The Time a Diamond Ring Was Found Inside a Tweed Sport Coat at the City-Wide Yard Sale

It was the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, and time for the Birchmont Village City-Wide Yard Sale, an annual opportunity at the unofficial end of summer for the townsfolk to relieve themselves of their clutter — stacks of musty dusty books and piles of outgrown clothing and dented patio furniture and clunky exercise equipment lingering unwanted and unappreciated in the corners of basements and the edges of attics, as well as sundry tchotchkes, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac — and, in return, buy their neighbors’ clutter — books and clothing and patio furniture and exercise equipment and sundry tchotchkes, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. But the yard sale was not limited to the confines of the village proper, for folks came from far and wide, from the nearby districts of Ashfork, Chester Hills and Limerock, and the other nearby districts of Ridgeland and Rollingway, and from even further away in Cole’s Landing, with some eager bargain hunters rising at dawn to cross the toll bridge and traverse the perpetually under-construction four-lane, all for the opportunity to rummage through mildewy moving boxes and plastic storage bins and rickety dress racks and shaky card tables for the treasures that potentially awaited.

The City-Wide Yard Sale had started off modestly enough merely as a way to discourage residents from abandoning discarded items out at the end of their driveways for roving bands of scavengers and junk dealers in rumbling pickup trucks and battered station wagons hauling rusted trailers to scuffle and squabble over as they cased the area on Sunday evenings before trash collection came through on Monday. Yet in the years since its inception, the yard sale had evolved into quite the must-attend event — this in spite of only being promoted via flyers tacked to the odd lamp post, street sign and telephone pole, with a stack on the counter of Lilabelle Durham’s upscale boutique in Poplar Square, and a 1/16 page black-and-white ad in the classifieds section of the newspaper, although not to underestimate word of mouth either. Now nearly everyone participated in some form or manner.

The Johnsons, whose house caught fire back in the spring — and twice in one day! — but you would scarcely know to look at it, nary even the faintest odor of smoke from the Tudor, with its gable roofs and timber framing, and indeed some swore it exuded a delightful aroma of lavender, proffered, for purchase, a selection of board games and jigsaw puzzles and toys their children had lost interest in, however old their children were. Down the way, the Chichesters were selling a wet-dry vac, several power tools, a gently used emergency generator, some frozen bags of venison field dressed by Abe Chichester himself in what had been a successful deer season — successful for Abe, not so much for the deer — and a ping pong table in practically mint condition, complete with leather-handled paddles and a pack of fifty multicolor balls, asking merely for “best offer” as they were a humble bunch and did not want their neighbors to perceive them as haughty. Cattycorner to them, Preston Burgher, a former DJ for the local public radio station who had hosted a program of blues standards during the overnight shift from eleven to three, set out two dozen wooden milk crates crammed full of vinyl LP albums stickered at fifty cents apiece that he had recently come into as the radio station had switched to digital and also, unfortunately for Preston, to automation, rendering his job as a DJ obsolete. Next to him, PJ Cross, a lawyer by trade who longed to no longer be a lawyer by trade, was more than willing to part with his legal casebooks and treatises but, with no interested takers, decided that these would be better suited for the recycling bin. A few houses over, Dwayne Weatherbly displayed his taxidermy, generally squirrels and rabbits and the odd chipmunk, whatever he happened upon, but people mostly passed by that as well, finding it a bit unsettling and, some would conclude, icky.

By mid-morning, the yard sale was in full swing, with homeowners proudly presenting their wares in high hopes of earning a healthy profit. Naomi Persimmon had, by all accounts, an impressive assortment of vintage scarves, dish towels and bandanas, along with a vast number of miniature silver spoons she had gathered through her travels, mainly from state and national parks, with a majority from the Great Smoky Mountains adorned with varying renderings of bears. She was trying to unload these on the cheap to make room for her latest obsession, porcelain roosters. Ms. Patterson was seeking shoppers for her hodgepodge of hand-me-downs but this became no easy feat given that her ill-tempered — although some referred to the animal as simply plain hateful — Maltese, Koukla, glared on in snarling displeasure from inside the house through the bay window vehemently barking at anyone who dared approach, belying the pooch’s fluffy cotton candy fur and playful pink ribbons, and certainly discouraging any patrons from proceeding, freshly installed reinforced partition of tempered glass notwithstanding.

