“But I like exploring old abandoned places.” Jude Cannon had tried explaining his hobby to his grandson, Neil, but the younger man never seemed to understand.
“Why would you want to poke around those empty dirty places? I don’t get it?” Was Neil’s usual reply.
Jude had always been attracted to empty places-barns, sheds, houses and, like this new one, factories. He enjoyed rummaging through the abandoned rooms and sifting through those items cluttering the floors. He had found the most unusual things in his adventures and had even found a few items of value.
Some years ago, Jude had been on one of his beloved road trips to nowhere. It was his idea of the perfect vacation to just get in his car and drive. He never took the main roads because his intention was always to find hidden treasures. On that particular trip, he had come across an old barn. It looked as though it was only held up by a wish and a prayer and it intrigued Jude so much he went to the next house he saw to ask about it. As it turned out, the resident also owned the barn and gave Jude full permission to go through it as he liked. The man had told Jude he intended to tear the thing down at some point so whatever Jude wanted from the old place, he could have. Jude was certain the man had thought he was looking for old barn wood, but he would be wrong, of course.
Jude had spent three hours sifting through years of clutter and dirt and old wood. He had dug through old rotted wood and shredded horse blankets. He had dug through piles of straw that were probably as old as the barn and, ultimately, he had found a small metal box. Jude hadn’t really cared what, if anything, was in the box. He simply like the box and the inscription on the top. ‘Feister Tools-1927’. So after three hours, Jude had carried the box under his arm and left the memory of a barn.
Later, when he checked into a small motel somewhere down the road from Knoxville, Jude thought of the box and opened it. Inside were small tools as those used by a clockmaker. They were wrapped carefully and when Jude pulled back the wrapping, each tool was pristine. None looked as though they had ever been used. Jude knew he probably had something worth a few bucks. It was later, when he was home again, he discovered this particular set of tools were worth a number with at least 4 zeroes. He had sold them for a VERY pretty sum.
So now, he tried to explain yet again to Neil that his wanderings and searches were for his own enjoyment, but also that he occasionally found something of worth. He tried to explain the feeling of searching through history because that was how he saw it. As Jude wandered through an old building, he imagined what stories might be attached. Who had been here before? What were their stories? But Neil never understood.
So this morning, Neil had come by to spend some time with Jude. The original plan had been to play Rummy and watch old John Wayne films, but when Neil arrived, Jude told him he had a line on an old factory he could explore. Jude asked if his grandson might like to tag along-to maybe see why his old Pop enjoyed this so much. Surprisingly, Neil agreed.
The pair packed snacks and drinks and headed out in Jude’s red and white ’57 Chevy. The classic was taken care of as though it was a newborn, but Jude also believed in driving his prize. Neil never argued about traveling in the beautiful old car and happily slid into the passenger seat.
An hour or so later, Jude pulled into a large empty parking lot next to an old factory that easily covered a couple of blocks. It stood three stories tall and most of the windows had been shattered long before. The pair made their way to the first door they saw. There was a padlocked chain on the handle so they wandered along until they came to an open door. Once inside, every noise was amplified. Every step they took sounded like gunshots echoing through the vast space.
As the men moved from room to room, they looked through piles of refuse. They studied various spots of graffiti on the walls, some dating back 30 years, it seemed. On the second floor, they found where homeless individuals had bedded down at some point. There were remnants of old blankets, old clothes and old food. There was evidence of animals looking through it all at some point. And there was evidence of new residency in a back room. When Neil pushed the door open wider, they saw a bed on the floor of stacked towels and blankets and clothing. An old jacket was rolled up as a pillow and there was an old picture frame with the glass missing holding a photograph of a small girl. The picture sat at the side of the bed. It was obvious this bed was being used. Neil and Jude felt as though they were intruding on someone’s home so they turned and left.
On the third floor of the old building had been offices. There were many smaller rooms, some still holding desks. Neil let out a small laugh and headed for the first desk. Jude watched as he opened each drawer in hopes of finding something, but they were all emptied. The pair looked in cabinets attached to the walls and found old papers, old pens that would no longer write and an old stapler. Neil stuck the stapler in his back pack.
Finally, in one of the last offices on the floor, the pair opened a desk drawer to find a large binder. In the binder were plastic pages holding papers. On the front of the binder was the logo of the Boston Braves. Neil frowned as he showed it to his grandfather.
“Boston?” Neil asked.
“Son, before the Braves were in Atlanta, they were in Boston. In the 50s, they moved to Wisconsin. Milwaukee, I think. Then they moved to Atlanta in the mid 60’s. Wonder what’s in that notebook?” Jude moved closer.
When Neil opened the binder, Jude let out a whistle.
“NO!” He gasped. He leaned in closer.
“What is it, Pops?” Neil was looking in the binder but not certain what he was seeing.
“My boy, this is an absolute goldmine! Look at that! Bob Elliot! Sam Jethroe! ROGERS HORNSBY! WOW!!”
“Ok, Pops, I know they are baseball cards, but what’s special about them?”
“Son, these are original Boston Braves cards!! These on this page are of players in the 50s.” Jude flipped a couple of pages over.
“Look at this! EDDIE MATTHEWS! WOW!” Jude was like a 10 year old boy finding buried treasure. Neil gazed at his grandfather for a moment.
“Here.” Neil handed the binder to Jude. “You found a treasure, Pops. and I get it now. I see why you like going through these old buildings. This binder isn’t just a collection of cool old cards. Somebody collected them. Somebody cared enough to take care of them. That’s cool. But what gets me is that they were left behind. Why? Why would somebody care enough to collect these things and take care of them this way and then leave them? Yeah. I get it now.”
Soon after, with the binder tucked tightly under his arm, Jude led Neil from the old building and back to the Chevy. Once inside the car, Jude sat still for a moment staring at the old building. He knew he would be researching the building-what it had been used for and, if he could find out, who had worked there. It was a story he needed to learn.
As he finally put the car in gear, Neil turned to his grandpa.
“When do you suppose we can do this again, Pops?”
Dedicated to my Anna who suggested a story about an old man and a factory.