Treasures of the Least Likely Kind

Rough-cut diamonds rain on Jupiter: we learn this at a planetarium presentation in St. Johnsbury.

Afterwards, my daughter and our friends walk out of the Fairbanks Museum — one of my favorite places with its collection of local and exotic: freshly picked flowers in season and an ancient clay vessel for wine, Egyptian mummies and Civil War paraphanelia.

And, a fantastic collection of Richard W. Brown’s photographs temporarily on-display, the real reason we had driven to St. Johnsbury that day.

When my younger daughter was three, we had the head rebuilt of a Volvo station wagon we had bought from someone who likely botched the original job and passed the vehicle to us. A mechanic far out on a back road in St. Johnsbury did the work. My three-year-old and I on a beautiful summer day drove along twisting back roads I had never traveled, and ended up at an enormous windowless garage with a single green door at one end. I knocked; no one answered.

Holding my daughter’s tiny hand in mine, I entered and walked through what seemed to be an Alice-in-Wonderland mechanic’s world of room after room of greasy engine parts. I found the mechanic, a man in his sixties, his face and hands permanently hued with that same black used engine oil, in the labyrinth. The inside to my Volvo’s heart he had wrapped in a cloth. He opened the cloth and showed me the shining silver.

I lifted my tiny daughter, in her yellow and red-flowered sundress, a hand-me-down from her sister. He showed my child the work he had done. He and I spoke for a bit, while I wrote a check. As I turned to leave, he noticed my daughter was staring at a tiny plastic horse on a cluttered desk and told me to take the toy for her. He said the horse had been there for a long time and must have been waiting for her.

In a borrowed car, I followed the dirt roads down to the river, then turned left, toward  home. My little daughter sat in the backseat, that horse clenched in one fist, staring through the window at the landscape passing by. In the back was that rebuilt piece of our car, wrapped in clean cloths.

That Volvo has long since passed out of my and daughters’ lives, in the endless way of consuming minerals and money cars claim. My daughter wore that dress for years, until it was far above her round knees. The horse is likely still in our possession, in a treasure box of childhood mementos. And the mechanic? We never saw him again. But I still hold the kindness of a stranger who paused on that July day to wonder what interested a small, unspeaking child.


Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes….

From Hayden’s Carruth’s Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey


Richard W. Brown




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