It started when my daughter went scouring CraigsList for pre-1980 editions of Nancy Drew books. She received a set from my mom a few years ago, but just began to dive into the wonderful world of vintage mystery. She blows through them so quickly and is only interested in the “old” copies. She has no use for the newly reintroduced, snazzy “re-makes” (as she likes to call them.)
She happened to find a seller who was trying to unload 19 books for $40 dollars. While a very good price, I’m always one to haggle (blame all the estate sale-ing) and offered $30.00 (I’ll later feel bad for that…) The seller accepted and we agreed to meet this morning, at 10am “sharp.” He asked me to bring exact payment and we made an hour long drive to retrieve these treasures for my bookworm.
As most people, I was slightly unnerved with visiting a seller at a new location, without having ever met him. I rarely feel fear, but CraigsList does something to me. I’m always very cautious and have passed up some really good deals, simply because the location was shady. And I’ve been to some seriously shady neighborhoods for a good find.
Back to the story.
My nerves were settled when we turned into the neighborhood from which we would make our much-anticipated pick up. It happened to be a rare suburb in Virginia, which warrants an entirely separate blog post, but I haven’t the time for that right now. It’s almost the girls bedtime and my private writing moments are waining.
When we pulled up to the home my navigation had instructed me to, I saw a large American flag waving and a tightly manicured lawn, but not that of a gardener. No, one that was straight out of Revolutionary Road – strategically selected and coiffed regularly. It was heavily bricked and stately. Perhaps I’m remembering it incorrectly, but that is how my mind has played it back all day.
A man slowly emerged from the garage and waved. He had a friendly smile and his shirt was tucked in, secured with a belt. A fashion regularity I wish more gentleman my age would return to. It’s a sign of a bygone generation, much like men who mow their lawns in slacks and collared button-ups.
The three girls and I got out of the minivan and met him halfway. He introduced himself as “Ray” and he had our books waiting. He had also offered to show me seven other vintage titles (of course we bought them) he had and told me he would give me a very discounted price. He leaned down to talk to Polly and shake her hand. He grinned at my girls and we made small talk. He asked where we were from. I quickly knew that this wasn’t just a “this kinda thing happens” meeting. Maybe I’m making more of it than I should, but it’s what I do, and it’s served me well.
Because nothing is chance and nothing just happens. It’s all in the plan.
He told me that his wife suffers from Alzheimer’s and is now in a home.
He is alone and downsizing their estate, to a degree.
They are one of two couples on the street that were original owners.
I didn’t want the conversation to end, but it couldn’t go on indefinitely. We don’t “know” one another and I had three hungry young ones, so we loaded up the minivan. As I was punching in our home address into my phone, Ray walked back to our car. Apparently we gave him one dollar too much and he wanted to return it.
We waved goodbye and that was that.
Except it wasn’t. At least I didn’t want it to be. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I immediately texted my husband and told him that life moves so quickly. This beautiful, rhythmic routine you begin….can end. I don’t fear much, but I fear that (well, and CraigsList.) It had me very emotional. Life is so beautiful and I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want to think of only having a few more decades left with Sean and the girls. It was a bit stifling, so I decided, to instead, write Ray.
I sat down this afternoon and chose to respond to one of his earlier emails regarding our transaction. I breathed deep and started in. I thanked him for selling us the books and told him how happy it made Kensington. I also wrote that I was so very sorry his wife (and he) suffer. I hoped that it didn’t fall on deaf ears and he understood my intention.
I went and prepped dinner.
About an hour later, “bing!” There was a reply.
Ray had just returned from visiting his wife, Paulette. He told me that, in all his years selling online, he had never received a thank you note. He shared a few things with me, most notedly that his wife no longer recognizes him, except as the man who brings her ice cream, apples, and cranberry juice. He had taken care of her for eight years before no longer being able to on his own…eventually relinquishing what had been their life together.
I exchanged one more email with him, apologizing if my emails and inquiries were bizarre to him – I am a stranger, after all. I wrote a few more things asking if he would like to exchanged words….letters…emails. That I am interested in his life and Paulette’s. If they had children. What their life had been like. What it was like.
I decided to write this post before I checked to see if he has responded.
There’s a part of me that is afraid he will agree this entire thing is odd. That he’ll think I’m some weird kid who looks at him like a kitschy sociology project.
But it’s not. I just want to understand why we met. Why my daughter has been asked to read Nancy Drew for three years and she just now decided to become obsessed and just now wanted to find vintage copies online.
I want to know about Paulette and Ray. Or maybe I don’t and I think this is going to be some magical connection and it isn’t. But I can’t stop being me and I can’t stop being interested in people, their stories, and who they are.
I think I’ll go check if Ray wrote back…..