Old Man Williams didn’t have anything to sell — or, rather, he didn’t have anything he wished to sell for he was a known pack rat and, in fact, had been featured on the local news about that a while back for which he was unusually proud — so instead he reconfigured his ham radio outside on the porch and conversed in depth with someone apparently in Germany, with really no bearing whatsoever on the yard sale but it was still kind of neat. Young Billy Miller, eleven years, four months, six days, four hours and thirty-six minutes of age, according to Billy, who had a passion for mathematics and was a budding entrepreneur and couldn’t wait to turn twelve, hawked store-bought lemonade out of a stand he fashioned with a stack of TV trays he carried from his father’s rec room in the basement, his loyal bud, the cat Chubz, dozing at his feet. The renters who shared a two-bedroom suite at the Stonemill Apartments at the end of Blanchard next to the park arrived with their guitars and bongo drums and tambourines and performed peppy tunes some had heard before, including Mrs. Shuttleford who tapped her feet in rhythm, and everyone seemed to enjoy. The starting lineup of the St. Martins Dragons, the reigning regional Little League champs, were assigned to litter patrol but soon disregarded their duties and began chasing each other with their trash pickers and grabbers.

From a two-toned van plastered with bumper stickers and parked slightly askew at the intersection of Swan and Forest, a group of college graduates, who had yet to find their footing in the world and were considering graduate school, sold vegetables and herbs they had grown in their communal garden, though some called into question whether one particularly peculiar-looking batch of herbs was legal to be sold in the area. This slipped past the police officer from Ridgeland who was contracted out by Birchmont Village to patrol the streets in his off-hours as he was preoccupied with trying to control the constant flow of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian — and, as per usual, disorderly cyclists blowing through stop signs devil-may-care. Plus, he had his eye on a framed John Wayne movie poster, part of Harris Maggiano’s memorabilia that was up for sale, which, aside from movie posters and placards, comprised baseball and football trading cards, shiny antique coins sealed in protective casings and canceled postage stamps.

A palpable sense of exhilaration charged the air as everyone got into the spirit and embraced the hubbub of the yard sale — everyone except for Ted Canari, who was chagrined, to put it mildly, that he could hardly make it down the street to the grocery, his weekly routine on Saturday mornings to beat the rush and avoid having to speak to anyone, exchanging pleasantries, small talk about the weather, that sort of thing. He consistently complained to the village council about the burgeoning crowd problem, with cars lining both sides of the already narrow roads and “shady characters and vagabonds,” as he described them, traipsing about willy-nilly and roaming amok. He made such a fuss that Hank Walters Bryant, the ranking council member, having finally reached his limit, volunteered to personally chauffeur Ted to the supermarket on the date of the yard sale in the official golf cart boldly emblazoned with the letters “B.V.” While the golf cart was easily able to maneuver through the teeming masses, the downside, given its obvious lack of trunk space, was that Ted was limited on this excursion to the bare essentials — milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, bananas and toffees. Still, this detente held, albeit with Ted letting his low opinion of the yard sale be known to Hank on the entire trip to and fro — yet unbeknownst to Ted, during the course of this tirade, Hank pictured himself lounging in a hammock on an idyllic tropical beach sipping a frosty drink such that most of the vitriol that Ted spewed simply melted into white noise that Hank imagined as the soothing sound of azure waves softly crashing to the shore. It was a win-win for both of them.

At noon, the yard sale was still going strong with no indication of slowing down, barreling on full steam ahead toward the hard stop at two as mandated by ordinance or municipal code or the like — no one knew for certain why there was a hard stop at two but most suspected Ted Canari had something to do with that. Sellers and customers engaged in a frenetic back-and-forth barter, each side determined to get the better of the other. Items changed hands, and households, at a breakneck pace. Deals were struck, transactions were consummated, ownership and possession transferred. It was a bustling affair, with many moving parts. There was seemingly no one who wasn’t affected by this Rube Goldberg machine of consumerism. Old Man Williams got in on the action as well, becoming the new owner of a pre-owned set of steak knives he neither needed nor wanted for he had five sets already and was more of a chicken guy, but he caved to the frenzy — and to his pack rat predisposition — anyhow.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a blood-curdling shriek the sort of which had never before been heard around these parts pierced the otherwise pleasing ambience, cutting clean through the mundane chitter and chatter, and halting people dead in their tracks. Young Billy Milner spilled a cup of store-bought lemonade mid-pour, splashing poor Chubz on his kinked tail and, worse, rousing him from a sound slumber. The renters from the Stonemill Apartments ceased playing mid-song with a twang and a ker-plunk. The police officer from Ridgeland was so startled as he sprang to action that he dropped the framed John Wayne movie poster he was admiring, contemplating how it would look hanging in his home office, and it went crashing and shattering onto the unforgiving pavement with Harris Maggiano pointing a half-lit, half-chewed cigar at him and exclaiming, “you break it, you buy it,” and adding, for emphasis, “pal!”

