Ominous clouds hung like a soggy shroud while rain peppered the windshield of my SUV. I pulled into the museum’s parking lot where I saw Leona’s little black sports car already in one of the spaces reserved for volunteers. I parked next to it.
Looking into the rearview mirror, I finger combed my thanks-to-the-rain frizzy curls. I barely recognized the dark circled eyes, edged with crow’s feet, glaring back at me.
Why did I let Leona talk me into this?
“You need to get out of your pajamas and live life again,” she’d said for the umpteenth time during the gloomy days of the past year. “There’s talk the council may close the town’s museum for the winter if we don’t have more people willing to volunteer. You’re needed!”
There I was, in coffee-stained slacks on a cold, rainy Saturday morning, racing to the door of the museum while trying to open an umbrella that had two broken ribs.
“Sue Anne, I’m so happy to see you,” Leona beamed as I entered the warmth of the museum and tucked the wet umbrella into a corner.
We laughed as I noticed she had the old Wurlitzer jukebox revved up, neon lights flashing, as Buddy Holly belted out “Peggy Sue.”
The jukebox had been donated to the museum when the old teen center had been renovated. Fortunately, some of the original, black vinyl 45 records had been salvaged as well.
In spite of myself, I snapped my fingers in time with the music. Maybe this is what I needed.
“What’s on the agenda today?” I asked.
Looking around the small confines of the museum, Leona sighed. “With this weather, it’ll probably be a slow day for visitors. I thought we’d begin sorting through boxes the custodian brought in from the high school’s storage room. I hope we’ll soon have a larger place and won’t have to rotate our displays.”
The day proved to be busier than expected. A mother and daughter had come to see prom dresses donated by local ladies. The daughter giggled with delight upon seeing her mother’s old black and gold cheerleading uniform. “I wish it still fit!” the mother sighed.
Later, I watched a silver-haired couple enthralled as Leona took them through the history of the perfume factory that operated on the outskirts of town. She explained how exquisite, crystal perfume bottles, with ebony stoppers, had been excavated from the factory site and given to the museum.
Seeing that Leona was busy with guests, I began sorting the contents of one of the boxes from the high school. Tucked in a corner of the box was a gold banner, GO PANTHERS. Smoothing out the wrinkles, I placed it on the “keeper” table.
Over the next half hour, a 1946 yearbook with mildew on its cover — perhaps I could clean it — was added to the keeper table along with copies of Panther’s Paw, the school’s newspaper during the ‘60s.
Leona locked the front door of the museum at 2 o’clock and joined me.
“How many bugs and spiders have you found?” she laughed.
“In spite of the dust and a broken nail, it’s been fun.”
She lifted a rusty tin from the depths of another box. “What have we here? It’s marked lost and found.”
I only half listened to her running commentary as she rummaged through treasures contained in the tin — “... club pins, a medal, black-and-white photos of sporting events, advertisement pens, several pocket knives, a ring ....”
“A ring?” I looked up from scanning a Panther’s Paw.
She rubbed it with her shirttail, removing some grime. “It has an onyx stone in the center, there are no initials engraved inside the band, and the year is 1965.”
Shaking, I took the ring from her hand. “The engraving would’ve cost an extra five dollars.”
Allen had asked me to wear his class ring the day he received it, but I had shaken my head. “You should wear it awhile first,” I’d said. Later that same day, he lost it in football practice.
We married shortly after graduation and had been so happy, until last year. The accident. A widow.
“You think it could possibly be Allen’s lost ring?” Leona’s voice was a whisper.
I slipped the ring onto my finger.
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