Priceless Garage Sale People

You may be surprised by whom you find at a garage sale.

When you gather misfit belongings of your household, open your garage door, and offer the no-longer-treasured personal property for a pittance to the public, you’re going to come face to face with strangers you would never have intentionally thought about inviting into your home. And oh, what a shame it is that we don’t do that more often. People who shop at garage sales represent the melting pot of society. They’re genuinely interesting and have stories to tell. We can expect to bargain with them. But by talking with these opportunistic visitors, we may actually learn something about ourselves.

In my family, “garage sale” is a verb, as in: “We garage sale.” I grew up with a grandfather who frequented tag sales, yard sales, rummage sales, and garage sales. Different areas throughout the USA tend to adopt one of these terms, but overall the idea is the same. Grandpa didn’t care what anyone called their sale. For him, each designation meant roughly the same thing: he could buy items cheaply and later sell them for higher prices. But at some point, he developed an affinity for Jim Beam bottles. He hoarded so many of the decorative containers that he decided to build a small home adjacent to the one he lived in just to house his collection. He officially dubbed the building The Treasure House and boasted that it contained the largest collection of Jim Beam bottles in the world.

My own parents also eased into the hobby of collecting. On family trips, the six of us piled into our Oldsmobile Delta 88 and drove to far-off destinations. That took much longer than expected, because “Rummage Sale” signs always drew us into somebody’s yard.

One year while my family was staying in a cottage in Wisconsin, our dog died.  On our way home, my siblings and I were crying over Smokey’s death. We stopped at a rummage sale that just happened to have puppies, picked one out, and brought the little girl home. Mom thought of the perfect name: Rummy.

A childhood spent garage-saling inspired my sister’s profession. She and her husband built and own one of the largest craft and antique malls in Allen, Michigan. The business is so successful that there’s a waitlist of vendors, all vying for rental space to become available in the 23,000 square-foot building so they can sell their wares at the Hog Creek Craft and Antique Mall.

Although I don’t make a living at buying and reselling, like my sister does, I don’t snub garage sales or worry that some people look down upon them. Other people’s disdain doesn’t adversely affect my love for bargains. So, in search of a good deal, I occasionally stop at sales throughout the spring and summer. I do hate the amount of work it takes to organize and run these types of sales, but the hassle doesn’t stop me from doing so. Garage sales are full of fun, surprises, and inspiration.

When I stop to browse, I’m often asked by the homeowner, “Are you looking for anything special?” My answer is, “I’m shopping for our vacation Bible school program at church. I’m not really sure what I need, but I’ll know it when I see it.” With a theme in mind, my attention focuses on items that can be used as props and decorations to transform ordinary church rooms into exquisite settings for children’s enjoyment. I once bought an Ethan Allen wingback chair for $5 and felt horribly guilty applying metallic gold paint to the wooden arms. But I needed a throne for a king. Where else would I find one for that price?

I’ve had a lot of my own garage sales throughout the years. There have been many instances in which I felt like I was practically giving things away, and during my last one, I did that very thing. But I never anticipated all that I would gain simply by talking with my guests.

Here are my favorite encounters with garage sale people:

