The fifty leather bound tomes sitting on the shelves above the roll-top desk held a collection that began nearly two hundred years earlier when Jared’s great-great-grandfather worked as a postmaster in Baltimore, Indiana in the 1840s. Jared and his daughter, Lizzie, were visiting Grandpa Craig for the summer. Lizzie thought it was great fun, but Jared just didn’t want to be anywhere around while his ex-wife and her new boyfriend cleaned out the house that he had spent decades building for her. He did like visiting his dad though, since Maggie never allowed him to come visit. This was Lizzie’s first time meeting her grandfather, which made Jared feel more like a great dad than a great husband. He would rather be dad than husband any day after the divorce.
Craig was sitting at the desk looking at his father’s collection from the 20s and 30s when Lizzie skipped into the room eating a popsicle sticking out of a cup wrapped in a wash cloth.
“Whatcha doin, Grampa?” she said, holding out her popsicle arm as far as she could while craning her neck to look over his shoulder.
Craig turned and began laughing. It was a good thing Lizzie had dance lessons or else she would have fallen on her nose in that position. “Do you always eat like that?”
“No, but daddy said your stamps are the most valuable thing in the house and I don’t want to ruin them.”
Her face was most sincere and sad at the same time. Craig wondered how often she had been scolded by Maggie for ruining something. He called her over closer, hugging her while telling her all about the two cent George Washington, one cent Franklin, and the two-dollar Franklin. Every stamp had a story and he often thought that stamp collectors collected those more than stamps. She listened and licked her popsicle.
“One day,” Craig began while he closed the book and put it back on the shelf, “all these will be your Dad’s, then yours if you want them.”
Lizzie started jumping up and down, then she ran from the room. “I’m gonna be a tamper like Grampa!”
Jared could be heard laughing all the way from the kitchen. Over dinner that night, the weathergirl on Channel 6 said a storm was building. Jared and Craig looked at each other and nodded. Jared remembered the storms when he was a kid would always knock out the power, so after dinner him and Lizzie played the “find all the candles” game and laid them on the kitchen table. Craig collected empty containers and filled them and the bathtub with clean water and placed a bucket of water near the toilet for flushing if it came to that. Lizzie laughed at all the commotion caused by the announcement of a storm. She had only known storms in New York City though, and things could often take a turn for the worse in Arkansas.
The winds struck at 6 that night and took out the power. The family lit the candles and hunkered down for a long night. When the clouds opened at 7:30 the family watched as rain poured over the house and the flooded the garden bed.
“Good thing I didn’t water,” Craig quipped.
Jared checked the news station on his phone and the tornado risk was zero, so they could relax just a little. They watched the rain until the late summer sun finally set below the horizon, then they had to watch the silly fireflies dance in the rain. Jared carried the yawning Lizzie up to her room on the 2nd floor and returned to the living room where Craig was pacing from window to window.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“Something’s not right, son. Look at the water.”
“Yeah, it’s raining.”
“No, Jared! Look outside in the yard and street.” Craig jabbed a finger pointing out the window.
“What in the hell!”
Jared and Craig stood frozen watching the water flow off the roof into the garden bed and watched as water streamed toward the house from the street. Water was rising quickly and already reached the second step on the porch. You could hear a pin drop in the living room’s silence. Both men jumped as Jared’s phone sounded an emergency alarm for local residents.
“The reservoir is beyond capacity. No time to evacuate. Remain in your homes. Go to the highest point in your home or move to your roof.” Jared’s heart raced as he read the notification.
Jared and Craig ran upstairs, grabbed Lizzie who was sound asleep, and climbed into the attic where they had roof access if it became necessary. Craig pulled out old blankets and clothes to make a softer bed for Lizzie. Jared was happy she was used to city noise and was sleeping through the sounds of breaking glass and crashing objects as they became dislodged in the flood.
When morning came, it was clear that they were trapped in the attic and would need to be rescued by coast guard, FEMA, or someone with a boat. It was late afternoon when they were rescued and nearly a month before they were able to return home to inspect the damage. It was a total loss. Insurance and governmental assistance would cover most of the items in the home, but nothing could replace Craig’s stamp collection.
Jared stepped up to the plate and began building his dad a new home up by their cabin in the Ozarks. It took three months, but he had finished before winter. He had become worried about Craig who became quite despondent and withdrawn because of the stamp collection, but he hoped his surprise would help.
“Close your eyes, guys,” Jared told Lizzie and Craig, guiding them into their new home.
He positioned them in the living room. “Okay, you can open them.”
Lizzie shouted and clapped at the lavender walls. Craig’s eyes immediately overflowed with tears as he looked below the chair railing at the tiles. It couldn’t be! He walked over to the wall and kneeled, touching and rubbing each of the lacquered tiles.
“Do you like it Dad?”
“Our stamps,” Craig whimpered as he slumped on the floor.
Lizzie ran over and tackled him with a hug. “Our tamps, our tamps!” she shouted as she noticed the tiles.
“They were ruined, and we lost some of them, but I turned them into tiles so that they would permanently belong to the family.”
Elizabeth likes telling her grandchildren the story of how those tiles came to be every time they visit. Each of them have a favorite stamp and she will often tell the story of who collected it. In this way, her grandfather’s life work continues to be handed down and will be for many more generations.
This story was inspired by the Three Things Challenge prompts: stamp collector, Popsicle, tile