I Will Always Love You
Paula couldn’t wait to hit the Labor Day weekend flea markets. In her town, sellers set up everywhere they could squeeze a card table or canvas tent, from Main Street to the nearby neighborhoods, and she saved her tips all summer so she’d have plenty of ones, fives, and tens to spend the first weekend in September.
She was a waitress at Hank’s Hog Heaven Barbecue Palace, and the place would be doing a booming business all weekend, but Paula always took Friday and Saturday mornings off on Labor Day weekend to shop the flea markets. The barbecue buffs would get along just fine until she arrived later.
That Saturday morning, Paula hopped out of bed at six and tried not to wake Dennis, her husband, or Moon Pie and RC, the tabby cats she’d rescued from the dumpster behind Hank’s a few years back. Dennis had pitched a fit when she came home with them, mainly because she always got too attached to her pets, and they always died. Fortunately, Moon Pie and RC seemed to be in great health. Neither Dennis nor the cats stirred as Paula padded to the bathroom, dressed in comfy jeans and a Luke Bryan T-shirt, and pulled on her favorite cowboy boots.
She put a pot of coffee on for Dennis and filled her thermos with unsweet tea from the fridge. Paula drank unsweet tea constantly at Hank’s. Slinging barbecue was hard work, and she got thirsty as soon as she hit the floor each day.
Carrying her thermos in one hand, Paula used the other to reach for her handbag. Her friends had wondered how a waitress could afford a Dooney & Bourke ostrich hobo bag, and she’d been happy to tell them about the night a customer dropped a two-hundred-dollar tip. She’d gone to the mall the very next morning and bought the purse. It was six months before Dennis noticed it. When he’d asked if it was new, she told him, honestly, that it was not.
She looked on the kitchen counter and was pleased Dennis had left the keys to his Ford F-150 as she’d asked him to. She wasn’t looking to buy furniture, but she never knew what she might find and wanted to be prepared.
Once in the truck, Paula poured some tea into a Tervis tumbler. For the millionth time, she thought how much she loved her tea. After cranking the truck and turning on country radio, Paula pulled onto the highway. Soon, she was sipping tea to Billy Currington’s “Good Directions,” tapping the gas pedal as he sang of asking “Miss Belle” for some of her sweet tea.
The colorful flea market tents were up on Main Street as Paula passed through downtown, then slipped into a parking space and prepared to shop. First stop was the Kiwanis funnel cake booth.
“Funny to be serving you for a change,” said Bill McHenry, the new Kiwanis president, as he handed over her funnel cake sprinkled with powdered sugar.
“Yeah, and I kinda like it,” Paula joked, handing over a twenty and telling Bill to keep the change. Kiwanis did so much good in their community, she liked to give a little extra when she could.
Paula said hello to some of the regulars from Hank's, then moseyed on to the other booths. Within fifteen minutes, she’d purchased some silver cowboy boot earrings, a candle that looked like an apple pie, and a throw rug crocheted from old T-shirts. Paula thought the colorful rug would look great in her bathroom.
There didn’t seem to be as many junkers as usual. Paula saw her old high school friend, Beverly, who liked antiques and “upcycled” treasures, as they called them these days.
“Listen, if you want some bargains, head over to Wilson Avenue,” Beverly said. “There’s a neighborhood sale, and they’re letting stuff go cheap. I got two rockers, a dresser, three quilts, and a butter churn for under a hundred bucks.”
Paula thanked her for the tip and headed to the truck. She polished off her funnel cake, trashed the paper plate, and was ready to roll.
Wilson Avenue was just three blocks away, and Paula couldn’t wait to get there. She loved old stuff. In fact, she’d recently redecorated her living room in the Victorian style. That had surprised Dennis, who always thought Paula was fine with his camouflage recliner and pit group. When he came home one day to find a burgundy floral sofa and love seat in their place, he realized big changes were afoot.
“Mornin’,” Paula said to the woman in charge of the sale. It never hurt to be friendly. Sometimes, it got you a better deal.
Cars were pulling in quickly, but Paula spotted the antique silverplate set before the other shoppers did. She’d seen something similar in a magazine, but old silver cost a fortune. The set was just ten dollars for three pieces. She wasn’t even sure what they were. A sugar, creamer, and maybe some kind of fancy serving piece?
Paula took the silver to the checkout table and continued looking. She found a tapestry pillow for the living room for three dollars and a matching footstool for five. She was about to bypass the china and glassware when she realized the little wooden cart they sat on was for sale. Ten bucks? Heck yeah!
Paula found a rusty toolbox she knew Dennis would love for ten dollars, and for free, she got a brand-new scratch toy for Moon Pie and RC. The seller just wanted rid of it. Paula was happy to help.
After paying up, Paula got in the truck, refilled her tea tumbler, and cranked up the radio. A favorite song was starting to play, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
As she cruised through town and headed home, Paula held up her tea tumbler and suddenly laughed. “Yes, my friend, I will always love you!” And she sipped her tea with a smile.