  • I eased a mother’s stress by providing decorations for her son’s high school graduation party which was less than twenty-four hours away. Decorations included a custom-designed logo of the school mascot—an original piece of artwork—created on a Lite Brite. I threw in extra pegs at no cost.
    • Realized gain: $4; pleasant feelings that I had helped an overwhelmed neighbor.
  • I changed my impression of the eccentric woman whom most everyone in the community recognized by her flamboyant clothing but never talked to. She was friendly and seemed very smart. She bought Spanish books so she could teach herself to speak the language.
    • Realized gain: $2; a spanking for allowing myself to mistakenly think that flashy clothing was the defining feature of this lovely person.
  • I provided peace and tranquility to at least one shopper by playing classical piano music on a karaoke machine I was selling. The gentleman commented, “This is the classiest garage sale I’ve ever been to.” I eventually sold the music CD to someone else and ended up donating the karaoke machine.
    • Realized gain: $1; bragging rights.
  • I inspired a middle-aged man to break into a cheer. A set of Michigan State pom-poms encouraged him, but he must not have liked the pair well enough to buy them.
    • Realized gain: $0; bewilderment and laughter.
  • I gave what was left of my expired and nearly empty tube of Benadryl anti-itch cream to a woman who was having an allergic reaction. Earlier in the day, she had bought a basket at a different garage sale and was driving around with the purchase in the back of her van. Evidently, someone’s cat had used the basket as a daybed before the piece was sold to the poor lady. The medication itself wasn’t worth anything, but the heavy-duty industrial bag I gave the woman to stuff the basket inside of had some value.
    • Realized gain: minus a dollar or so; feelings of goodwill.
  • I generated smiles by reaching out in friendship to a young family from Paraguay. The parents bought tools and household supplies. Their eldest daughter settled on a whiteboard and dry-erase markers. I gave the youngest a bilingual doll that spoke English and Spanish. The father asked if I was a teacher.
    • Realized gain: pure joy.
  • I listened intently to a woman testify that she used to be possessed by demons when she lived in Peru. I seriously wanted to hear all the fascinating details, so I gave her my phone number and hoped she would call.
    • Realized gain: awareness of evil at work in the world and thankfulness for my faith in Christ.
  • I exchanged contact information with a woman who buys clothes for a homeless man and mentors young ladies. She was generous in many ways and surprised me by donating, on the spot, to the charity I co-founded in 2016 and promoted during my sale.
    • Realized gain: a newfound friend.
  • I cried. With nearly every sale, I handed out prayer cards to customers. The prayer was special to me because I learned it from my pastor who died eleven years earlier in a car accident. One woman read the card, looked at me, and softly said, “I knew Janet.” And that’s all it took for me to feel connected to this woman who I had never met before. More words weren’t necessary. We knew Janet.
    • Realized gain: a flood of memories.

Garage sales are more than the perfect way for savvy sellers to get rid of stuff. They are more than a novel way for buyers to harness creativity and stretch dollars. These phenomenal American shopping experiences give us unique opportunities to express kindness and compassion. When we price things just right and open our doors to the world, we let in all sorts of fabulousness: priceless garage sale people.

The Truth About Golf

I understand why some people give up on golf far too soon—before they develop a passion for the game. It challenges even the most seasoned players, requires lots of practice, and can be quite costly. For instance, Callaway’s Great Big Bertha Epic driver will set you back $500. If you want to put the club to use on a prestigious course, such as Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, you’ll have to pay another $500 for green fees. But there is ample opportunity to contain costs. You can purchase less expensive clubs; and you can play public courses in hometowns like mine for $15 a round. So considering that the financial outlay can be reasonable, I believe it’s basic intimidation that most often squashes love for the sport before a devotional spark has the slightest chance to ignite. Understanding the truth about golf may help you approach the sport with greater affection.

Golf Truth #1: It takes skill to get that little white ball flying in the air. Practice.

My first golf experience was with friends during high school. Mark was the only one of our foursome who knew how to play, and he was a patient teacher to the rest of us. Margie, Lisa, and I were athletic, so Mark probably thought we would easily learn this sport too. But taking three beginners out on a course is not the best way to introduce newbies to the game unless you’re looking to play the longest round of your life. Because Mark was dating Margie, I think he was okay whiling away the time.

The girls and I struggled to transform our softball swings into anything useful. Heck. We would have just liked to have gotten out of the Whac-A-Mole ground-pounding mode that was beating our confidence into oblivion. We were A-W-F-U-L. So bad that I’ve blotted out most other memories of that day.

But there was that one shot . . . when I struck the ball just right. It didn’t roll across the ground like it had every other time I hacked at it. This time it took flight, sailing skyward.

Personal triumphs, like lofting that little white ball for the very first time and sinking a pitch from seventy yards out, are what keep us golfers coming back. We hit the driving ranges and work on our long game. We find our putting strokes on the practice greens. And we test our fortitude by chipping out of six-foot bunkers. We want to emulate the pros, who make it all look so easy.

Golf Truth #2: It takes positive thinking (and an impressive outfit) to build a good game. Believe in your ability (and wear something that boosts your confidence).

The view of Lake Michigan from Arcadia Bluffs is as spectacular as the golf course.

Arcadia Bluffs is the number one ranked course in Michigan, where my husband booked a Memorial Day afternoon round for the two of us. That springtime day in The Great Lakes State was partially cloudy and projected to reach sixty degrees at best—chilly for me. If I had my way, all golf days would be eighty degrees and sunny, but northern Michigan isn’t known to bend to my will. So, I dressed in five layers of clothing to help me deal with the brisk air and fluctuating winds that would make the atmosphere feel ten degrees colder.

