Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cancer And Baseball

Drip. Drip. Drip.

I would eventually come to recognize the sound of lives sliding down the drain. The life of a physician would allow me a front row seat to the horrors of disease, premature death, and total financial destruction. But my earliest memories were of the small bathroom in the back of that little antiques store. The leaking faucet was just one of the many signs of the decrepit and decaying building.

Downtrodden as it was, the storefront housed a certain vitality that attracted young and sometimes lonely preteens like myself. The owner, on a fluke one morning, decided to sell his old collection of baseball cards beside his bevy of antique trinkets and refurbished armoires. His first customer, a know it all teen, quickly bought his best cards at a ridiculous discount. The owner, impressed by the young man's knowledge, quickly hired him.

The baseball business took over. Before he knew it, the owner was bringing in more on cards than antiques. The market was certainly there, kids came from all over the neighborhood. They congregated at the back of the store by the glass counter with eyes wide. They bought packs, opening them as fast as their little fingers would permit, and stuffed the free piece of gum into their mouths with one fell swoop.

But it wasn't just the cards, the kids were also drawn to the owner. He was both congenial and authoritative. A buddy when you needed one, he was also the perfect source of fatherly advice.

Still spinning from the death of my dad at such a young age, I found an oasis of comfort in the back of that little antiques store. It was located centrally between my school and the bus stop. Every day I would race out of class and blast through the door with my back pack in tow. During the summer, I spent countless days sorting through cards, hoping to hit the jackpot.

A group of us became friends in those safe confines. Many, like me, were awkward and struggling with social interaction. When the teenage employee went to college, the owner chose one of my friends to take his place. At first I was quite jealous. Years later, I realize that my friend was struggling in ways more profound than I. The owner was wise enough to extend the olive branch to someone who really needed a break.

Years passed. I transitioned to high school, changed districts, and my interest in baseball cards wained. I still stopped into the shop from time to time. The owner was struggling. He had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. Luckily, he would survive the cancer.

But his business wouldn't. He was just sick enough from chemo that he had to ask others to watch the shop for him. Without his electric personality, the baseball card business dried up. So did the antiques.

I came back from college one year to see that my beloved store had closed. A beading shop called Bedazzled took it's place. I heard that the owner had gone to work for one of the big card shops a few towns over.

And a small part of my childhood disappeared, like that. I would never find that place again.

I realize, however, that I was the lucky one. The owner, faced with the horror of cancer, survived only to find that the house he had so lovingly built had evaporated.

This kind, gentle, wonderful man.

I guess cancer doesn't take such things into account.

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