Long ago, say during the Kennedy Camelot, yard and garage sales were hardly heard of. Perhaps there wasn't yet a glut of cheap foreign goods with which consumers could become disenchanted. Recalling hard times of Depression and world war, folks held onto their belongings, repairing toasters and radios, mending, 'letting out,' and hemming. When cleaning house, absolutely superfluous items were donated to church rummage sales.
Boy Scout Troop 138 of Celeryville, MI considered themselves a worthy charity. The Scout Jamboree for the summer of 1964 was to be held in Valley Forge where George Washington knelt in the snow. Troop 138 could attend only by raising the funds and soliciting donations in a persistent manner. They had two years to reach this goal.
Beginning with a mimeographed flyer on every porch in town, the scouts intended to earn Community Service merit badges and, later, Salesmanship badges at the rummage. Newsprint would also be accepted--the paper-drive being the granddaddy of modern recycling. Lyle Buford, Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 138, borrowed his brother-in-law's box van for the collection operation.
Meanwhile, Harve Tillotson had been asked to leave his combative home on Brancroft Street. Harve, who loved golf, bowling, poker, party excursions to Detroit Lion football games, and possibly his second wife, Suzanne (certainly in that order), determined that he would take up temporary residence in the storage room of Tillotson Family Restaurant. His brother, Herm, had recently furnished the space during his own domestic exile. Harve added a lamp table and a tiny, black-and-white TV with rabbit-ears.
Musing about the Leadership Badge, Second-Class Scout Ladd Callander scouted ahead, up the Bancroft Street block. It was time for Ladd to get serious about accumulating badges and rank. He, too, could get Salesmanship next week after the rummage event. That dork Tim Wilder, who was already a sophomore in high-school, had lost interest in making Eagle. He might soon be ready to give up the reins as Patrol Leader.
Since acquiring a paper route, Ladd had lost all shyness about knocking on doors. The others were content to have him go on ahead. Half a block behind, Mr. Buford and seven other boys formed a conga line of newsprint bundles down someone's sidewalk. Bags of old baby clothes, obsolete toys, and a crate of Bakelite dishes were also relayed into the cavern of the van. After peering into the Tillotson's enclosed porch, Ladd waved for the others to follow. They weren't going to believe the amazing score he'd discovered.
When Lyle Buford saw the golf clubs, the lodge sword, the old leather bomber jacket in a garment bag, and three boys grappling with a small teak hutch, he thought they'd better double check. Now another boy emerged from the enclosed porch with an acoustic guitar, weak morning sun glancing off the polished rosewood. He set the parking brake.
"I don't know, fellas. Really nice things outta there. Seems too good to be true, don't it? Is anybody home?"
"I didn't knock," Ladd said. "But there was paper bundles next to the stuff."
"Our bulletin was laying on top,” said First-Class Scout Tim Wilder. "Bet my old man'll buy me that sword."
Lyle rapped on the door, waited, then rang the bell. A buzzer sounded inside. The boys held their breaths. Ladd crossed his fingers that no one would answer, that he could bid on the guitar himself. Maybe convince his parents to let him switch from piano. He loved to watch the folk-singers strumming on Hootenanny. Anyway, that crazy sword might have been stolen. Drum-majors of the Celeryville Sabershad one disappear from the band room some years ago. It was never recovered so the story had turned into a legend, at least as he understood legends from eighth-grade English. Or, was it a folk tale? There was no one home. Homer shrugged and the boys finished loading.
A mile away, Harve Tillotson broke four more eggs onto the long grill. Herm laid out another half-pound of bacon. He dumped a few more hash-browns on and churned them with a metal spatula. The scent of bee-hive hairspray wafted into the kitchen. Yvonne, the senior waitress on breakfast shift, clothes-pinned an order slip to the wire. "Farmer's Special. Over easy. Crisp bacon. Wheat toast. Gravy on the side."
It was now the only laundry on the line. The rush had slowed. One of Harve's golfing buddies was supposed to meet him at ten. The guy had a pick-up truck. Another friend had offered storage in the back of a barn. Harve might get cleaned out for alimony, but he wasn't parting with any more of his treasures.
"I'm going to talk to Kirk Bridewell and pick up the meat while I'm there," Herm said, unknotting his apron. "He wants three tables for a Rotary committee meeting Monday. Ten guys."
