The Garage Sale
© S. Bradley Stoner
The old man sat on a broken down lawn chair beside the tables holding his life’s collection of this and that. People milled about, picking up an old tool here and there, or perhaps some knick-knack from a distant land. A young fellow seemed taken by an old, worn Army uniform, it’s patches faded and the brass dull.
Ordinarily I don’t stop at garage sales. I used to. I found it interesting to see what others had collected and were now discarding. You can read a lot about people in their cast-offs. For some reason, this sale caught my eye. It wasn’t the array of items. It was the old man. His hands were gnarled, his face lined and his pate sprouted a shock of pure white hair. I could tell he had once had a powerful build. Nature had wronged him, it was plain to see. He seemed a shadow of what once he was, but his bright blue eyes still danced in the sunlight. I stopped.
“Good morning to you, sir,” I smiled as I approached. “How goes the sale?”
He looked up at me with a puzzled expression. It was clear nobody had bothered to greet him in this, or any other manner. A woman walked up. Interrupted. Offered a dollar for an item tagged at three. The old man just nodded, took her dollar and pur it in the coffee can at his feet.
“It could be better,” he replied after the interruption. “Nobody thinks my stuff is worth much.”
“Well, that always seems to be the way. I’ll have a look around.”
The old man simply nodded and I took my leave. I was curious about the uniform. Probably more than the kid who still fingered it, looking at the row of ribbons above the left breast pocket. The first thing I noticed about the uniform was the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division on the left sleeve. On the right sleeve was the unit patch of 1st Bn 501st Infantry Regiment. I glanced at the ribbons the kid was fingering. Noted the Combat Infantryman’s Badge above them. Among the ribbons arrayed in two rows, I recognized the Purple Heart with two stars, the Silver Star, the Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign medals. The price tag said $50.00.
I walked back to the old man. “When did you serve?”
He squinted at me. “Sixty-nine and seventy.”
I took out my wallet, withdrew $50 and offered it to him. “Here’s the fifty... but you keep the uniform. There are some things you just don’t sell.”
I shook his hand again, bade him a good day and walked away without looking back. As I drove home, I had the jarring thought that the “old man” was probably the same age as I. A glance in the rearview mirror reflected my image back at me. I swore at nature and cursed time.