Trust me when I say that it wasn’t easy deciding on all those layers. My slacks and shirts were running a bit tight at the time, and I refused to invest in new pieces of clothing to accommodate my expanded waistline. I was counting on losing the ten pounds I kept complaining about.

I opted out of getting a propane heater for the golf cart even though I was shivering. “It will warm up,” I hoped. Standing beside our cart and waiting for our tee-time, Greg and I admired the seemingly endless and beautifully blue Lake Michigan, lying beyond the grassy bluffs and rolling terrain of the course. The view rivals that of Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, whose own gorgeous shoreline constrains the massive freshwater lake and prevents it from inching farther west.

There were several groups of men on the grounds but no women that I could see until a couple came in from their round. The model-gorgeous young lady loudly talked about how pleased she was with her 46. Whether that was her score on the front or back nine, I didn’t know. I was sizing her up and observing how attractive she was in her stretchy, black, Nike golf pants and matching jacket. Black is a great choice when you want to look slimmer, but she didn’t need the help. I wondered how she could possibly have been warm with so little to wear.

The only other woman on the course, besides me, looked like an expert—as if she could appear on the cover of Michigan Links Magazine. I compared myself to her and realized my silhouette resembled that of the Pillsbury Doughboy, plump and round. I wore a black sleeveless golf shirt just in case the temperature rose; a long-sleeved pullover because I was pretty sure it would not; and three jackets of varying thicknesses for extra protection.

So, there I was: at a mental disadvantage for golf because I didn’t feel comfortable with my weight, let alone with what I was wearing, and I had never golfed a 46 in my life.

Whether blessing or curse, the sky released a downpour. It wasn’t supposed to rain. Greg and I rushed into the clubhouse to see the storm cell on radar and ask the pro-shop attendant if we could delay our start because of the wet and cold conditions. Ideally, the rain provided me with the opportunity to change my negative mindset and prepare to golf my own best game.

Overly-critical thoughts about ourselves can have disastrous outcomes in golf. Adversaries trash-talk to mess with our heads and destroy our confidence. We shouldn’t crush our own spirits with self-condemnation. Knowing this, however, didn’t prevent me from beating up my real opponent before she had even taken her first swing.

Greg and I got a reprieve. The storm cell moved quickly, and there was a half an hour before another group was scheduled to tee-off. With no one pushing us, I expected to be able to relax.

We teed off, and I plowed through first-hole jitters by hitting a decent drive. Still, the ambiance of the exceptional course overwhelmed me. My next shot landed in a seven-foot-deep bunker and I had trouble chipping out. I took a nine on the first hole and berated myself for the embarrassing start. My focus during the next few holes was just as much on the mental battle I was having as it was with the physical trial to strike the ball well.

Once I gained control of my nerves, I began to see good results. The day progressed, layers of clothing came and went, and I shot a 100 for the round. Overall, not bad. I celebrated by buying a black and white, stretchy, athletic jacket and vowing to start my diet the next day.

Golf Truth #3: It takes knowledge of the sport to earn respect from other players. Study.

Even if swinging a club and striking a ball comes naturally, we need to acquaint ourselves with the rules governing play. Otherwise, we won’t make it past the driving range without alienating ourselves from seasoned players. They may forgive innocent mistakes made by beginners, but they have little tolerance for ongoing rudeness.

The Rules of Golf are long and daunting, and I’m not sure anyone knows them all by heart. Even golf’s greatest pros sometimes ask for clarifications from officials. The rules book is commonly tucked into golf bags and pulled out during competitions. But it rarely sees the light of day during more relaxed and friendly rounds.

If we care about the spirit of the game, and we should, we’ll grow in our comprehension of golf’s long history and honor the sport through fair and honest play under all circumstances. Golf’s two governing entities want to make the rules easier for golfers—of all levels—to understand and apply. The United States Golf Association and The R&A hope to achieve this goal by revising the rules. This is a unique opportunity for those of us enamored with the sport to directly influence the game by reading a draft of the proposed rules and providing feedback by August 31, 2017. Our suggestions could be the ones that are settled upon in the finalized rule book, expected to take effect on January 1, 2019.

Golf Truth #4: It takes patience to find the swing and strategy that work best for you. Pace yourself.

Watching a video of me hitting my driver, I was surprised to see how slow my backswing is. I’m tempted to swing faster but worry that I would lose accuracy with the change. It’s not worth that risk to me. There are other areas of my game, like putting, that I can benefit from improving instead of a major overhaul in my long game.

