Saturday, January 7, 2017

One Man's Treasure By T.R.Hart


One Man's Treasure
By T.R.Hart
Characters:
Wilbur Hess - School Librarian and avid collector who lives with his mother.
Mrs. Hess - Wilbur's widowed mother.
Maureen - Mo' - Wilbur's wife
George -Former student at Wilbur's school who became mentally disabled from an accident.
Mrs. Bernstein - Miserable woman who runs GW
Ricky - Punk son of Mrs. Bernstein
One Man's Treasure
   He hated to admit it, but he knew that she was right. His wife Maureen used to refer to the foot locker he was sitting on as "Wilbur's Treasure Chest".  A lifetime's collection of baseball cards, comic books, assorted articles, and other memorabilia were neatly packed inside. This was not the only "treasure chest" in the attic.  In fact, there were rows of stacked boxes separated by neatly spaced aisles so that all of these precious artifacts could be easily found, and, easily added to.  He hated to admit it, not to only his wife, but to himself; Wilbur Hess was a hoarder...but, he was a neat hoarder.
   Of course, Wilbur never referred to himself as a hoarder. He was a "collector", and if a person was going to be a collector, it only made sense that the collection, or collections, as in his case, should be tidy, efficiently catalogued, and accumulates value with the passage of time. Anyone who ever visited James Buchanan High could attest to Wilbur Hess' excellent management of the school's Library.
   Teachers and administrators alike knew that the educational resource that lay within the walls of their institution contained the finest collection of books, abstracts, and reference materials. If a student needed help in completing an assignment, he or she could be assured that Mr. Hess would be available to assist them in finding the necessary information. He was a storehouse of knowledge, and had accumulated that knowledge through years of reading, or as some would say, by devouring books since his boyhood.
   It was difficult to be extremely tall and lacking athletic ability in a town that prided itself in its production of championship worthy teams.  He had been noticed by, and approached by every coach to try out for their team.  Their initial encouragement quickly turned to frustration and disbelief, as Wilbur could not run, throw, or hit a ball. He almost drowned his rescuers when he tried out for the swim team and immediately began to sink to the bottom. In his panic to remain above water he batted a couple of them in the face, nearly knocking one unconscious. His last attempt to achieve some sort of athletic prowess as a basketball player ended with the humiliating realization that he couldn't even dribble the ball.  Wilbur was no athlete, but Wilbur was a scholar.
   Wilbur met his wife Maureen, whom everyone called Mo’, while working at Buchanan. It was no secret that she had her eye on him, but the confirmed bachelor was content to live at home with his widowed mother.  Many men would be uncomfortable living in this situation, but Wilbur enjoyed being doted on. His meals were always ready for him at breakfast and dinner time, and he was always immaculately dressed. Unburdened by the responsibilities of providing for a family enabled Mr. Hess to indulge his passion for collecting just about anything that he had a momentary interest in. The genetic component inherited from his mother's DNA was made apparent by her collections of all things related to Christmas. Initially, the house in which they lived in was large enough to accommodate their passions. Wilbur was happy to take the attic while mother’s inventory was located in the spare room next to the living room. 
   Of course, both being hoarders, this arrangement soon overflowed into other areas of the house. Mrs. Hess felt that the other rooms were looking drab and needed to be brightened up by a little “Christmas cheer”. It didn’t seem odd to Wilbur that the window candles would have different colored bulbs throughout the year, or that mistletoe hung from the portals of each room. Visitors to the residence were greeted with hot cider and gingerbread cookies even during the summer months. No conversation would pass without the mention of the dear departed Mr. Hess although he had passed away more than 10 years ago. Disparaging remarks by the meaner spirited members of the community attributed Mr. Hess’ decease to his burial somewhere within the plethora of boxes.
Wilbur Takes A Wife
   Mo’, as mentioned before, had a secret desire to capture the attention of the tall red-haired bachelor. She made it her business to befriend the increasingly eccentric Mrs. Hess whom she would “bump into” at the local Goodwill Store. Pretending to share her obsession with everything that had to do with Christmas turned out to be more of an arduous task than she had bargained for, especially during the summer months when looking for rare tree ornaments became a quest. But the approach of middle age seemed to strengthen Mo's resolve. She was determined to "get her man".