Harve stepped over to the spitting bacon. When he looked down to cut the gas flame underneath, a spatter made it through to his thinning pate. "So, not just the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker?"
"They don't have a candlestick maker. I think there's a welder."
"Well, hurry on, would you? Suze says she'll haul everything to the dump if I don't get it today."
Herm buttoned the snaps on his old Celeryville varsity sweater. "Okay, but I'm telling you. We need to think about an addition. We're losing that meeting business. Lions, Optimists."
"And I'm telling you, I've kinda got a lot on my plate right now. Really? There are still optimists? Have they been married?"
Herm jingled the keys to his old Cheve. "Gotta spend money to make money." He went out through the back, nearly tripping on two bags of onions displaced by Harve's lamp table.
Harve mopped his brow with a clean dish-rag. He found a cigarette abandoned earlier. He tapped the ash off and relit it. Why don't I just sleep in the car? he thought. Remodel the back room for a bed-and-breakfast.
It was nearly one o'clock. Ladd was ready to watch college football. The van was almost full. The work became boring after that one cool place—just lots of worn out clothes, mismatched junk from lawn-chairs to floor lamps. All the Scouts had left to do was to stack the bundles of newsprint. The rummage would be stored in the van for the week.
There was supposed to be cider and donuts back at the Troop’s headquarters, in the basement room of Town Hall. Ladd hoped it was in paper cups so he could enjoy his walking. Michigan against State was the featured game. Unless another yard-full of leaves had come down. There would likely be no television until they were raked. Maybe if Ma was in a good mood, the chore could be put off until halftime.
The basement of Town Hall had an outside entrance at the rear of the building. Lyle Buford backed the truck down an alley. Again, the scouts formed a bucket brigade to relay the newsprint bundles down the steps. Ladd saw First-Class Scout Wilder pass a few bundles and then drift away toward his bicycle. He had an impulse to leave as well but could smell the donuts. Two cartons of a mixed variety were laid out on a table, not far from the growing obelisk of newsprint. The cider was already poured. He'd earned it.
When the work was finished, Ladd took two, grainy with sugar and cinnamon. One hung from his pinky finger while the cider sloshed with each step. A block from Town Hall, he did not see the police cruiser turn into the alley, the red-and-blue bubblegum machine turning a few flashes just to screw with Homer. He missed the officer trying to keep a serious face during the brief interrogation.
The night before had been fairly still despite the rain. There were few leaves. Even better, his mom had left a note. She'd gone to a hair appointment. There was no mention of the leaves. His little brother was at a friend's house. The game brightened and spread over the screen, shadows of the players indicating where his imagination should fill in green turf and splashes of sun. Ladd ate the second donut, a square of paper towel under the crumbs. His father joined him in the den without a word of reprimand.
Harve Tillotson unloaded his recovered effects. In the empty barn he and the sympathetic friend covered everything with paint-speckled drop-cloths. He rode back into town to his car.
He killed some time at Celeryville Lanes until he was sure the diner would be closed. He longed to wash up; neck, pits, crotch in the employee bathroom. A shave could wait until morning—the church shift. Tugging at his slackening jowls would not be good for morale tonight. Herm had offered him the use of a shower, but with a reconciliation in progress there, it was a minefield he should avoid. His sister-in-law had taken Suzanne's side.
After two beers, he paid and gave up his stool to the swelling mob of clientele. Date-night bowlers waited for lanes with their rented shoes. He remembered his own shoes, his engraved ball buried in the trunk of the car. He pushed out to the parking lot, the artillery behind him suddenly muted as the doors wheezed shut.
Harve unlocked the back door of the diner. The chairs out front were stacked. Everyone had cleared out. With Herm on a short leash at home, there were no late poker games to prevent sleep. Harve brought a few more things from the back seat which he hoped to find room for. On Monday, he thought to himself, I must absolutely look for a cheap apartment.
He pulled the old footlocker with a few changes of underwear from under the cot. He added some socks and a silk tie. The unheated barn would not have been good for the guitar but now he had to leave it in the car. Same consideration for his persimmon-wood drivers. He fit the golf bag into the trunk, as well, with the winter coats and dress shoes. He slipped that damn sword into his golf bag before closing the lid. Any of the older waitresses or regulars might wonder at seeing it in the back seat.