Being in a hurry on the course can be as big of a mistake as letting intimidation influence our confidence. The last time Greg and I were being pressed by another twosome, he and I evaluated our pace of play. We were coming in under time, as designated by course policy and indicated to us by the starter at the beginning of our round. As such, we could have defiantly held our ground and made the twosome wait at every hole. But the pace of play rule indicates that we should allow faster players to play through. This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why deal with tension if you could instead alleviate it by simply being polite?

In our case, Greg and I waved for the guys to move past us and then patiently waited as each teed up, swung, and sent their shots flying forward. We watched as the second golfer searched for his ball 100 yards farther from where it was actually lying. I felt really badly telling him that his ball never made it past the forward tees. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes; and in this case, a hasty swing off the tee made for a bad shot.

So yes, it takes time and commitment to develop a love for golf. You need to approach it like you would any other relationship. Get to know its history. Who are the greats that loved it first? Regularly focus your attention on it. Is one night out a week too much to ask? Invest in it. How much better could the two of you get along if equipped with the right tools and some counseling? Shake off the tense moments and bad results. Can’t you just see how spectacular you are together too?

Control the way you think and behave, and soon you’ll be head over heels in love.

Rodeo: Where USDA Prime Meets America’s Pride

Photo of cowboys kneeling during prayer is provided by BQGAUCK Photography and used with permission.

Humbleness is just one strength of our American cowboys.*

I’ve fallen in love with cowboys. Not Louis L’Amore’s country-drawling, quick-on-the-draw, old-time Wild West fictional characters. Not the iconic John Wayne hero-types who were popular with past generations. I’m enamored with real-live, adrenaline junkie, God-fearing, patriotic, chaps-wearing, bucking-bull-riding men. In ten-gallon hats or protective helmets, these guys—who individually race the clock astride a two-thousand-pound-angry bull that could quickly maim and easily kill—are themselves a bona fide US prime cut of the finest. National treasure.

Displaced from Michigan, I embraced Western culture by attending “The 5th Annual Castle Rock Bull Riding Show” at Douglas County Fairgrounds in Colorado. Forty-seven courageous men and four equally bold youth came prepared to test their strength and endurance against the unleashed roller-coaster-like forces of agitated and intimidating four-legged opponents.

One by one, the cowboys enter the competition ring and are introduced. The audience applauds continually, and the line of bull-riders grows. Seeking support from family and friends, the brave contestants search for familiar faces among the crowd and wave. There’s hootin’ and hollerin’ all the while, until the four mini-bull riders make their way to the end of the line.

The announcer invites active military and veterans to stand. Respectfully, cowboys remove their hats and place them over their hearts. The men and boys on the field join the applauding audience in cheering. I feel thankful for the men and women who are being acknowledged for their service. I think of the young men from church—twins who graduated from West Point and are now stationed in Afghanistan. Alec and Anthony are about the same age as my eldest son, whom I get to hug and kiss hello when he comes home from work each day. I miss my own twin boys who are away at school, and they’re only an hour’s drive away from our suburban neighborhood. I’m not sure I could manage my worry if any of my children followed a calling to serve, like Alec and Anthony have.

Instilling additional honor and respect, four members of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard enter the ring. Their horses increase the number to eight. The soldiers wear replicate uniforms from the 1800’s, although in my inexperience I think they look like they could be from the American Civil War period. The front and rear army representatives each carry a saber over their right shoulder. The US Flag is on the second mount; the Colorado state flag is with the third. A recording of “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood blasts throughout the arena. I’m overwhelmed when I consider the number of men and women who have fought for our liberties and freedom. Throughout our long history, generations have pledged their allegiance to and risked their lives for the USA. The army soldiers stop behind the center of the cowboy line and face us spectators.

We sit and the announcer leads us in honoring “the most beautiful flag ever flown, our Stars and Stripes, our American flag.” A bugle plays in the background. I’m impressed by this introduction of our flag. “Think about the blood that has been shed for Old Glory. The Americans who have lost their lives and those who put it on the line every day for us so we can have this amazing thing called freedom.” The announcer’s booming voice gets louder and stronger as he dedicates the rodeo to “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, the United States armed forces: the army, navy, air force, marine corp, the coast guard and the national guard!”

