Become a Stalker

My wife thinks I’m a stalker.

Several years ago, while I was collecting information for a book on William Dodge, the Asheville Arts & Crafts silversmith and architect, a man came to my door. I had never met him, never heard of him, never even talked with him. He carried an ordinary, unmarked, medium-sized cardboard box.

“I understand you’re interested in William Dodge,” he said by way of introduction. I nodded and he continued, “I think I have something you’ll want to see.”

I showed him the way into my basement office and cleared off a space for his box. “Years ago I was doing some work for one of his relatives,” he explained, “and we got to talking. I’ve always been interested in architecture, so she brought out this box. Before I left, I ended up trading some yard work for it.”

Inside was a researcher’s dream: papers, letters, photographs, documents, drawings, and blueprints.

I was speechless.

We chatted for an hour as Robert casually flipped through the contents of the box. Then, as he stood up to leave, he pushed a pile of letters and envelopes, all postmarked 1918 in France, where Dodge had been wounded during the war, across the table. “Here,” he said, as he closed the lid to the box, “go to work on these. When you’re done, call me and I’ll give you another batch.”

For several days afterwards, when time permitted, I worked on the material, making copies and transcribing Dodge’s handwriting, some literally written as he was hunched down in a muddy trench, eighty miles north of Paris. But, then, my pace slowed as other responsibilities pushed their way into my office. The Dodge letters went into a file, then into a cabinet.

A full six months went by, then a few more. Finally, I finished with what Robert had given me and called the number on his business card, asking the secretary who answered if I could speak to him. At first she said nothing, then asked how I knew Robert. I explained the circumstances of our meeting, and, after a long pause, she broke the news. A few weeks earlier, while clearing some brush, Robert had stepped onto a large hornets’ nest. Before he could escape, they had attacked him, stinging him hundreds of times. No one was with him, no one knew what had happened, and within minutes Robert had died from an allergic reaction to their venon.

I was stunned. I muttered my apologies and hung up. After a few days I called her back, and explained about the box. She didn’t know anything about it, saying only that his wife had picked up everything from his office.

I let a few more weeks go by, then, hoping enough time had passed, called the home number listed in the phone book. No answer, no answering machine. I drove by the address in the phone book. The house, a one-story brick rancher with attached garage and fenced back yard, looked empty.

For the next two months I alternated calling and driving by. A man mowing her yard said she had gone to stay with her sister, but wasn’t sure exactly where. I stalled, hoping he might open the garage door to put the mower away, giving me a glimpse, perhaps, of the box. No such luck.

Finally, a month later, she answered the phone. I carefully delivered my well-rehearsed lines, apologizing profusely as I described the box and its contents. She listened politely, then, with a detached voice, told me she had never seen the box. I stammered, explaining how something else – magazines, books, newspapers – could have been placed on top of the Dodge material inside the box, but I could tell she wasn’t interested. She promised to look, then ended the conversation.

I waited two weeks, then called again. This time the phone had been disconnected. I drove over to her house. The grass needed mowing and a real estate sign stood at the end of the driveway. Beyond caring what the neighbors might think, I parked and began peering through the windows. The place was empty. I was crushed.

Last week a woman in West Asheville called me. She has some old papers that once belonged to E.W. Grove, the man who in 1913 built the Grove Park Inn.

I think I’ll go see her – today.

Until next week…….

Learn from my mistake!