, someone sadly reported, "I'll be out of town that Saturday." The response was usually, "I'm sorry for you – I hear it's going to be a big one this year."
As the day got closer, people reminded one another, "It's this Saturday." Then, "It's the day after tomorrow." Finally, "Tomorrow is the big day. Are you ready?" Many replied, "I've got my cart/wagon ready to go." It was Garage Sale Day on Treasure Island, Florida. Let the haggling begin.
"What's the big deal? It's just a garage sale, right?" People love a good deal. The search to find one is every bit as exciting to the bargain hunter as sitting in a tree stand, waiting for that trophy buck, is to the hunter. Both love the game as much as the prize at the end of the day.
Back home in Silver Bay, Minnesota, hunting season is over, and we still have several feet of snow in the yard. Unfortunately, our neighbors are more concerned with shoveling snow from their garage roof than filling it with stuff to sell. But soon enough, the snow will melt and the bargains will heat up.
Melissa and I anticipated being home a couple of weeks before Garage Sale Day on the island. However, circumstances changed, and we were still in Florida. My wife began reminding me many days before GSD, "We're leaving at eight a.m. with two other couples, so you need to be ready to go." The last time I remember her being so adamant about my promptness was our wedding day! Melissa wanted to be entirely prepared for Saturday, "Do we have enough cash?"
The six of us met in front of the building; my cousin Cliff was pulling a blue, collapsible beach wagon in anticipation of a good bounty. Cliff scored at the first sale we visited! He bought a large grey plastic tote and lid for a quarter; an excellent buy. The tote was as big as the wagon bed, but the tote sides were several inches taller. "We can get more stuff by filling the tote," he said.
Garage sales are prohibited on Treasure Island except for the annual community-wide Garage Sale Day. I believe these Islanders are garage sale deprived; they really get into this.
By eight a.m., the streets were lined with cars. You could tell who the dealers were, looking for items to resell; one guy was driving a Ford Transit 350, a dually, high-top van. Being a serious garage-saler, he would stop and scan sale items from the street without leaving his van. When we did see him stop, he loaded quickly and moved on to the next driveway. But for the island's people, the day is much more than a commerce venture; it's an event to gather, celebrate, and have fun. Those are my kind of people!
At one house, four couples had combined their goods. All eight people participated in the sale, each holding a stylish insulated stainless beverage container. I inquired, “Mimosas?”
The man replied, "Rum or whiskey, what would you like? But you gotta have your own glass, or we happen to have some for sale." We shared a good laugh about that. Then, another lady spoke up, "Mimosas were this morning."
"This morning? It's not even ten yet," I said.
"Well," she said with a swagger, "We started at 6:30."
I laughed, "I can tell."
"Setting up," she quickly clarified. "We started setting up the sale tables at 6:30. The refreshment table wasn't set up until almost seven." We shared another good laugh about that. They were in this for the fun, and so was I. But we weren't the only ones.
A community service group was selling breakfast burritos, hotdogs, and sausages at their booth in the city park. You could also get a Bloody Mary for five bucks; a beer was three dollars. In addition, many vendors had displays at the park, with various merchandise you'd expect to see at the county fair or craft sale.
A few tables down, a lady had several boxes of pastries. "How much for an apple fritter," I inquired.
"They're free," she said. (She was an insurance agent who wanted to be part of GSD.)
"Well, in that case, I'll take the whole box," I said, laughing. "I'll set up a booth next to you with a sign; baked goods, two dollars each." The apple fritter was delicious! I thanked her and moved on.
At the next booth, a lady had crafts and jewelry items for sale under a canopy. Her daughter was just outside the shelter with a display of her own; a small artwork table. The girl had about four-inch round slabs of wood cut from tree branches. Each had a painting on the front. "Did you paint these yourself," I inquired? She blushed and said that she did. So, I picked up a painting that caught my eye. "What lake is this?"
"That's just a picture of the sky," she said softly. But there was much more than the sky.
Ravens flew over tall pine trees. A large crescent moon was rising from the horizon. Stars twinkled above, reflecting on the smooth surface, drawing the water and sky together. The wood's tree rings brought the painting to life by creating an illusion of a gentle circular motion; perhaps it was the wind or the Earth turning through the night.
"This scene reminds me of home. It looks like you were on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior on a calm night," I complimented the young artist, "You've created a beautiful masterpiece. I want to buy this painting for my wife, for Valentine's Day. How much is it?"
"Two dollars," she said. I asked if she could make change for a twenty. She thumbed through her cash. Then, having only six single dollars, she said, "I don't think so, but maybe my mom can help."
Mom gave her two ones, "Put this in with your money." Then handed her a ten, a five, and three ones, "Give this to him." The young entrepreneur handed me my change and thanked me for the purchase. I turned the painting over, looking at the back. There was a small white rectangular sticker, $2.
"Wait a minute," I said. "You forgot to sign your painting."
