THE RAIN POURED DOWN steadily that Saturday, as we set out to visit the covered bridges of Parke County in southern Indiana. Our weekend trip was culminating with a few hours to view the famous bridges, most of which were built over 100 years before.
We drove the car slower than usual, wiper blades swishing back and forth with gusto. As flatlanders, we weren’t used to the rolling hills and twists and turns that came up in the roads leading to our destination. But that didn’t matter, since it was late October, and we were met with a spectacular cornucopia of fall colors at every turn.
As the rain continued pouring down, the colorful variations were even more distinctive among the soaking wet leaves. We became mesmerized, watching the gorgeous canvases before us, with intermittent farms plunked down between the rolling hills.
And the rain poured down.
We missed our turn. Somewhere along the drive, among lost GPS signals, a worn-out paper roadmap and our distracted sightseeing eyes, we missed the sign for the most direct route to the covered bridges.
Except all was well, as we turned into the small town of Greencastle, Indiana, home to DePauw University, bookstores, coffee shops, a town square (boasting a German buzzbomb of all things) and a lone antiques shop.
Parking our car on the town’s main street, we brave the weather in order to read a fact-filled plaque about said WWII weaponry — namely a German vengeance weapon — erected in memory of local veterans who successfully shot many of those same missiles down.
Next, we leap across large puddles of water, intending to duck into the stores across the way. First in our path was an antiques store, its sign glowing a bright red OPEN on that grey day.
The rain continued pouring down.
The shop’s style was typical of any small American town. Glass display windows flanked each side of the narrow doorway, with pentagon-shaped black and white tiles at its front walkway. How quaint. How charming.
We ran in, stopping at the threshold to take in the goods and to shake excess water off our raincoats.
A cheerful silver bell clanked behind us, announcing our arrival, but still, we saw no one else within the store.
“What’s with the buzzbomb across the way?” my husband called out, hoping to capture the attention of a shopkeeper who was perhaps deep within the building.
At first, it was quiet, and we thought perhaps we were alone. But several seconds passed, and we received a reply.
“That’s been there for years,” responded a raspy voice from the back. The sound of feet shuffling against the tile floor announced the fact that someone was indeed tending to business in the rear of the shop.
"Here, I got some literature on it,” the hoarse voice continued. "Somewhere..."
The voice trailed off. Still, no person appeared to go along with it.
I grew impatient and started to browse. Fiddling with my raincoat’s hood to avoid getting my face wet, I went further into the store, admiring the treasures. Set atop every shelf inside were dishes from the early 20th century dishes and serving pieces, some in colored glass, while others boasted fine hand-painted florals. These were dishes from my childhood, reminding me of warm homes with smells of Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas cranberry sauce.
Soft footsteps came from behind, and suddenly I heard the same gruff, yet kindly voice.
I turned, staring straight into the dark eyes of the shop’s owner. There he was, a couple inches shorter than I, with wispy white hair softly swept across his head and face stubble to match. He watched me with intent from behind his gold wire spectacles, framed by thick, dark eyebrows – a significant contrast from the rest of him.
He held his chin forward, anxious to greet his customers and assist in any way he could. His posture was slightly bent forward, and he wore a tan flannel shirt with criss-crossing maroon stripes. His olive green trousers were faded from wear, and his worn leather loafers blended right in with the rest of him — wrinkled yet durable.
And then, it was as if a jolt of lightning struck me.
There I was, enclosed in a musty store with any outside noises eliminated from the pounding rain. There was something about the gentleman that immediately aligned with my memories from the surroundings.
His gait and manner of speech seemed familiar. There was an air about him that reminded me of my father, or even my second cousin’s husband (a WWII vet) — two individuals from that generation who had a certain boldness about them. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it the reason for the connection, but rather sensed similarities from his deep voice and mannerisms.
After speaking with him for a few minutes, one would quickly realize the gentleman had a surplus of life experiences. The shopkeeper didn’t gloat or try to impress others. He didn’t have to. One instantly knows when meeting one of these individuals – he or she is the type of person that isn’t afraid of hard work, is glad to share stories, and is proud but not boastful of life accomplishments. They are those types of patriarchs who leave us to wonder exactly how much change and progress they’ve experienced.
They leave behind impressed listeners.
And I was not in a hurry to leave.
Outside, the rain still beat down in unrelenting sheets, threatening the front display windows, which showcased china plates, cups, saucers and platters.
The owner was anticipative that we came to call on this dreary day, explaining how he came to acquire a wealth of dishes over the years for his tiny shop.
“Here, let me show you. Just look at the bottom of this bowl,” he said, turning the piece over so I could read for myself. “These were made in countries that don’t even exist anymore," he explained. "You follow?”
I removed my glasses so I could read better. “’Made in Prussia’… you’re right!” I exclaimed. I turned it over to admire the fine work done by someone long ago.
“This bowl is about 100 years old,” he went on. “Beautiful work," he said, mostly to himself. "Beautiful,” he whispered.
The gentleman put it back onto the front counter, along with two other painted pieces. “These are going up on the plate rail today,” he said, motioning to the wall behind the cash register. “They all go up there. Pieces of art, they are.”
“They’re very nice,” I agreed.
Wistfully I picked up the second bowl, featuring green and gold flowers. It looked just like the serving pieces from my childhood, where my grandmother and aunts filled the bowls with homemade mashed potatoes, complete with pats of butter melting from the top peak. Admiring them further cemented all the memories that came flooding back.
I set the bowl down and passed through the two aisles once more, considering a crystal creamer and a pair of silver tongs, the words Made in England etched on the back. Then I recalled the pact I made with myself not to spend any money on souvenirs on this road trip. There were plenty of heirloom dishes already filling my cupboards at home.
“Well, thank you for your time,” my husband called out. “I’ll have to check on the Internet for the back story of that buzzbomb across the way.”
“Yes, thank you sir,” I told him. “You have lovely items in your store.”
“Thank you for stopping in,” the man nodded, watching us leave his shop.
We ran back across the quiet street, quickly unlocking the car and scooting into the front seats. I thought about the pretty bowls painted by hand. Once upon a time, they sat in someone’s home, removed from the china cabinet for Sunday dinners. Today they rest, waiting to be gingerly placed onto a high plate rail in an elderly gentleman’s antiques shop – a man who still appreciates their beauty.
We made a U-turn with the car and passed by the store on our way to the covered bridges. I turned my head and looked back toward the antiques shop.
There he was. The shopkeeper solemnly watched us from the front window, his gaze holding us close to him, even though we were heading further away.
Seeing his face, the guilt flooded through my core as we left. Was he disappointed that we’d left? How could he be? Since he hadn’t truly known us but for ten short minutes. Except I felt as though we had abandoned him, leaving him alone with his cherished memories, waiting for customers to stop in and appreciate his wares.
Behind the drenched window, his solemn face took on an ethereal appearance as the rainwater quickly dribbled down the storefront glass, obscuring the man and his treasures.
Washing away not only the images — but possibly the man and his memories inside.
And the rain poured down.
Thank you for reading – PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST