Impressions

Somebody left his mark

Somebody left his mark

Check this photo out.  My friend Donna took this photo of an impression a bird made as it landed on her truck windshield.  As there was no birdy-body, it’s to be assumed that this wayward avian was able to recover from the impact and fly away, probably a bit dazed, and most likely making a mental note to avoid dusty windshields in the future.  Donna says she could imagine if a bird had smacked into a clear windshield, perhaps seeing something within the truck it wanted, but for the life of her, she cannot fathom what attracted this bird to a dusty piece of glass.

Whatever reason led to this bird’s amazing visit and subsequent impression, it got me thinking.

We all make a mark wherever we go; sometimes in a big way by helping a neighbor remove a tree stump, and some impressions are much more subtle.  Think about it.  As you go about your daily activities, chances are at least once you will interact with one or more other senscient beings, some human, some, in this bird’s case, non-human.  You click on a live chat, leave a voicemail, send a text, shake somebody’s hand, offer a smile to a child crossing the street, write a note, visit your grandma, pat your dog, or sit down to dinner with your family. 

And with each interaction, you leave an impression.  One would generally hope to leave a good impression – isn’t that what we’re taught as kids?  But even if the time spent with another was less-than-ideal, at least you always have an opportunity to make amends, clear the air, dust off the disagreement, and make things right.

All of us are on a life path uniquely our own.  Yet, as British poet John Donne reminds us, … “no man is an island.”  The waves of influence created by us and others wash upon our shores and reverberate throughout our lives.  Some waves are barely perceptible, others, like tsunamis, create chaos and transfiguration.

It’s up to us to remember these impressions and hopefully leave our imprints as an inspiration to others.

Instant Ancestors

Not mine but somebody's great-grandma

Not mine but somebody's great-grandma

I was at an antique store the other day in my Fair City and stumbled across a collection of vintage photographs.  Not just one or two but an entire shoebox full of long-ago faces imprinted forever upon now-sepia paper.  Above the box some clever vendor had a simple sign, “Instant Ancestors.” 

I thought about that for a few minutes and it struck me both funny and a tad poignant. 

Here were somebody’s relatives from days gone by, dressed in their Sunday best, seated or standing for a formal portrait, most likely hoping to have their image honored for generations to come; that their stories be told from generation to generation, and that perhaps they would in some small way live on in their extended families’ homes. 

Yet for whatever reason, these charming photos instead found themselves stacked, sardine-like, wedged between who-knows-how many other portraits lost in time, collecting dust in a dim corner of an antique store.

What circumstances, I wondered, would cause a family to discard such an intimate keepsake?  It made perfect sense to find old Mason jars, vintage records, or pennants from yesterdays ad nauseum, but this was somebody’s mother, aunt, grandmother, uncle, father, son, grandpa, Nana, sister, or brother.  Why of all things was their carefully produced photograph tossed in with the other nondescript relics of days gone by?  Did the family forget when they went through the dearly departed’s estate and casually thrown the photo in with what they thought were useless trinkets?  Or did they have some sort of falling out and the remembrance had become too difficult to bear witness by facing the person every day within a picture frame?

Whatever reason led these photographs to languish amidst the chipped serving dishes and the rusty farm implements, it now seemed behooving on me to bring at least one of them home that day and honor their lives one more time.

I invite you to look at my “instant ancestors.”  That’s my new great-aunt Ivy on the right.

I think I look like her.

Great-Aunt Ivy liked to bike as well.

Great-Aunt Ivy liked to bike as well.

Grandpa Charlie’s Medal

Distinguished Flying Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross

Trudging down Lynwood Lane on my way home from school one afternoon, something caught my eye.  Had I been engrossed, as usual, with watching for robins stalking worms I might have missed it.

 But this time, my attention turned to a curbside box.  Left out for the trash collectors, it sat, sagging slightly, its marker-scrawled side hinting at the contents within.

  My steps slowed as I approached, watchful for curious neighbors peering out their windows.  Sidling up to the box, I read, “Grandpa Charlie’s war stuff BASEMENT.”  The lid askew, likely from a gust of wind or perhaps a frustrated raccoon, I could see something twinkling inside.

  I stood there, a force drawing me to this nondescript container of old stuff.  Looking around again for anybody noticing, I finally ventured one hand into the box. 

 Grasping something metallic I quickly snatched my hand back to my pocket and ran home in the growing rain.

 I barely remembered to hang my raincoat on the hallway hook and shake my boots onto the mat as, with heart pounding, I darted upstairs to the safety of my room.  Shouting a greeting to my mother, I clambered up my bunk bed ladder to my bed.  I took a deep breath and unclenched my hand, revealing my booty.

