I don't normally visit garage sales. I already have more stuff than I need so I don't visit garage sales, rummage sales, yard sales or auctions. However, one day I found myself at loose ends in a strange town while my wife was receiving medical treatments and as I was out for a walk I chanced upon a garage sale. As I was passing by I noticed a table that had some books piled on one end and what appeared to be some fishing gear on the other end. Certainly more out of curiosity than need I wandered over and glanced at the book titles and the fishing gear. The books were fiction titles and the fishing gear consisted of a few inexpensive spinning rods, a tackle box with some rusting lures and jigs, and some other miscellaneous bait fishing items. As I turned to go an older woman approached me.
"Interested in the fishing stuff?" she asked.
"No, I'm just passing some time, but thank you anyway."
"I do have another fishing pole that I didn't put out if you'd like to look at that."
I suspected that it was just another spinning rod, but the lady motioned me to follow her as she made her way over to another table. She reached under the table and pulled out a leather covered rod case and handed it to me.
"This belonged to my son," she said. As she spoke I noticed her voice quiver slightly. "He was a fly fisherman, and you look like one of them."
I found it interesting that she thought that I looked like 'one of them' I reached out and took the rod case from her. Although the rod case was dusty when I wiped away the dusty patina the leather looks surprisingly new. I unscrewed the cap and slide the rod sack out far enough to allow me to pull out the butt section of the rod. First I saw a sliding band reel seat with what appeared to be nickel silver bands, wood insert, slightly soiled cork grip, and a shaft of beautiful straw colored bamboo. I took a deep breath and slid the rod back into the sack.
"Is twenty dollars too much," she asked?
I swallowed hard. "Are you certain that's all you want for this rod? I'm not a rod collector but I think this rod could be worth a whole lot more than twenty dollars."
"My son was a fly fisherman, and I know that he loved this rod. I know that he would want somebody to have it that would appreciate it. You look like that somebody."
She reached out and placed the rod in my hand. I hastily dug twenty dollars out of my wallet and a few minutes later I was walking down the street with a leather rod case under my arm.
My wife completed her treatments that afternoon and we were scheduled to fly home that evening. It was several days later that I finally had the time to examine the rod.
After dinner I went into the den and took the rod out of my rod storage cabinet. I unscrewed the cap on the rod case and slid the rod sack completely out of the case. I was struck by the fact that the rod sack looked new and it still had that new bamboo smell. I untied the string around the rod sack and slid the rod out. A single sliding ring on a light colored wood insert with a nickel silver pocket butt cap formed the reel seat. The cork grip was smooth and only slightly soiled. The cane was a light color and just above the grip the words – Payne 100, 7½ foot, HFH – were inked on the cane. The rod was two piece with an extra tip. The tips were perfectly straight and a detailed inspection of the rod failed to find any nick or crack in the varnish. This was basically a new Payne bamboo rod, and I had bought it for twenty dollars!
A few weeks later I boarded a plane with the rod and flew to the town where I purchased the rod. I found the house and knocked on the door, and the older woman that I had purchased the rod from came to the door.
"I don't know if you remember me but you had a yard sale a few weeks ago and you sold me this rod."
She looked at the rod case in my hand and then looked up at my face.
"Yes, I remember you. That's my son's fly rod, and I remember that you were a fly fisherman. Is there something wrong with the rod?"
"Oh no," I said, "the rod is perfect and that's the trouble. You see, you sold me this rod for twenty dollars and its worth far more than that. In fact, it's probably worth three or four thousand dollars to a collector."
"Yes, I know," she smiled. "But my son would never want this rod to simply set in somebodies collection. He would want somebody to own it that would appreciate it and use it. I thought that you were that kind of person. Why don't you come in and let me tell you something about my son."
I settled into an overstuffed sofa and she brought out an old scrap book filled with pictures. The first photo showed a smiling young man in a military uniform.
"That's my son," she said. "He was so proud to be going off to serve his country."
I noticed that under the picture was a date – June 1943.
"He was in the 1st Infantry division and one year later he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Somehow he was one of the few that made it off that beach."
She turned the page and there was a yellowed letter and another photo of a young soldier leaning against a tank. His uniform was dirty and a cigarette hung from his lip.
"That's my son somewhere in France. It's the last picture I have of him and this was the last letter that I received from him. He was reported missing in action shortly after this. His body was never found, but his name is on the Wall of the Missing at the Normandy-American Cemetery in France."
Her voice trailed off, and we sat in silence for several minutes. The ticking of the big hall clock echoed through the room, marking cadence that reverberated down through the decades of time since that day somewhere in a foreign country where another brave young American gave his all for what he held dear.
A few weeks later I decided to fish the rod for the first time. That evening I sat on the bank of my favorite spring creek with the rod cradled across my lap waiting for the evening rise to begin. The first caddis began to flutter over the surface and a small flight of mayfly spinners began to dance over the meadow grass. As the sun slipped behind the western hills the first trout began to show and I slipped from my seat in the grass and began to cast. There were no large fish that evening but the rod performed perfectly. As the cool of the evening began to envelope the river valley a mist began to rise and as I climbed out of the stream I thought I saw someone standing just upstream. He seemed to raise his arm in greeting and I called out a greeting but the mist shifted and swirled and the image was gone. I realized that it looked like a young man in a military uniform giving me a salute. Conceivably it was the cool of the evening but a shiver convulsed my body as I stood there in the half light.