Because of some poor life choices I had made before the fall of 2005, I was working through the emotional pain my choices had left me. I was talking with a counselor once a week, and I had a cadre of friends who supported me. My siblings proved invaluable. Having some days better than others, I decided to treat myself to a small gift to encourage my mood on October 18, 2005.
Years before that day, a dear friend had given me a Saint Christopher’s medal that I always wore, and it was held around my neck by a wire that I had fashioned for that purpose. I now wanted a proper chain for my medal, so after school I went to a jewelry store near where I lived. It was one that I knew I could make a purchase without depleting my meager account.
Because it had been Spirit Day at the school where I taught, I was wearing my favorite Hawaiian shirt. I wanted and needed to continue the joy of that day, so I was eager to buy myself a small gift. Going to the glass counter that was chocked full of rings, jewels, watches, and other items usually for sale by a jeweler, I waited my turn to be helped. A woman dressed in a green pants suit asked what I needed, and I explained that I wanted a chain for my medal. She showed me several chains. Because my key chain hanging from my neck had “Saints” printed on it, she asked if I taught at a near-by school. I told her that I had worked there, but that I now worked at a school in D.C.
As I looked at the chains I could afford, she asked if my medal had ever been cleaned and offered to have the store’s repairman clean it for me. Removing it from around my neck, I gave it to her and told her she could dispose of the wire that had served me for years. When she returned to the counter, I had chosen my $30 chain, and she wrote the ticket. Because we were chatting so much, she suggested we move away from the store’s cash register while my medal was being cleaned. The flirt, or spark was on! We exchanged soft information to each other that revealed but did not divulge facts too personal for a stranger. However, forty-five minutes later my medal was clean, and the lady in the green pants suite offered to fasten it around my neck because “This chain has a difficult clasp.” I gleefully let her, and I placed the card with her phone number next to the sales receipt in my wallet. Soon after that we had dinner and talked more. She shared how that day was her deceased mother’s birthday. I shared that when I arrived home after my purchase, I had called a sister and said, “I met a woman.”
The following July we married. We share life. We age together. All of this joy after being unable to see the beauty of many October days. But now one of my cherished gifts from Mary Ann is an antique child’s school chalkboard on which she wrote: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made….”
I have kept the sales receipt for that chain as a reminder of what life can be. It reminds that life’s sparks are all around us, but we must be prepared to see, accept, and grasp them. And those sparks come anytime, but they are especially good in “the last of life, for which the first was made…,” when all else seemed doomed.
Barbee is a retired educator living on Lake Norman with his wife, five cats, and two hounds.