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Broken umbrella may find its way back to the beach


When the beach umbrella broke, I couldn't fix it. No amount of tape could mend one of the snapped metal supports that held the canopy. So last summer I dropped the umbrella off at a shop for repairs. I promptly forgot about the umbrella and forgot the name of the shop.

I knew the shop was located on a narrow street just west of the Lexington Market. It was where I had purchased the umbrella years ago, during that fit of frenzied buying that precedes a trip to the beach. Back then I faced a decision familiar to many beach-goers. Should I buy the cheap but insubstantial goods or the expensive but sturdy stuff?

There was a time when I favored cheap and flimsy items. But the older I get, the more I lean toward shelling out a few more bucks to get something that will last. I feel that since I have lasted this long, there is a good chance that the merchandise I buy might be around for a few more years as well.

So I paid about $70 for a sturdy beach umbrella. I chose wisely. For about 10 years the umbrella served my family well. Its strong center pole kept the umbrella stable no matter how ill the wind. Its thick vinyl top protected napping babies and fair-skinned grandparents from the burning rays of the sun. Its distinctive green and white canopy served as a landmark at crowded beaches.

Members of our tribe rarely managed to make the daily trek from beach house to beach as a group. But stragglers soon learned they could locate the clan by spotting the unique colors of the umbrella. The umbrella also served as a beacon for swimmers who had been carried down the beach by the tide, or for seashell hunters who, in pursuit of an elusive conch shell, temporarily lost their bearings.

So when the umbrella broke, I hauled it back to Baltimore to have it repaired. The folks at the shop said they could fix it but it would take a while. Take your time, I told them. That was last August.

One cold day in January a woman from the shop called and said the beach umbrella was ready to be picked up. I was busy when I took her call. I scribbled myself a note, and promptly lost the note. The snows of winter came and went and the beach umbrella sat in the shop unclaimed. The spring flowers bloomed, then withered, and the umbrella remained in the shop, unopened.

Then the other day, it got hot. I started daydreaming about going on vacation. I remembered the stand-still heat of summer afternoons, those times when the best place in world to be is at the beach, fresh from a dip in the cool Atlantic, sitting under an umbrella.

That is when it hit me. The beach umbrella! I had to retrieve it. I grabbed a telephone book and began looking for awning stores located near the Lexington Market. Several shops fit that description. I called a couple. None of them had my beach umbrella. I jumped in the car and drove to the Lexington Market neighborhood. Sure enough, on North Pearl Street I saw the sign for F. W. Haxel & Co. Inc., makers of awnings, flags and pennants. It was noon, the streets were clogged. I couldn't find a place to park. I drove off. I would call the shop later.

When I called, the woman who answered the phone sounded puzzled. She put me on hold. As I waited, I worried that I had lost the beach umbrella, an old family friend. When the woman came back on the line, she told me her shop did not have my umbrella. My heart sank. But she also told me I had called the wrong shop. I had called the Haxel shop in Havre de Grace, not the one in downtown Baltimore. When I called the downtown shop, I was told my umbrella had been sitting behind the counter for months.

Later in the day, when the parking situation eased, I drove over to claim the long-lost umbrella. It looked great. The broken rib had been replaced, the vinyl looking brand, spanking, new. All for $35.

I had that surge of good feeling that comes when you retrieve something you value. It is the pride you feel when, rather than tossing something old and broken aside, you take the trouble to get it fixed.

Then I noticed a part was missing. The umbrella's support pole consisted of two pieces that snapped together. I only had one part of the pole. I figure I must have left the other part, in storage, "down the ocean." This means that duty requires that I retrieve the missing part and make the beach umbrella whole. I wonder what the water temperature is.

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