Mom loaned her a pen. Across the back, the artist wrote, 'Kaylee' and drew a heart. "Do you want me to take off the price sticker?"
"No, leave that on there, please." I explained, "Someday, I'm going to be on that PBS show, Antiques Roadshow. The appraiser will inspect your painting and say, 'What you have here is an original painting by Kaylee. The signature is authentic, with the heart at the end of her name. This was painted before Kaylee became famous; it's in excellent condition. Although you only paid $2, this rare piece would easily draw $90,000 at auction today. I would insure this painting for $110,000.' At which point, I'll gasp, hold my chest and say, 'I knew the day I bought this, that ten-year-old kid was going to be famous one day!'" Kaylee smiled.
I carefully wrapped the painting in a plastic bag and set it inside Cliff's Bin of Bargains, along with my other treasures; I bought an old Beatles book for my brother and found a $2 red pipe wrench for myself.
I had a blast visiting with people. A lady rode up on her bike, parked, and looked over the wares on display. I asked the homeowner, "How much for that bicycle over there?"
"Hey, that's my bike," the owner said. "But on Garage Sale Day, everything is for sale for the right price. $1,000." We shared a good laugh about that.
Several houses later, I was looking at wine glasses. "Say, would you have some wine to fill this glass? I want to test it for leaks before buying it.
The lady laughed, "I've tested every one of those glasses; I assure you they do not leak." Then she blushed, "Not that I'm a big drinker, I also wanted to make sure they didn't leak before selling them." While we shared a good laugh about that, the lady with the bicycle wheeled into the driveway.
"I still have the bike for sale if you're interested," she said.
"Of course you do because your price is too high. If you lowered it to nine-fifty, you would have sold it by now." The day was filled with laughter.
At another house, a man with muscle bulging from the tight sleeves of his white T-shirt looked over two items priced at $5 each. Then, he asked me, "Would you take any less for the end tables."
"Sure, but they're not mine. I don't live here," I answered. "It's Garage Sale Day; people want to sell stuff. So offer her ten bucks for the pair."
The man thanked me and then approached the homeowner, asking, "Would you take ten bucks if I bought both end tables?"
"More brawn than brains," Mom would say. I chuckled and high-tailed it out of there to find my group before I got clobbered. People were friendly, but maybe they hadn't been pranked, yet. Others were; myself included.
An elderly lady gave me a big hug for no apparent reason. "That's a darn good price; I'll take it if the man comes with it," she said, pointing at my chest. Someplace along the way, Melissa put a round yellow sticker on my shirt, $2. I left the tag there as a conversation starter. People thought I was too cheap, so I added a $1 sticker next to it. Then they'd guess, "$3?"
"Nope," I'd reply, "You have to add the two numbers together; 2+1=21." I got a lot of laughs from that. When the brawny young man showed up at the house with the estate sale, I quickly gave the $1 sticker to another kid; I was getting tired and didn't want to explain it to Mr. Muscles.
Cliff checked an app on his phone; we had walked over five miles and the wagon was getting heavy. It had been a successful Garage Sale Day; and a good time to call it quits. But first, I stopped at one more table to look at a black framed piece with a cute saying. I offered my last two dollars. The lady laughed, "It is two dollars," she said. Karma. I blushed, handed her my money, and headed home with my last find.
Nova Mae was dancing at the condo door, ready to go out. I grabbed her leash and a dooty bag, and off we went. I inadvertently carried my new artwork with me.
As we passed the neighbor's table where I'd made my final purchase, the ladies clamored like teenagers ogling a Hollywood heartthrob: "Nova Mae!" "Sweet baby girl." "Come give me some love." Oh, they were all crazy about Nova. (That dog is such a shameless flirt!) Finally, one of the ladies asked me, "Well, who in your group made out the best at Garage Sale Day."
"I think I did," I answered, considering the painting. But then I remembered Ken proudly boasting over a painting he bought for $2. 'The little girl even signed it,' Ken said, showing me the backside: Kaylee, with a heart after her name.
"I know I bought the most honest piece today," I said, holding what I'd purchased from them in my right hand. One of the ladies read the saying aloud: "Today's agenda: Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in." We all shared a good laugh about that, including Nova, on the end of the leash in my other hand.
"Ain't it the truth? That's how my day started and how it will end."
Come on, Minnesota. Let the snow melt, and Garage Sale Season begin!
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This is one of my favorite pictures of my dad and me, even though you can't make us out in the photo. I don't know the exact date; my sister Barbara took the picture. We had been down to visit in Oklahoma City. I don't recall the weather being particularly hot, as it can be in Oklahoma, so I would guess it was in the late fall of 1990. We had a good time there.
We got to see Barbara, my brother Gerard and their families, and my twin sisters Mary and Martha. Then, it was time to go home. Barbara drove us to the airport.
I don't remember who else was with us, but I believe it was Mom in the back seat. She didn't care much for this flying nonsense, especially if Dad and I were in the same airplane. Instead, she viewed it as dangerous, demanding to know, "Who is going to run the radio station if you, your dad, and I are all in the airplane and it crashes?"