   Wilbur noticed that her mother's friend became more of a frequent visitor.  He supposed the "adopted" Miss Fahey seemed more like a daughter, and perhaps Mo', who had cared for her sick mother, sought out Mrs. Hess as a surrogate of sorts for her own departed mother. At the time Wilbur had begun to collect army helmets, adding to his growing collection of war memorabilia. He was surprised at the interest shown in his collection by this cheerful little woman whom he had never noticed before working in the school cafeteria.
   Not wishing to depart this world before finding a suitable wife for her son, Mrs. Hess encouraged Wilbur to spend more time with Miss Fahey.  It wasn't long before the two of them became an "item" around town. They were seen at several flea markets searching for "treasures" to add to Wilbur's newest collection. These were happy times for the middle aged couple who seemed to enjoy the dating ritual that had eluded them before they met.
   Mrs. Hess' health began to decline shortly after her son's courtship. One night in late September, while they were all sitting by the Christmas tree, Mrs. Hess laid back on her chair and began to breathe heavily. Wilbur and Mo' rushed to her side.  She said that knew that she was dying and begged Mo' to take care of her son. Wilbur made a solemn promise to his mother's pleading that he and Mo' would marry soon.  Suddenly her breathing became normal again and she seemed to rally. Despite Mo's strict Catholicism, the couple agreed to be married in the Lutheran Church where Mrs. Hess was an active member in the congregation. It would be a lovely little affair set for the week before Christmas. The reception Hall was decked in boughs of holly.
   That was the last Christmas that Mrs. Hess spent with her new daughter.  They had spent the week after Christmas buying all of the decorations that they could find at discount prices. One day of shopping proved to be too much for the old woman.  She complained about being "extremely tired" that night and went to bed early. She never woke up.
   Wilbur and Mo' were a childless couple. He was more like a grown child than a husband, but he was intelligent, good natured and kind to his wife. Mo' was the practical one. She was thrifty, but generous, and was better inclined to stem the flowing tide of Wilbur's "treasures" into the attic than his mother had been. Their house had quickly become more normal in appearance due to Wilbur's lack of interest in Christmas ornamentation and Mo's ability to discard unwanted items. The Goodwill Store which had originally been the benefactor of the elder Mrs. Hess' obsession now became the benefactor of the younger Mrs. Hess' donations.
Occasionally Mo' had been successful in persuading her husband to donate some of his collections to museums, organizations, or the annual Christmas Bazaar at  St. Matthew's Catholic Church where they both attended each Sunday morning. Wilbur was forbidden to go to the flea markets to sell his collectibles as he would usually return with more items than he set off with.
   Wilbur's obsessive collecting had begun to take hold again after he retired from his Librarian position. Mo' convinced him to volunteer at the local library thinking that if he was kept busy he would have less time to buy junk, but he usually met up with some  well-meaning patron who would give gifts  to him unaware of Wilbur's propensity for  hoarding.  The old Ford Pickup was now a common fixture seen in town filled with objects of every shape and size driven by a very contented retired school librarian.
   Mo's retirement could not come soon enough. She had dreaded her husband's secret excursions while she was still working at the school lunch room. On occasion she would hear some smart aleck kid make a rude remark about her husband prompting her to reprimand the offender with a threat to contact their parents. She knew that her husband had a problem, but how could she fix it?
  Josephine, commonly known as Jo, was a good friend of Maureen, commonly known as Mo'. After raising their children, and finding the house too big for just two people, Jo and her husband decided to move to a retirement village. They were very happy there and had the social life that Mo' would crave upon retiring as Wilbur was a solitary creature by nature. Jo had also reasoned that if Mo' could persuade her Wilbur to "downsize" then he would be unable to keep all of his stuff. This only seemed reasonable...
   Determining that an early retirement was indeed possible, Mo' quickly made her decision. Since Wilbur had retired she had no desire to remain employed at the school. The kid's taunts became worse than ever and the administration's conciliatory mode of discipline only encouraged their disrespectful attitudes. She had had enough!
   When a wife wants something she will not stop until she gets her way. Mo's persistence was fueled by her frustration at being unable to stop Wilbur from filling up the house with junk and the anger she harbored against the kids who would yell 'Here comes the trashman!' when they drove by in the truck. The stubbornness which is well known among those well acquainted with Irish genealogy would serve her well in her struggle to be free of the clutter in her home.
