You never know who you will meet in an antique store! Ron, is that you?

The most famous person ever to come into my store, City Lights, was Ron Howard.  His interior designer had been in the shop weeks earlier and discussed a few items for her client, name withheld.  Later, the designer called and said that her client would be in to look at the items.  Withholding the name was unusual but not unprecedented. The designer must have been afraid I would “alert the media.” A year earlier, Ron Howard had won acclaim with nine nominations and two Oscars for Apollo 13.  His notoriety was at a peak.  

At the correct time, a woman in a simple sweater and jeans came into the shop and introduced herself, saying that her husband would be in once he had parked the car. Soon a slender balding man with a round face and pleasant smiled shook my hand and told me he had been looking forward to seeing my shop.  He looked familiar but my customers often look familiar.  I stopped pretending to recognize the ones I thought I might know when I realized that people don’t really like to be mistaken for other people.  Unless, of course, you are mistaking them for Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman.  The aha moment was when his wife quietly called him Ron.  I felt foolish for taking so long to recognize him and negligent for not giving him a warmer greeting.  Unprepared as I was I at least avoided the usual clichés such as, love your work, feel I grew up with you.  I carried on with our discussions of antique lighting and home design much as I do with all my customers.  Although it felt pretentious to pretend that the ultra-famous often came into my shop. 

Ron Howard and I are close to the same age and I do feel as if I grew up with him.  The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days paralleled my own childhood and adolescence.  Meeting Ron Howard, however, was not what I would have expected.  I did not feel thrilled, so much as nostalgic as if looking at an old toy.

As we discussed various lighting options it occurred to me that if I did not give my wife an opportunity to meet him I would never hear the end of it.  I began to plot how to make this happen.  Could I slip off to call her?  Would I be able keep the Howard's in the shop long enough for her to drive over?  I told them I had more lights stored in my basement at home, which was true although I did not typically give customers a tour of them.  I warned him that it was a smelly old basement but Ron said he and his wife rarely had time to shop together so they wanted to make the most of it.  It was at my house that I got a dose of what it means to be famous.

The Howard's followed me in their car and I stood on my porch as they parked and walked up the sidewalk.  A car drove past, made a u-turn at the bottom of the street, drove back, and slowed as it reached my house.  The driver leaned out the passenger’s side window, “Ron, Ron Howard?” the driver said.  At first, I thought it might be an actual friend of theirs until I recognized the driver.  I knew him as a member of the family who owned the well-known Savenor’s grocery in Cambridge.  I also knew him as the character who rode around Cambridge on brightly colored vintage bicycles a propeller beanie sitting on top of his baldhead.  That day his head was merely bald as he emerged from his car, camera in hand. Small and skinny with tiny nervous eyes Jerry Savenor resembled Barney Fife.  Ron’s wife stepped forward and with graciousness worthy of any wife of Mayberry asked if he wanted to have his picture taken with Ron, holding out her hand for the camera.  This ersatz paparazzi, however, had another idea and stepping up close to Ron puts his head next to the Oscar winner’s head, held out the camera, and took the picture himself.  I was mortified for all of Cambridge.  I was also disgruntled that he had taken over my celebrity.  “You must get a lot of that,” I said, after Jerry left and we headed into the basement.

I showed the Howard's the lights, brought them upstairs, offered coffee, and gave them a tour of my house indicating that everything was for sale.  My wife was in the bedroom folding laundry.  I casually asked if she wanted to meet my customers. 

“This is Ron Howard and his wife Cheryl,”   I said.  As shook their hands and Ron told her what a lovely house we had Tania’s face held the same searching expression I probably had when first introduced to Ron.  The lack of fanfare made us both doubt that this was indeed the famous actor/director standing in our hall as if he had gotten lost on his way to immortality. The Howard's soon left, saying that their designer would contact me and finalize the purchases.  I returned upstairs grinning.

“Was that Opie?”  Tania asked.  I was a bit disappointed that she had not recognized him immediately.  Maybe I should have added something to my introduction such as Ron Howard child star, film director, and all round nice guy. 

Later, I thought about the encounter, realizing that throughout I had made no reference his movies.  I began to worry that in overplaying my role as the unflappable retailer I may have offended him and would lose the sale.  That famous people might become tired of all the attention seems on one hand possible, on the other hard to imagine.  I expect that attention and adoration must be like money.  How could you ever receive too much?

The Howard's came to my shop one more time with their son.  Topped with the brightest head of red hair I had ever seen I thought that had The Andy Griffith show been in color this would have been the color of Opie’s hair.  Ultimately, I sold them many lights and delivered them myself although I never saw the Howard's again.

A year later, I went to an exhibit of Jerry Savenor’s photos.  They were all close-ups of Jerry’s head jammed next to that some famous person.  I searched the repetitive shots and with some difficulty found the one snapped on my front porch.  Up that close faces look similar and it is hard to recognize who it is at first. 

Chris Osborne

Ruby Lane shop - City Lights

Blog: Tall Tales from the Antique Trail

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