After a brief but intense interlude of consternation, the shriek turned out to be one of joy and excitement — as much as a shriek could be — originating from the lawn of Poindexter McGregor where Mrs. Shuttleford had procured a tweed sport coat with suede elbow patches for her teenage grandson, Master Timothy Beauregard Wannamaker, to wear on his prep school interviews this fall, the boy and Poindexter both being slight of build yet wiry despite the obvious age difference — Poindexter the senior by some thirty years. Buried deep inside the breast pocket was a shiny diamond ring that caused Mrs. Shuttleford, upon uncovering this exquisite gem, to let loose with that shriek, a reflexive reaction for Mrs. Shuttleford, unlike some people, was not prone to hyperbole — nor did she suffer fools gladly. Yet when she glanced upon the jewel she simply could not resist. And she shrieked a second time, and a third, and was well on her way to a fourth and however many more when an anxious assemblage congregated alongside her to see what in the world was happening. She boldly produced the opened velvet box, raising it high aloft toward the heavens, with the stray rays from the hazy shimmering sun striking the facets just right to illuminate the diamond in all of its glittering, glimmering glory, to the ooh’s and aah’s of the lookie-loos.

As luck, or unluck, depending on the perspective, would have it, the ring belonged to Poindexter. He explained, having been brusquely exposed like that, sheepishly, head bowed, body swaying, with the throng of inquiring bystanders expanding, that he had had all of the best intentions of presenting it to his dearest, darling Lizzie Strumblesom as a symbolic bond of their eternal matrimonial bliss — until she left him at the altar to run off with a traveling circus performer of the sword-swallowing variety. This tragic turn occurred over two years ago and Poindexter had still not gotten over the rebuff, nor did he have the nerve to take the ring back to the jewelry store, holding out hope that by holding onto it Lizzie might perchance return to him, and when he confessed that last bit the air was collectively let out of everyone like a pinpricked party balloon. So he stashed the ring away, and awaited that day, and forgot about it when he was cleaning out his cedar closet in advance of the City-Wide Yard Sale. That was, until Mrs. Shuttleford uncovered it when she acquired the jacket — and at five bucks that was a real steal for the garment alone, one hundred percent homespun wool and hand-stitched in Canada.

Once it was realized what had happened, there arose a moral conundrum to be sure. According to PJ Cross, who was disinclined to offer legal advice when he was off the clock — and oftentimes when he was on the clock — though he did so when Mrs. Shuttleford gave him that glare of hers, she could call dibs on the ring as a bona fide good faith purchaser of both the sport coat and the contents therein, which incidentally additionally included a stale pack of spearmint gum, a book of matches from someplace called the Hideaway, and five dimes that Harris Maggiano examined and concluded were worth only fifty cents. It was your basic finders keepers, losers weepers defense. But sentiment was clearly on the side of Poindexter, the lovelorn gallant having not only lost his heart’s one pure desire, and to a circus performer to boot, but then this precious stone that had cost him at least three months’ salary if that rule held true. On top of that, with the absence of the ring came the stark reality for Poindexter of the finality of his erstwhile relationship with sweet, sweet Lizzie-pooh — his pet name for her, not the best, but still.

It was a no-brainer for Mrs. Shuttleford. She was so moved by Poindexter’s story — and she had a real weakness for the yearning and the spurned, having broken her fair share of hearts back in the day — that, against the advice of counsel, though PJ Cross was used to his clients not listening to him, she did not hesitate to hand the ring over to its rightful owner posthaste and without a second thought, apologizing profusely for taking such glee in finding it in the first place. “What was I thinking, shrieking like that, like some hooligan,” she said, “and at my age.” Poindexter graciously accepted this apology, and, of course, the ring, and to prove there were no hard feelings, threw in gratis three bow ties, a coordinated set of suspenders and a faux leather valise. He also promised to prepare Master Timothy Beauregard Wannamaker for his prep school interviews with mock questions and a critical assessment of the teen’s answers.

Those who had witnessed such selfless acts of generosity and compassion were spurred to likewise behave in kind, and they did what they could to reciprocate, which, under the circumstances, amounted to drastically slashing prices on their remaining inventory, some practically giving their stock away. There was considerable laughing and carrying on, chuckling and guffawing, as folks retreated to their respective residences at the two o’clock hard stop arms full of stuff they would probably never use. The yard sale was once again a resounding success. “The best ever yard sale in the history of yard sales!” Hank Walters Bryant unabashedly proclaimed. And not only that, but when the single and unattached members of the populace realized they had such a romantic in their midst in Poindexter McGregor of all people, he became the object of many an amorous villager’s affection — and the overwhelming consensus was what a catch! As he guardedly reentered the Birchmont Village social scene, the ache of his unrequited love faded, Poindexter was able to move on with his life, eventually claiming a full refund on the ring that he promptly used as down payment on a jet ski, and in due course he returned to being the person he used to be, the time a diamond ring was found inside a tweed sport coat at the City-Wide Yard Sale.

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This short story is part of the collection, (Mostly) True Tales From Birchmont Village, available now at Amazon or order from your favorite independent bookstore [ISBN: 978–1–7375801–1–9]

Award-winning author and playwright in Louisville, Kentucky. .