I assured her, "We're not going to crash."
But she continued, "And what if something happens to your dad while we're flying?" So, although Mom did not like flying in the small plane, when she did, I think she preferred that I was in the airplane with them.
I responded, "I can fly this airplane, too."
Determined to win the argument, she asked, "And what if the tail falls off?"
At this point, I conceded, "Well, we are going to crash."
She snapped back, "You're not funny." I told her she should relax and enjoy the flight. Dad gave me a scornful look, to say, ‘keep quiet.’ The same discussion occurred on the few times she flew with us. But Dad wouldn't engage in the senseless conversation; the outcome would always be the same. So, I looked out the window.
Barbara stood on the ramp, taking our picture. She was mighty proud of her Kodak 110 Instamatic pocket camera. It was the kind that used the flash cube on top. The camera didn't have a zoom lens; you just moved closer to the subject. I started paying attention to what Dad was doing.
Dad did his run-up. Checking all the gauges and equipment. Next, he set the radio frequencies we would need for departure, followed by his usual test of equipment; "Wiley Post tower, this is Beechcraft Bonanza, November 4-6-2-2 Delta requesting a radio check, please."
The response, "November 4-6-2-2 Delta, this is Wiley Post tower; I read you loud and clear."
Dad switched to the second radio and asked, "Wiley Post tower, how is my signal on communication radio two?"
The man in the tower replied, "2-2 Delta, you're a little scratchy on this radio; com one was much clearer."
It surprised me the tower could hear us at all. The radios were ancient; Narco Mark 12 was the brand and model; 'coffee grinders' was the nickname pilots gave these old radios. Although the Narco's were outdated, they still worked. Finally, dad called back to the tower, "Wiley Post tower, Beechcraft Bonanza 4-6-2-2 Delta is ready to taxi for departure." We waved our farewells to Barbara and taxied out.
As we began rolling down the runway, Dad would make the sign of the cross from his forehead to chest and across his shoulders, left to right, a prayer for a safe flight. The airplane gained speed. Soon, we lifted off and were climbing in altitude. Dad raised the toggle switch to retract the landing gear. I looked out the window and saw Barbara standing by the fence outside the building, waving her hand high over her head. I knew she would stand there watching until we were out of sight. I've stood in that spot before, watching as Dad flew away. There was something special, yet lonely as I watched Dad disappear into the sky. I always felt like I should have been going with him.
The feeling is the opposite when you're inside the airplane flying away. It brings a feeling of security to look out the window and see family watching and waving as you depart. There is a comfort in trusting they will also be there looking to the sky in anticipation of your arrival, to greet you when you return. Dad continued to climb and turned the airplane on course.
The Bonanza had a single yoke (control wheel) that would flip over from the pilot to the co-pilot. When we reached our desired altitude and were established on course, Dad would throw the yoke over to me. Mom worried, "Dan! I wish you wouldn't do that when we're flying; that thing could come loose and fall off."
Dad ignored her concern. "Keep it steady. Watch your altitude. Keep an eye on your heading. Check your engine gauges." Dad gave me these commands as he sat in the left seat, watching every move I made.
I was a low-time pilot back then. Even though I was sure I knew more about flying than he did, Dad understood I was young and new at this game. He knew I had that cockiness about me that every young pilot has. Nevertheless, he was determined to break me of my inexperience and teach me to straighten up and fly right.
Because I thought I knew everything, it was frustrating when Dad critiqued my flying skills. Mostly because I knew he was correct.
The flight was beautiful; we arrived back in Ottumwa after dark. The runway lights are so pretty from the air, like a family member; the lights greeted us to say, "Welcome home."
"It's not safe flying at night; you can't even see where you're going," Mom rattled away.
"We made it home, didn't we," I replied. Dad gave me a scornful look as if to say, 'Just let her vent.'
We pushed the airplane back into the hangar by hand; Dad steered the Bonanza with the towbar while I pushed on the front edge of the wing. I watched as Dad performed his routine of putting the airplane away. First, he chocked the wheels, then rocked the aircraft back and forth to ensure it was secure. Dad always double-checked the master switch was turned off, then rotated the propeller, so it was perfectly straight vertically. Next, he raised the engine cowling to let the heat out, locked the door, and pushed the handle to a specific position. I loved watching him, I loved flying with him, and mostly I just loved being with him.
Dad taught me more about flying than any instructor I ever had. His lessons brought flying, life, love, and faith together. As we closed that hangar door, Dad talked about what he would teach me the next time we would fly. I was eager to learn more.
I had no way of knowing that would be the last time I would ever fly the Bonanza with Dad. He died on February 3, 1991.
Dad, although you remain in my heart every time I take off and fly an airplane, I must admit; it was more fun when you were in the seat next to me. I love you, Dad, and I miss you beyond what words can express. So, until we meet again, I will do my best to "Straighten up and fly right" in the airplane and all aspects of life.