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CASEY: Charming tale of book sale lives long in Patrick Henry High alum’s memory | Local News

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CASEY: Charming tale of book sale lives long in Patrick Henry High alum’s memory | Local News

As you might know, the Roanoke Valley chapter of the American Association of University Women put on whale of a used book sale at Tanglewood Mall over the weekend. The group’s long-running lease there is up, and they needed to unload their books so they can get out of their space by June 9th.

A long line formed in the mall’s second-floor corridors before the AAUW chapter opened its doors Saturday morning. According to Betsy Biesenbach (an AAUW member who was there for a couple of hours) the retail space was packed so tightly people could barely breathe.

HelenRuth Burch, who’s on the chapter’s book-sale committee, said the event was the chapter’s biggest book sale in 62 years of staging it.

The AAUW unloaded two-thirds of an estimated 30,000-book stash by 6 pm, selling shopping bags stuffed with used volumes for $ 2 per bag. Along the way, they raised enough for three $ 1,000 higher-education scholarships, Burch said.

The remaining books were donated to Total Action for Progress, the venerable Roanoke community action agency.

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Today, we’re reflecting not on that sale, but on a charming memory of it that dates to 1984. It’s courtesy of Martin Skelly, who plays a starring role. He sent it an essay form to me last week.

These days Skelly’s a retired banker and investor who lives in South Carolina. Back then he was a senior in Patrick Henry High School’s class of 1985.

Another key character is his mom, Delores, a member of the AAUW. She still lives in the Raleigh Court home in which Skelly grew up.

In the 1960s, Delores and her husband, Tom, emigrated from their native Ireland to England, where Tom worked as an engineer for General Electric. (He’s still with us, too.)

GE later moved the family to Erie, Pennsylvania (at a time when the couple had three kids in cloth diapers) and later to the Roanoke Valley. Martin, their fourth child, was born at Roanoke Memorial Hospital long before it bore the Carilion moniker.

The third character is Skelly’s high school pal, Spencer Edmunds. At the time, Edmunds wore earrings, sported a mohawk-style hairdo and played in a local punk-rock garage band.

Nobody knows the fourth character’s name. We’ll call her the good-hearted wife of a generous local surgeon who owned a pickup truck. That couple lived in the Deyerle area, not far from LewisGale Hospital. Skelly can not recall the street name.

He penned the essay in 2010, and recently dug it up and forwarded it to me, after reading a column last week that promoted the local AAUW chapter’s final used book sale. So here we go with his essay, with a couple of bracketed insertions by yours truly.

“Growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, one of our many parent-imposed civic traditions was helping my Mother with the annual AAUW (American Association of University Women) Book Sale. The book sale involved every AAUW member gathering books for donation to a fundraising Saturday morning sale that would in turn be picked up and delivered downtown for sale.

(At the time, the sale was held outside Roanoke’s Main Branch Library on Jefferson Street.)

“Where the Skelly kids intersected with this worthwhile event was in the ‘unskilled’ labor task of getting the books from A to B,” Skelly wrote.

“In the fall of 1984, I was celebrating my last year of ‘living at home’ as a senior in high school so when my Mother announced the ‘move the books’ task, I thought,’ Hurray, another LAST TIME for having to do something. ‘

“Since we did not own a truck, she gave me the name and address of a member whose family would loan a pickup for me to use.

“At the time, one of my best friends was a mohawk-hairstyled, earring-wearing punk rock musician named Spencer Edmunds and he was up for the chore.

“So away we went on a pleasant Friday afternoon, figuring that if we could knock this task out before 7, we’d likely have plenty of time to catch up with friends that night enjoying the music that one loves when they have their low point in life with their moms.

“We went to get the truck right after school and when I knocked on the door, the lady who answered seemed confused by my request and particularly by my repeated references to my Mother and the AAUW book sale.

“How could it be that she did not know about the AAUW and this great tradition?

“Anyways, we got the truck, moved the books and proceeded to have a typically fine night of carefree high school life.

[Skelly, who I spoke with on the phone Monday, told me he and Edmunds borrowed the truck for three to four hours, returned it and forgot about it.]

“The next morning during the book sale, my Mother called home to ask why I did not use the truck to move the books? I said, ‘Huh?’ like my own 15-year-old-son answers every question that his mother asks.

“She repeated, ‘Why did not [you] use the truck? The lady had waited and waited for [you] to show up but [you] never did arrive and [you] never did call. ‘

“I was dumbfounded (imagine that) but after realizing maybe I did not get THAT truck, I asked what kind of truck the lady had. Turns out she did not have the truck I used and did not live in the house I visited.

“I had gone to the wrong house and effectively pulled a Grand Theft Auto without realizing it. I went by to apologize to the lady and discovered that her husband was a surgeon at the local hospital and had the generous habit of allowing medical residents to borrow the truck to move apartments / etc.

“While I’m thankful to have the persuasive ability to con a truck out of a lady with fast talking about AAU women and their book sales, I’ll always wonder if I could have done it if I knew it required deceit.”

Skelly went onto bigger and better things after high school and college. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he spent nine years in Moscow running an investment bank. He said he and his partners sold out just before the 2008 financial crisis.

As for Edmunds, he finished high school and college, too. Ultimately, he earned a PhD in American Literature and, according to his LinkedIn page, now lives in Boulder, Colorado. The page says he’s an administrator at a private school and writes songs.

There’s no sign of a mohawk in Edmunds’ online photo these days. And he’s wearing a tie.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter:

@dancaseysblog.

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