“You sure you have everything you need?”
It was a question I had asked repeatedly since early that morning when my wife started packing for the long-awaited road trip with two of her high school friends.
And of course her frustrated, yet bemused reply was, “Why don’t you get busy on that list of chores I wrote out for you and quit worrying about me?”
“But someone has to worry about you.” I paused, letting the statement hang before taunting, “Let’s see now, was it three or four return trips we made after starting out on our last vacation?”
Standing up with hands on hips, blowing a wisp of blonde hair from her eyes she pouted, sticking her lower lip out dramatically, “You promised you wouldn’t bring that up again.”
She knew I couldn’t resist that look, so we bantered back and forth for another fifteen minutes until her friends roared up in a 5.0-liter Mustang Convertible, honking the horn and screeching like good-natured banshees out for a good haunting.
“Have a good time,” I hollered as they burned rubber backing out of our driveway and drove off singing, “Girls Just Wanna’ Have Fun” at the top of their lungs.
Back inside the house, being the obedient and helpful husband that I am, I consulted her list and checked off the first two items simply because I didn’t want to do them. One involved crawling around on my knees under a counter with the possibility of getting soaking wet, and the other had to do with broken glass.
But the third item, ah yes, the third item had about it the sense of adventure.
3. Clean the garage.
I hadn’t cleaned the garage since boxing up all of Madison’s clothes and stacking them up in a far, dark corner.
Had it really been two years since her death? It wasn’t something either of us brought up for discussion. The truth is, the way we act you’d never know that we were once the proud parents of a beautiful little six year-old girl with golden tresses that fell in natural ringlets and framed a face full of freckles. And when she smiled, it made her blue eyes dance.
The doctors told us it was the most aggressive case of childhood leukemia they’d ever seen.
It didn’t make us feel better.
Not one bit.
I decided on the spot that I’d clean the garage, but I wouldn’t clean that corner.
Wouldn’t go anywhere near it, actually.
I set about accomplishing my task as quickly as possible, for suddenly, the adventure had flown, caught in the downdraft of my falling heart.
Living in a seventy-five year-old house has some disadvantages, among them a garage that was originally a carriage house. It was big and drafty, more like a barn than anything else.
Organization was the main difficulty, something at which I excelled so I started moving things around and lining them up according to shape and size. I realized early on that there was no way I could accomplish my task without rearranging Madison’s boxes—they were just in the way, it was as simple as that.
I steeled myself against the emotional onslaught I knew I would have to face and started moving them aside as carefully as if they contained something fine and precious, which they did…it was the memory of my baby girl.
Reaching down for the very last box, I spotted a smallish object shoved way back in a dark corner, wedged in behind an old piece of plywood someone had carelessly nailed to the timeworn studs that had now come loose.
I eyeballed it for a few moments, pondering whether it was worth getting down on my hands and knees to retrieve it. I had to do it, otherwise I would always wonder what was in it.
I reached for the object, which turned out to be a shoebox—a very heavy shoebox—and gave it a sharp tug. It came free with an unexpected suddenness sending me head-over-heels in a clumsy backward somersault to lie in an ungainly heap like some sad marionette whose strings had been unceremoniously cut.
Once I came to my senses I noticed that the box was bound up with twine, so I walked over to the workbench and cut the twine with an ancient pair of scissors that hadn’t been sharpened since the invention of toothpaste. So when I say, “cut” what I really mean is I mashed the twine in two.
When I removed the lid, what I saw took my breath away.
Lots, and lots of cash—all denominations, some folded, some wadded, a few stacks of hundreds held together by rubber bands. I dumped it out into a big pile on the newly cleaned surface of the workbench and began counting.
Twenty minutes later I totaled up the columns I had hastily scribbled on a brown paper bag and actually felt my mouth drop open when I arrived at the sum.
Forty thousand dollars!
I looked at the end of the box. The faded label read, “Buster Brown official Boy Scout Shoes.” I remembered my dad telling me about a Buster Brown TV show he used to watch back in the fifties, which made me wonder just how long that box had been up there.
I picked up a few of the bills and squinted to see the date of issue and found that not only did they range from the thirties to the late fifties, but that most of the currency was in silver certificates. Dad had tried his hand at collecting rare coins and bills for a while, so I knew that silver certificates were worth more than Federal Reserve Notes, because the government had to match the certificate to the same amount of value in silver.
Most of those bills looked practically new, as if they’d never been used. But where did the money come from? Who did it belong to? Me? I mean the age alone would seem to indicate that whoever had once been its rightful owner, was now long gone and forgotten.
I picked up the lid to see if there was anything I had missed and spotted a nearly illegible scrawl snaking its way along the inside rim.
It read, “This is my life savings. If you’ve found it, most likely it’s cuz I’m dead and buried and my big plans have come to nothing, just like my life. Think of it as an inheritance.”
And the message was signed, “Red.”
I stood there looking from the lid to the money, back and forth, back and forth trying to decide what it all meant when suddenly, I could swear I heard a scratchy voice say, “It means yer one lucky sumbitch, that’s what it means!”
I smiled, I mean I was spooked, but I couldn’t help but smile. I said in reply, “Thank-you, Red. Your life did NOT come to nothing. You’ll be remembered, I promise you that.”
Because of the silver certificates, and the fact that many were rare and uncirculated, when all was said and done, that forty thousand wound up being worth a little over one hundred thousand.
That is how Children’s Hospital got a great start on their new children’s oncology wing.
It’s also how that shiny new Porsche Boxter came to be out there in my garage.
Red, of course.