For several years, I’ve been disheartened by the lack of respect shown to our country’s flag. It seems to me that when you disrespect it, you’re disrespecting all the people who have sacrificed for our country: People like my nephew who serves in the army and my great uncle who served in the navy. Veterans I never knew, like the Tuskegee Airmen. Fallen marines, like my friend’s son who was honored with a twenty-one-gun salute at his funeral. People I dearly love, like my dad who was in the air national guard and jokes that he won’t ever fly again because airlines don’t give out parachutes.

I’ve seen overwhelming indifference to the flag first-hand, most often during the singing of our national anthem at public events as big as Major League Baseball games and as common as high school soccer matches. Why do some not care to honor the very symbol that represents our country and should be a source of pride? I naively like to assume that people just don’t know or remember how to honor our Stars and Stripes. Is the protocol even taught in schools anymore? Or has it become taboo, like professing faith in Jesus? Cowboys won’t tolerate neglecting God nor Country.

A pastor is introduced. He instructs us to bow our heads in prayer. I sneak a peek at those darn cowboys. The sight of them on bended knees surprises me. It’s rare to see such unity of spirit outside church or other Christian gathering, but cowboys get it. They know a successful bull-ride and walking away uninjured is in God’s hands. Many wear a symbolic cross on their chaps to remind themselves that He is with them. These men of faith understand their very lives are dependent upon God’s will, and so they show reverence for Him. Seeing that is alone worth the price of admission.

The sound of bagpipes fills the stadium as the pastor leads us in prayer for the military who fight for “freedom in every country where their boots hit the ground as they stand against tyrants and terrorists.” We pray that the cowboys will “keep their weight in the middle and their spurs moving fast” and that the bulls will “jump high and hard.” We pray for the safety of the bull fighters, the bulls, and the workers in the pens and chutes.

Cowboys go beyond the basics of knowing what to do during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They hear the music of our national anthem, they stand, they turn to face the flag. They remove their hats from atop their heads and—placing their hats over their left shoulders—cover their hearts with their right hands. But that’s just the beginning to their outward expression of respect. Properly honoring God and expressing love for the USA are two ideals that are so important they are made a priority in rodeo and in everyday life. The real men of Colorado have their priorities straight.

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*As a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Photographer, Brian Gauck captures bull-riding stories by preserving the calm, quiet, reflective moments as well as the heart-stopping action of competitions. He covers many other events too. View more of Brian’s work by following this link: https://bqgauckphotography.smugmug.com/. You may also visit his Facebook page, BQGAUCK Photography. Note that Brian’s photos are copyright protected and I’m thankful he granted me use of this one! 

More about Brian: He’s retired from the U.S. Navy and has been living in Colorado since 2002. Besides being a PRCA Photographer, he’s a volunteer coach for the United States Air Force Academy Rodeo Team. He’s also a Pikes Peak Range Rider and has been married for nearly thirty-three years to Kelly Gauck.   

Real Writers Live to be Inspired

Writers’ lives are full of pressure. We set goals for ourselves and inch our way toward deadlines. We study our craft, attend conferences, pitch ideas to agents, and network with all sorts of people on social media. We constantly long to write but never have as much time as we would like. Raising the stakes unnecessarily higher, we bravely tell non-writers that we’re writing a book . . . and later realize the magnitude of having released our secret. We’re now accountable when our friends innocently ask, “How’s the book coming?”

Remember this famous line: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? Repeated over and over, for pages and pages, that single sentence fills the white spaces of a fictitious, yet infamous, character’s work in progress. After days of producing nothing of substance for the book he’s supposed to be writing, Jack appears demented—or worse, possessed by a sinister ghost.

The iconic imagery above is, of course, from The ShiningSteven King’s 1977 bestselling novel later transformed into blockbuster horror film. It’s a dream for many writers to be as prolific and successful as Mr. King. But try as I may, I relate more to poor, ol’ menacing Jack: I could easily isolate myself from society, shore up in a room for days, and drown myself in my writing. I’m equally obsessed as he . . .  luckily not possessed, at least not usually. Still, I know Jack’s frustration all too well. Like him, I’m not making significant progress on the two writing projects I’m most passionate about.

One of my unfinished books is the biography of a female pastor, Janet Noble-Richardson. My inspiration to write about Janet stems from her influence on my spiritual life. I never met anyone who expressed such abundant Christ-like love in their own behavior. Janet taught love by modeling it, and I admired her faith-filled approach. I want people to see the way Janet lived her life and to understand what it looks like to be in close relationship with Christ. I hope her story will inspire people to develop their own connections to Christ and make Him the priority in their lives.