The story of the stolen sword had persisted long past what he might have expected as a crazy kid. Harve had been out of school twenty years and the theories continued to proliferate. He locked the car. There had to be a statute of limitations on foolishness, even in a small town. He should probably wait for a class reunion or a homecoming and just give it back. Make a big deal out of it. Good advertising, maybe? Run it past Herm, who'd been in on the original prank.
Steve Nalon, the drum-major, might be at the Twentieth Reunion. Harve wondered if the man ever regretted prancing about in that way. Seemed like a silly spectacle even now: Stevie tilted way back with that tall, fuzzy hat strapped on, fatty cheeks flushed like rouge in the cold. His silver whistle bleated above the drum-line. Went somewhere in the Ivy League. A PhD in economics, Federal Reserve advisor if Harve remembered correctly. Probably buy and sell them all.
He switched on the bedside lamp. He hung his jacket from a hook on the wall by the aprons. He took off his scuffed broughams and laid down on the cot. The slacks were already wrinkled. There was one fresh pair left for tomorrow. The uniform vendor would bring shirts on Monday.
Harve sighed and lit one last cigarette. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to hang onto the Celeryville Saber saber for a while longer. In case he had to hock it. Suzanne might start to picture his ass as some kind of goldmine in court. According to old Buford and the cops, those Scouts sure thought it was worth something.
If Ladd's parents had been awake, they'd have been amazed as he rose for the third straight Sunday to attend church. They had backslid since his confirmation a year ago. He brushed his teeth, excised a zit, brushed some butch-wax into his Princeton. He buffed his dress shoes with a damp washcloth out of the hamper.
One of the requirements to earn the Scout religious emblem was to attend regularly and to assist the service in some capacity. It wasn't a badge, but it was a cool-looking medal and every denomination offered its own. It would look good on the sash which Ladd now intended to fill. Meanwhile, he would endure the snickers of classmates still dragged into Congregational by parents. The white cassock he had to wear as an acolyte was definitely notcool.
He hiked the four blocks in a chill, stiffening breeze. More raking awaited him for sure. In the ushers’ cloak room, he pulled the cassock on carefully to preserve his hair. Carlton Braidwood, the head usher, came in to fire the wick of Ladd's candle lighter.
"I'mwatchingyou, kid." Carlton gave him a nudge and a wink. "You're not getting anywhere near the offering." He chuckled and went out to greet, a clutch of bulletins in his hand.
When he'd done his duty and processed to the rear, Reverend Foster, too, gave him a puzzling grin and wink. Ladd spent the service speculating over the odd treatment. His bafflement ruined any chance to make sense of the sermon. After the benediction, he snuffed the candles, ditched the cassock and fell in back of the line to glad-hand the Reverend. After the vestibule door was shut and locked, they went back up toward the altar. The rear doors led into the fellowship hall and coffee hour.
"People are treating me weird," Ladd began. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Nah, Ladd. Nobody blames you. It was an honest mistake."
"Well, I still don't get it."
Reverend Foster stopped and turned. Now he towered over Ladd. "Listen, think back. Did you have a particularly good rummage drive yesterday?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Ladd scratched the Princeton.
"You didn't leave the Troop early by some chance, did you?" Foster began to laugh. “It appears you really missed the fun."
When the slap-stick details of his part in the Tillotson heist were finally made known to him, Ladd had no choice but to continue in to the coffee hour. A Scout is brave, honest, plus a lot of other inconvenient stuff. By now though, the teasing was minimal. Post-piety gab had turned to the Lion'schances against the Colts.
But old Mrs. Markus still had to have a giggle behind the kitchen service counter. "Don't lift them all, sweetie!" Ladd took a single Oreoinstead of his customary handful. He licked the white creme without enjoyment and wondered if the Leadership badge was now a dead duck.
Chris Dungey is a retired autoworker in Michigan. Rides mountain bike, feeds two wood-stoves, and follows Detroit City FC and Flint City Bucks soccer, spends beaucoup time in Starbucks. 68 published stories. In 2019, his work was published at Sweet Tree Review, Fleas on the Dog, and Oasis (Holum Press).