   Wilbur had started to notice that his collection was not as large as it had been. He suspected that items were being stolen from his uncovered truck bed. Mo' was quick to agree that he was probably right, but she knew that as soon as Wilbur would go off on another quest, she would be filling the trunk of her car destined for the Goodwill Store. It was impossible for her to keep up with her husband. The first fight of their marriage ended with the 5'2'' wife victorious over her Lincoln-esque spouse. As soon as it had been cleared of Wilbur's collections, they would be moving to Pleasant Valley Homes immediately after the sale of their house.
"Ricky The Punk"
   Wilbur had made the smart decision to abide by his wife's ultimatum. He knew that he was a beaten man and wanted peace in the home. Mo' made two lists: Things that could remain and Things that had to go. Wilbur mused that the first list was much shorter than the second but dared not mention it to Mo'. He loaded up the truck with boxes that were stacked so high that it looked like he was moving a house. The engine groaned under the weight of its load. Unable to see behind him due to the boxes obscuring the vision of the rear view mirror, Wilbur was forced to use his side view mirrors instead.
   As he pulled toward the loading dock, he saw George, a friendly young man whom he had befriended while he was a student at Buchanan High. George was a quiet and polite farmer's son who had intentions of going to college to pursue an agricultural degree when he met with an unfortunate accident while driving a tractor at the farm. It was possible that the tractor had been going too fast when it hit a hole or dip in the field sending the boy flying toward the ground. He hit his head hard as he fell, and despite a lengthy stay in the hospital George had recovered well enough to return to school, although his mental capacity had been significantly diminished.
   George was unloading donations and recognized his old school librarian. He was still friendly and gracious as ever as he shook hands with everyone he came across. He was a hard worker and it seemed that he was the only one there until a young man smoking a cigarette on the other side of the dock was spotted. Wilbur couldn't believe who it was..."Ricky the Punk"! 
   Of course his real name was not Ricky the Punk, but Wilbur was quick to mutter it under his breath every time he saw Ricky Bernstein waltzing into his library. Whenever Ricky and his goofy friend Louis wandered in to do an assignment something would always happen. A loud slap of a book on a table and an imitation of Mr. Ed braying his name "Wilbur!" usually preceded some mischief that ended in the Librarian's humiliation. He had endured Ricky's escapades (the worst being the trash can set on fire) for four years and would only be glad to see him graduate so he would be rid of him forever. He would be his mother's problem from then on.
   Ricky's mother...he would never forget that woman. No matter what her little angel was accused of, her defense was immediate. There was always a "did you see him do it?" to which the reply was a "no" as Ricky was a sneaky punk. Louis ''the loser", as Wilbur called Ricky's partner in crime, was a willing participant in the bullying conducted on a daily basis. It especially infuriated Wilbur to see the popular basketball standout picking on George and calling him a "retard".  He had wanted to knock his block off but knew that Ricky could beat him to a pulp, and he would probably lose his job as well.
   He couldn't understand how "the punk" could have gotten a job at Goodwill. He had been George's tormentor in High School and now he seemed to be his boss on the loading dock.  Wilbur had asked Ricky for a receipt for his donations, but got a grunt for a response while he walked into his little office. Enraged at being treated so disrespectfully, he decided to go inside to report Ricky. He quickly understood why a punk like Ricky could have been hired at Goodwill. There, seated in her office, was the reason: Mrs. Bernstein was the Store Manager.
   It wasn't long before another altercation with Mrs. Bernstein ensued. She snapped at Wilbur's accusation while defending her son, and thrust a receipt in his face. He reminded her that his donations helped keep her job. Not to be outdone she viciously replied: "one man's treasure is another man's junk!'
   Wilbur was infuriated to find his things thrown into the dumpster when he returned to the dock. Ricky was gone and so was his Truck. When he went to return to the store he noticed it was locked up. He banged on the window only to hear someone that sounded like Ricky laughing in the back of the store saying "We close at eight, we open tomorrow at eight!"
