Friday, July 24, 2015

Other Peoples' Junk

     'Tis the season of the yard sale. Brightly colored signs on street corners beckoning the savvy bargain hunter to an address that promises The One Thing I've Always Needed are as prevalent during the summer in the Midwest as the buzzy, angry June bugs. I grew up in a microscopic town, so small that there were maybe two or three yard sales during the summer. Thank goodness for the Shop N' Save. 
     The Shop N' Save was a dank second-hand store that was in the bigger of the "Shelby" towns in Shelby County. It was right across from the library, right beside the sale barn in the town of Shelbina. The Shop N' Save was a mecca, an aromatic, mysterious and mesmerizing mecca of stuff that I didn't know I wanted or needed until I saw it. Grandma went there for books; Mom went there for these pieces of junk that she would take home and turn into these amazing pieces of furniture. I went there because they went. But I was soon sucked into the magic of the hunt. 
     "Junkin'" is what Mom called it, but it never occurred to me that it was junk. I didn't know where all of the items at the Shop N' Save came from but then again I didn't know where all of the items at the grocery store came from either. So when I talked Mom into buying me the Operation game missing the funny bone at the Shop N' Save for $1 as opposed to the one at Ben Franklin for $10, I asked her. 
     "Shop N' Save is full of other peoples' junk, Honey," she told me one day as I was helping her put a second coat of paint on a dining chair she had acquired for a dollar. "It's a second-hand store." I didn't tell her that I didn't know what she meant by "second-hand." I figured it meant something like there were a bunch of people who had been born with one hand and were selling off all of their stuff to buy a second hand. So they sold their belongings in hopes of gaining enough cash to pay for the operation. Thank goodness I figured it out before I started a telethon or something...
     The other day I was in a second hand store and there was a woman in there who looked as if she was in a constant state of pre-sneeze. She was telling her friend that she didn't "do" yard sales or thrifting or second-hand. "If it's not new, I don't want it..." she probably didn't mean to sound like a snob, but she did... Her friend told her just that and then asked her what exactly she thought her antiques were. "They are expensive is what they are," she said. "They have value because they are special and unique and because someone loved them and kept them in good shape." Her friend saw me listening in on their conversation and smiled at me when I rolled my eyes. 
     I'm packing up my house to move. I'm moving into a second-hand house. It's not brand new. I didn't build it. But it's new to me. It's bigger than our current house... we will have my brother with us in this new/used house. Most of the furniture that is going in it is second-hand. I thought I would be really excited about picking out new furniture, but quickly discovered that I have acquired the pieces that I have through the combining of several households. As the women that came before me passed away, their prized belongings were passed on: bubble glass, Fiestaware, hutch cabinets, hardrock maple living room sets, and various "pretties" like a candy bowl that looked like a chicken... 
     I am of the school of thought that values the second-hand lifestyle. I like the dinged up wood on a cheap used coffee table where kids used to play with race cars or Play-Doh. I love that the leather side chair smells like a mixture of cedar and tobacco, deep and rich. It doesn't bother me at all that second-hand dining room chairs will be covered with an old tablecloth that my grandmother was going to throw out after Christmas my freshman year of college but I saved it, knowing that I would use it someday. 
     When my mother passed away I went through most of her things. I made snap decisions to keep or get rid of. I tried to be ruthless and it was going well until I stumbled upon the locket that was worth nothing...
     The locket bore the initials of my great, great grandmother on my grandmother's side. It was copper, but plated with gold and there were little marks all over it. I took it to a local appraiser to see if she knew what the marks on the locket were. "This is priceless!" She smiled down at the piece with tears in her eyes. My heart leapt into my throat. I had found a treasure! A REAL treasure. 
     "As far as money goes, it's not worth much," she explained. "But these little marks on the back, notice how some of them are darker than others?" I nodded. "Those are teeth marks... she wore this locket and babies would sit on her lap and teethe on it. There's at least three generations of teeth marks here. They get darker as they get older." Mom had never shown it to me; I wonder if she forgot it was there. It had been under the bottom board of the jewelry box along with a delicate, beautiful little bitty white gown wrapped first in plastic wrap and then in tissue paper. I knew the dress; she was photographed in it on her one month birthday. There was no tag in the dress and the stitches were hand stitches, crooked and determined. Grandma's mom had made the dress by hand. I figured that the last set of teethmarks on the locket, the newest set, were probably Mom's.
     I found a shadow box on sale at Hobby Lobby and bought it. I put the locket and the dress in the shadow box and hung it on the wall of my now-old house. I just packed it away the other day to hang in my newer-old house. A new piece of art from two old treasures.
     I couldn't help but think of the unhappy woman I experienced earlier in the week as I held the shadow box. I know that she is unhappy because she just doesn't get it. Maybe she has never lost someone she loves; maybe she doesn't know what it is like to want for fine things and know they are out of your reach so you make them instead. Maybe she is just shallow, it could be that simple to explain. I feel sorry for her. She is out of place in this world. There's no such thing as truly brand new. Even if you buy it and have it sent to you, someone else has tested it for you. So really everything that decorates our lives is other peoples' junk. Even we are other peoples' junk, products of their idea of usefulness when it comes to us and categorized by the value that they place on us. We are second-hand spirits, all of us shaped by what we have absorbed through our experiences with others, all of us dinged up or scratched by encounters that will never go away. I choose to accept that about myself. I choose to be grateful for my teethmarks, my scratches, my defects and the spots of me that are rubbed smooth from love and infinite care. It could be worse than being other peoples' junk. You could be other peoples' trash.