My job to tell Janet’s story is complicated for a variety of reasons. I need to verify facts, but I can’t ask Janet for clarification of personal details. She died in a car accident in 2006. So, I’m piecing the story together through written documents she left and through interviews with people who knew her.

Janet’s father told me stories of raising his family in Pakistan, where he and his wife served as missionaries. The family met people from many different nations. American diplomats and foreign ambassadors regularly attended church services at the Noble’s home in Islamabad.

Pastor Noble recounted one story with great fondness, and I could appreciate how significant the moment was for him and his family. On a vacation into northern India, they met a boy who said he was studying under the Dalai Lama. Ever since encountering the boy, the family has wondered whether he grew up to become the current Dalai Lama.

I started researching Janet’s story over two years ago and quickly realized that in representing facts accurately I would have to expose hard truths like this: It’s improbable that the boy the family met in India in 1961 could be the same man who is the current Dalai Lama. My investigation indicates that His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, had been living in Dharamsala at the time the Nobles were visiting the area. As I write this article in 2017, however, the 14th Dalai Lama is still alive. Before the next can be chosen, His Holiness must die and reincarnate. Therefore, the 15th Dalai Lama has yet to be born, if at all. That means that the boy the Nobles met may have been a student of some sort, but he couldn’t have been training to be the Tibetan religious leader.

You can see why Janet’s biography is complicated. I hate thinking that I could ruin another really good family story. Regardless, I’m committed to doing my best, even if it takes me a decade to get the book done.

The other book I’m writing is for children. The story is flowery and fanciful—a work of fiction in which flora and fauna talk to one another. It has villains and heroes, conflict, resolution, symbolism, and a heart-warming ending. It is the kind of book that binds grandparents to their grandkids. The elders will want to read it aloud and the youth will cherish the book as their favorite.

I know the premise and I’m developing the cast of characters. One is named Grace—not for a didactic religious purpose, but because I promised my best friend during middle school that one day, I would name one of my children after her, Marjorie Grace.

You may all be thinking: finish one book before you start another. But writers don’t think like that. We can’t stop the ideas that come flooding our way. We do our best to harness them. Sometimes we’re desperate and reach for scraps of paper and napkins to scribble upon. Other times, we trap our story arcs in fancy journals until it’s time to unravel our thoughts and spin them into order with the help of software like Microsoft Word and Scrivener.

When friends like you ask how my books are coming, I know I overuse the words, “I wish I had more time to write,” and it feels like a horribly weak excuse. But I don’t worry about the time it takes. I know that I’m a work in progress too. While I’m forever thinking, composing, revising, and promoting, God is taking His time refining me—shaping my life through the people and experiences that are unique to me. I’m growing in knowledge and developing new skills. I’m learning to be a better person by juggling the demands of everyday life, experiencing burdens and joys, dealing with complex issues and personalities.

When oppressive thoughts lure me into thinking that it would be quicker and easier to check out from society—like Jack did—to mine my treasures, I know better. Fairy tale endings aren’t discovered in privacy and seclusion. Life among the living is rich with inspiration. I’m savoring my time in the real world with family and friends. I’m at peace knowing that I’ll finish what I need to when the time is perfectly right.

The Amazing Aruba Sandman

The Caribbean Sea smashed onto shore with nearly the same intensity as a migraine I woke with. “Stay . . . Rest a little longer . . . Warmth and the sunshine are good for you.” The self-indulgent temptation to remain in Aruba sang to me like a siren and fought hard to keep me firmly planted in paradise. A pounding headache was just a ploy to keep me from confronting my reality: my respite was over. Home—snow-covered, below zero, Michigan—beckoned. There was only time left to finish packing, shower, check-out, and drive to the airport. Rebellious, I drowned the pain with two Excedrin so I could make my way, once more, to the beach. I couldn’t fathom leaving without taking a picture of the spectacular sand sculpture that had been finished the day before.

Cathy and Heidi, my friends and travel companions, returned from a short walk and said there was a problem. During the night, the selfish tide had reached its gnarly fingers onto shore to reclaim raw materials it wanted back. Bit by bit, the ocean defiantly picked apart the seventy hours of craftsmanship that Marc Mangia had spent in building a story out of the sand.