   It was a good thing that Wilbur finally figured out how to use his cell phone. Mo' had always told him that it was useful in an emergency. He dialed up his wife and within ten minutes she was there to pick him up. The couple went straight to the police station to report the stolen truck. As they walked through the door they found George and his parents sitting on a bench.  George had been crying. His parents apologized to Wilbur and Mo' as they recounted what had happened:
   George had been getting ready to go home when Ricky came up to him and told him to take his truck home. Of course George had a permit to drive but no license so he was afraid to drive it. Ricky then told him that Wilbur had gotten sick and left his keys in the truck so that it was okay to take the truck home and that Mr. Hess would pick it up later. George believed that he was doing a favor for his old friend and started toward the farm. On the way home a dog ran in front of the truck. George swerved the vehicle to avoid hitting the pooch but hit a pole on the passenger side. Of course they would pay for the damages.
   Wilbur put his arm around George and told him not to worry. He told him that it was his fault for leaving the keys in the truck anyway. They all went over to look at the truck and saw that the damage on the right fender was minimal. Wilbur breathed a sigh of relief and said: 'They sure don't make trucks the way they used to!'
   Wilbur had decided to confront Ricky when he heard that George had been fired. He went the next day to the Goodwill store unable to find him. Instead he saw Louis "the loser" taking the donations in a deliberately slow pace. Louis told him to come back later. Ricky was taking a ride on his new "Harley" that he had ordered a year ago. "I'll bet his mommy bought it for him", he thought, and was so angered that he decided to wait as long as it took to see him. It was starting to get dark and Louis disappeared for a while to take a few swigs of his pint bottle.  A motorcycle roar that was heard in the distance became louder as Ricky drove his bike back to his office.
   Wilbur stood near the office door as Ricky swaggered his way toward him smoking a cigarette. "What do you want, old man?" Ricky laughed. "I know it was you that told George to take the truck and you got your mother to fire him so that you could hire Louis!" Wilbur could hardly believe that he had the courage to confront Ricky.  "So what if I did? I got tired of having that retard working for me!" he replied. Something wild took hold of Wilbur at that moment. Just as Ricky was about to flick his cigarette into Wilbur's face, he took his clenched fist and struck Ricky on the left side of his face with a devastating overhand right hook that he never knew he had! Ricky spun in a circle and hit the deck of the loading dock.  Wilbur's elation at being vindicated turned to abject fear as he realized what he had done. He bent over to check Ricky and found that he was just knocked silly, but before Ricky could regain his senses Wilbur sensibly moved those long legs of his in a hurry towards the truck. He turned the key and prayed that it would start, shifted gears, and sped out of the lot.
   Mo' was the only other person besides Ricky who knew what had happened.  Perhaps Ricky was too embarrassed to press charges against the old librarian. Wilbur couldn't be sure but he never went back to the Goodwill Store again. Louis was the recipient of his friend's wrath before he got fired. It seems that one night Louis was off drinking when Ricky called him to bring the trash truck up to the dock. Louis was so drunk that he came roaring around the lot in reverse and smashed into the dock after demolishing Ricky's brand new Harley motorcycle. The brutal beating that followed this incident deprived Louis of his front teeth making him look more like an idiot than he actually was. It was a blessing in disguise. He quit drinking and started thinking. Louis needed...a wakeup call.
   George and Wilbur spent a lot of time together after the accident. They repaired the fender together and developed a friendship that was mutually beneficial to both men.  Wilbur taught George how to drive his truck, and he did pass his driver's test, but they decided it would be better if he would limit driving the truck around the farm.  Wilbur's treasures found a new home in the spacious upper level of the barn. George's mother and father were elated to have such an educated man mentoring their son in the small roadside business that they opened selling collectibles and memorabilia. The sign that greeted the passing motorists read:  George and Wilbur's "Treasures".
END

   

2 comments:

  1. I really loved this. Slow and easy to read with that feel good factor that seems to be missing in so many stories today, be them true or fictional. T.R Hart is a true master of converting words into visual images.

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  2. Thank you so much for that lovely comment Dotty.

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