By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Shoppers often find treasures at the Father Fred Foundation's popular garage sale fundraisers.
But Sue Bauer got more than she bargained for recently while previewing one of the semi-annual sales.
The Father Fred volunteer coordinator was making the rounds before the September 15 sale when she was stopped by a new volunteer setting up in the sporting goods area.
"He said, 'I want to show this to you,'" said Bauer, who found herself face-to-face with a deerskin draped over a wire. "He said, 'This guy has your last name. And then he pulled out this tag and it had my dad's handwriting on it and the address of the house we lived at in Grand Rapids."
Bauer, 55, said she immediately recognized the pencil handwriting as her father's, an avid — though deaf — sportsman who raised his family in Grand Rapids and then followed Bauer to Traverse City in the late 1980s. But she'd never seen the deerskin, a supple golden rectangle in "pristine" condition, with the number "932" marked on it in grease pencil.
"There were deerskins around the house but I'd never seen this particular one," said Bauer, whose father died in 2000. "So I showed it to my brother. He thinks it is off an 8-point buck my dad shot in 1955. That was the biggest buck he'd ever gotten and we had the antlers from that shoot around the house."
Now Bauer, who wouldn't have been born yet when her father killed the deer, wonders where the deerskin has been all these years and who took such good care of it.
"Somebody would have dropped it off at the foundation, but we don't know who dropped it off and where it's been," she said. "My dad could have given it to somebody, but it wouldn't have been like him. He kept them and had gloves made, and I had one small one that he had tanned."
Not surprisingly, the deerskin never made it into the garage sale. Bauer said she bought it for $3.
"I just keep picking it up and feeling it. I joke about making a skirt out of it, and my sister-in-law said maybe a purse. But if it survived intact all of these years, I just want to have it on display," Bauer said.
Amid thousands of donated items spread out over at least 10 separate sales areas, one deerskin easily could have gone unnoticed, said Father Fred Executive Director Martie Manty. Still, such garage sale finds have happened before.
"We actually had someone who found their christening dress from downstate in the vintage area a couple years ago," Manty said.
Bauer said she plans to drape the deerskin over the back of a living room chair or maybe over her bed.
"I definitely want to keep the tag," she said.