I rushed to the shore. Marc wasn’t in sight, but other early risers were nearby, under the shade of their palapas. Five-gallon, white plastic buckets still held sand in them from days before and rested near Marc and his wife Debbie’s lounge chairs. Even in a state of collapse, the sand sculpture was impressive. One man walked slowly around the display and videotaped it from every direction. I sat close by so I could watch the reactions of others and hear their comments about Marc’s rapidly dilapidating creation.

“What a shame.”

“How awful.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It looks like the ruins of ancient Greece.”

All comments were tinged with pain as if the onlookers to the tragedy had spent their vacations transforming nature into another art form.

“No wonder Marc isn’t anywhere to be seen,” I thought. “He must be devastated, witnessing the erosion.” But when he came forward, it was clear that, all along, he understood the impermanence of his craft. He quietly conceded, “What can I do? It’s the way it is.”

Initially, the passersby seemed more disappointed in the destruction than Marc, who didn’t outwardly convey how he was feeling. He told me that he had never before seen his work wash away. Usually, his pieces hold together long after he finishes his vacation and returns home to Ohio, where he’s a carpenter and business owner. Once, another vacationer sent him an e-mail to tell him that his work was still standing two weeks later.

I continued talking with Marc and watched him closely. Fighting an ache in his back that had plagued him for days, he stooped down to his knees once again. This time, he wasn’t adding a fine detail—chiseling miniature bricks; hollowing out windows; carving his name above a doorway. He bent down so he could reach a perfectly intact, miniature clay pot that had been pushed out of place by unruly waves. Marc gently lifted the pot and repositioned it to higher ground—on the steps of an arch that were half-gone. He prolonged the life of this one tiny remnant.

Not an artist, not a sculptor, Marc Mangia is a talented hobbyist who inspires people of all ages to play in the sand.

Marc next picked up a damaged and unidentifiable part of his masterpiece. He stood to show it to me. He explained that the outer covering was made from one part glue mixed with nine parts water. The concoction was gently sprayed to seal in moisture so the sand structure would hold together longer. He crushed the clump gently between his fingers, and I could see the fine sand underneath the outer surface. He handed some to me so I could squish it too. The outside consistency resembled icing on a cake—once the icing has been exposed to air for awhile and gets a little firm or stale. Inside, the sand was still moist and powdery. It crumbled easily.

“In the fifteen years we’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen the water come up this high,” he said.

Comparably, this was my sixth visit to Aruba and first time meeting The Aruba Sandman. On the first night of this trip, Cathy and I had arrived at the Marriott Ocean Club in time to make it to the beach for sunset, but Marc’s partially completed sand sculpture stole our attention away from the setting sun. Reaching up about five feet towards heaven, a lighthouse was the focal point and served as the foundation for the rest of the display. A spiral staircase wound its way up one side of the beacon.  Another set of stairs was carved into its rocky-looking base. Beneath an arch that connected the lighthouse to a clock-tower was a small fishing boat.

The creation looked so perfect that I initially thought it was made of plastic, like the three-foot high chess pieces laid out by Marriott for the vacationers to wile away their time. With closer inspection and considering the sign that requested, “Take pictures, but please don’t touch,” I realized that the sand sculpture was amazing.

That same evening, a father and son walked up and admired yet another feature—a church. Marc pulled out a picture of the island’s Alta Vista Chapel, showed it to the boy, and explained that this part of the sculpture was a replica of the church located nearby on the island.

Cathy and I examined the intricate design further. Detailed attention had been given to each part of the sandy display. Plastic, flameless, tea-light candles had been added for night-time ambiance. It was easy to visualize the hustle and bustle of a busy seaside town and imagine its residents hurrying home after a long day of work. Anchor the boat, cross over the bridge, stop in the chapel to light a candle, and get home before nightfall.

In a jealous attempt to earn back our admiration, the night sky could wait no longer to boast of its beauty. Clouds blocked the sun and hid it from view, but it wouldn’t go down without a fight. It squeezed in between every soft crevice it found and exploded with a fury. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues lashed out and burned away the daylight in a fiery glow. “One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen,” was spoken out loud by many, including me.

“How did you get started in sand-sculpting?” I asked Marc.

“My wife and I spend a lot of time on the beach, and I just got sort of antsy. I started playing in the sand. I figured it out on my own throughout the years. What’s funny is that I recently spent time watching others so I could learn their techniques. But they weren’t doing anything different from what I was doing.”

Those of us who appreciate Marc’s talent disagree: That’s not so, Mr. Sandman. Not so.