Years ago I was on patrol with a platoon of yard sailors surrounding a small town in Northern Idaho. It was early morning and some of us had just done a sortie up one of the roads outside of town. A big estate sale had been reported and many of us raced up miles of dust choked roads only to find a couple of dozen canning jars, some obsolete vacuum cleaner bags and an old pick up truck with no wheels. Now there are two kinds of yard sales; one where the folks just want to get rid of stuff and the other where the folks just need the money. You can find good stuff at either one but we all hated to spend the prime early morning hours at some worthless sale someone had lied about.
That said, I came back to town kind of flat and was in no mood. By now we had all lost the element of surprise. The sales had been cherry-picked and I was just on my way home when I saw a sign saying “Big Garage Sale” so I decided to pull in, why not; I was done, but….you never know. It was a plain little house, the kind they built after WWII, low rent but live-able. As I walked across the bone dry yard up the cracked driveway I thought, boy this is about as exciting as brushing my teeth. There were about five card tables stretching down the driveway with piles of women’s clothing and some toys for kids…oh swell…hold me back. Totally bored, I turned to leave when I passed the last table which had some cloth remnants, thread and a wad of patterns, odds and ends a seamstress might revere…oh…and some wicker baskets.
There were three baskets in all, stacked inside one another and on the top there was an unusually handsome woven basket with a lid. I picked it up in one hand and removed the lid with the other. There, nestled on a pillow of maroon yarn, was an exquisite small silver cross. I held my breath as I beheld this unusual manger. Now for the record, my target at yard sales was fishing gear, musical instruments and crosses. Most yard sailors have a collection of things they covet and crosses seemed to be my fetish at the time; this would be the centerpiece of my collection.
There I was, completely absorbed, gazing at my lucky find when out of nowhere there appeared a gnarled hand at the end of a skinny wrinkled arm, briefly hovering over my treasure and then without even an ‘excuse me’, an old lady snatched my cross right out of the basket. Startled, I recoiled at this most egregious act of larceny. This old lady, this old thief had copped my cross while I stood defenseless. This abrogates even the questionable ethics of the unwritten yard sale code, like someone barging into your cubicle in a public rest room and at knifepoint, stealing your last few sheets of toilet paper while your pants are down.
Mind you, I hesitate to criticize any old person, being no spring chicken myself, but I did briefly toy with the idea of kicking her butt on the spot….but…reconsidered because of the subject matter in hand….plus the fact that she might have won. Talk about robbing the cradle! I was left speechless by this brazen act of petty theft in broad daylight no less and before I could give voice to a long line of well deserved expletives..she screeched…”How much is the cross?”
Everything got real quiet and every head there turned and looked in her direction. The lady running the sale said “twenty-five cents.” What could I do?… What could I say? It was over! The barn door was open, the horse was on the loose, I lost my cross. This old grave robber then pulled out a small worn leather coin purse from her filthy oversized pants and slowly began counting: one dime, two nickels, one, two, three, four, five pennies. Oh sure I thought, take your time you old drama queen.
I looked back down at my empty manger…no…not a manger anymore, more like a crypt or a plundered tomb…and… the tomb was empty!…. Wait a minute I puzzled….what’s going on here? I quickly looked up in time to see the old lady in full swing, shoulders back and with long graceful strides she rounded the hedge and crossed the street, struttin’ like she had the whole world in her hand. She walked past the shadow of an old wooden storage shed smack into a beam of bright morning sunlight which lit up her frizzy white hair….it was stunning…it looked just like…well….a halo.