Treasures on Earth, Treasures in Heaven

Engineering certificate of William Charles Nilges.
I visit so many thrift stores, it's hard to keep them straight. But NuWay in Kalamazoo, Michigan stands out--because on my initial visit it reaked of urine; because of the prices written in wax crayon directly on the merchandise; because of a presentation so unappealing even I, a hardened thrift store junkie, consider fleeing.

I return, though, whenever I'm in Kalamazoo, because I manage to unearth a treasure on each visit. Yesterday it was a framed certificate. Issued in 1953, it declared William Charles Nilges a mechanical engineer in the State of Ohio. Its Machine Age design delights me. Though I suspect the anonymity of its recipient will hurt its prospects at Laura's Last Ditch, with a no-risk price of $3.98, I rolled the dice.

This evening, Googling "William Charles Nilges," I discovered his obituary. It took a mere month from the day he died at the age of 93 for his certificate to find its way into the shopping cart that I, with difficulty, wended through NuWay's disorganized aisles. "Bill" came from a family of ten. His wife died in '94. He held several patents for hydraulic pumps and owned a Volkswagen dealership. He served in World War II, and built steam-powered toys for nieces and nephews.

Survived by only two elderly brothers and dying childless, no niece or nephew--steam-powered toys notwithstanding--bothered to claim his mechanical engineering certificate. Feeling a sort of connection to him, I cried. Yet, there was light in one line of his obituary: "Ministering to Bill for many years have been Cathy and Jim Seiser, neighbors with huge hearts and much love." Maybe the detritus of his life went to NuWay, but he was not without friends.

Our dear neighbor, Walter.
Our nonagenarian neighbor, Walter, moved to a nursing home this past June. Walter, like William Charles Nilges, never had children. Having a speech impediment, neither did he marry. He always gave our son extra attention; because George is different, he has had a special place in Walter's heart. Every month when George's gift subscription of Highlights for Children arrives in the mail, we remember that we really should visit dear Walter.

With my only child having autism, I am likely to have no grandchildren, no descendants. Some day when I die, though few may remain to mourn my passing, I want written in my obituary, "She was a neighbor with a huge heart and much love." One who ministered. One who visited neighbors in the nursing home.

My earthly treasures may end up in a heap at the worst secondhand store in town, but my life will have mattered.


  1. Wow, Laura, that was a pretty powerful statement you just made! I love what you wrote. Your friend, Pam

  2. This is beautiful!

  3. Touched. My husband is an engineer and when someone spends so much time working towards something like that, it's hard to see a symbol of their life end up in a thrift store. I agree with your last statement . . . even if all we own becomes worthless after we die, it's our eternal treasure that matters most.

  4. When I find old family photos in thrifts or flea markets it makes me sad that no one cares who these people are. Sometimes the pictures are labeled as to who they were. I once gave a whole album of 1900's era pictures that was well labeled to the local geneological society because I know people who do geneology would love to have pictures of their ancestors. Another sad thing is finding old family Bibles with the birth, marriage and death records in them. Again, that information is precious to people who ARE interested in geneology.

  5. Great post! I found your blog through an Etsy's We Love Vintage thread.

    Lynette - Sweet Posy Dreams

  6. I love it Laura. Thanks so much for sharing.


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!