I love flea markets and antique stores. This is because I like old stuff for which there is no use.
Antique pocket knives, porcelain cowboy figurines, hundred-year-old snuff tins, arrowheads, and tin coffee pots.
I am holding one such coffee pot. A percolator just like this used to sit in my father’s garage workshop on an electric hot plate.
I had my first coffee from a tin pot. It tasted like ditch-water and aluminum. But it didn’t matter because in that garage my father and I talked about things.
Things like: fishing, batting stances, the proper way to clean fried chicken bones, and God.
“Is God real?” I once asked.
He smiled. “Have you ever seen a little sign from above? Something that just sticks out, and seems like it means something?”
“Well I have,” he said. “I see’em everywhere, every single day. Once you start looking for them, you see all sorts of little things that prove there’s someone Upstairs.”
I miss his simple explanations.
At this flea market, I find a Norman Rockwell compilation book. You probably won’t care about this, but as a boy I had this exact book. My father gave it to me.
My father handed it to me and said, “Old Norm sees the world in such a happy way. I think you’ll like old Norm.”
After my father died, I cut out the pages of that book and tacked them to my bedroom walls. They were reminders of who my father used to be.
Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.
I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for a real treat.”
She wasn’t kidding. It took me three hours to walk through the paintings. It’s the only art exhibit I’ve ever seen—and the only one I will probably ever see.
If you can believe it, I went back to the museum the following morning to look at the paintings again.
The lady over admissions said, “Wasn’t one dime tour enough?”
She unhooked the velvet rope and said, “This one’s on the house.”
Anyway, this flea market. I’m at a checkout counter, I pay the cashier. She is a middle-aged lady. She has wiry gray hair, an American-flag lapel pin on her T-shirt.
She inspects the coffee pot, then looks at the Norman Rockwell book. She smiles while she flips through the book.
“I love these paintings,” she says. “Old Norm saw this world in such a happy way, didn’t he?”
It was a familiar thing to hear.
Not that it matters what I think, but I believe in signs from above. I believe our loved ones watch over us.
I believe in God.
And it’s good to know you’re around, Daddy.