 What dropped onto my pink floral bed sheet was the first icon of what was to become a lifetime of scavenging.  It was a World War II medal. 

 With its violet and white striped ribbon slightly tattered and pin bent, it was not much really to look at. Yet it held my attention for a long time as I read and re-read the letters, “RAF.”  The engraved date of 1942 on the back had been almost rubbed away, along with the recipient’s full name.  Stapled to the corner clung a tattered piece of paper reading, “Charlie’s medal.”

 Charlie.  So he must be the original owner of “Grandpa Charlie’s war stuff BASEMENT.”  I wondered about that for a long time, so long in fact that my mother had to send my brother in to see if I was napping and had not heard her call to come down for dinner.

 “Whatchoo got?” demanded my four-year-old brother, Jason, his grubby hands clutching a Hot Wheel.

 I stuffed the medal under my pillow.  “Nothing, just my pillow,” I replied.

 When I climbed down from the upper bunk my life had changed forever. 

 For the next few weeks I studied the medal, now carefully hidden behind a book in my room.  I’d sit up late at night turning it over and over in my hands, feeling the raised letters, sliding my fingers over the ribbon’s fibers, and occasionally poking myself with the bent pin.  I dared not show the medal to my family, preferring instead to keep it secret. 

(It wasn’t until years later that I discovered this was a Distinguished Flying Cross, an award given to officers for acts of valor, courage or devotion to duty done when flying in operations against the enemy. )  Apparently Grandpa Charlie had been a war hero.

I returned to the site of my discovery, often dawdling on the way to school, but the now-empty curb revealed no further trinkets.  Too shy to knock on the door, I’d linger on my rounds to and from Courcellete School, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever chose to discard such a treasure. 

 I wondered if it had been new homeowners who had found this box of war memorabilia and simply opted to toss it out rather than examine its contents.  Or had Grandpa recently passed away and holding onto his possessions had become painful to the family?  No further deposits of anything more interesting than a broken lampshade made it to the curb, yet each trip past the house always drew my gaze up the long driveway to the curtained windows.  I had so many unanswered questions, and dreams brought my imagination to a time of war and bravery, fear, and relief. 

 That following Remembrance Day, along with many other Canadians, I proudly wore my poppy.  I sat in the assembly at school, listening to our principal, Mr. Moult, reminding us to never forget the sacrifices our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers had made.  I committed to memory the poem by John McCrae, In Flanders Fields

 Pinned proudly next to my poppy shone Grandpa Charlie’s Distinguished Flying Cross.

 From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards

Sharing the Wealth

One man's trash...

One man's trash...

I just read an amazing story about a postal worker from New Jersey who took the time to visit his local thrift store and procure items for his relations back in Ghana.  He was just honored by the National Association of Letter Carriers for this wonderful deed….

….On the Chicago Tribune website, from AP-  “National Humanitarian of the Year, Emmanuel Anim-Sackey, 50, of West Orange, N. J., who sifts through northern New Jersey thrift stores and yard sales to find used clothes, shoes and school supplies to send back to impoverished families in Abetifi-Kwahu, a village in his native Ghana.”

What a beautiful, yet so simple thing to do.  His time, money, and efforts may have won him some acclaim here but I’d hazard a guess that he’s even more of a hero back in his native country.  See, this gentleman took a look around him, realized that we as a country are truly rich by most of the world’s criteria, and decided to share the wealth. 

Now that phrase, “share the wealth,” was bandied about for a while back during the presidential campaign last  year.  But for all the outcry and debate, truly what is wrong with helping our fellow man; to give from those of us who have so much to those for whom clean water is a luxury rather than a common happenstance?  Isn’t what we all learn as children?  Sharing, cooperating, caring, having empathy, compassion, and love are all values instilled early and hopefully traits we carry over into our adulthood.  Whether it’s lending a neighbor a hand with felling a dead tree, bringing a casserole to a new widower, or even shipping a box of clothes to distant lands, it’s this spirit of altruism that connects and binds us all as a society, a race, a community, an amalgam of all things human. 

In these hard times, we’ve all tightened our belts, cut back on luxuries like vacations (preferring the new-cool “staycation”), and some of us have even learned from our grandparents to grow a Victory garden to supply us with food from our own toils.  Giving to others may seem impossible right now, as we are faced with dental bills, threats of layoffs, rising costs of living, and worries about our own circle of friends and family.  All the charities are taking a hit these days as donations are down.

But taking a cue from Mr.  Anim-Sackey, the time to consider the welfare of others even as we pray for our own salvation may be, curiously, the best time to share the wealth.  It doesn’t have to be in the form of a huge monetary donation.  We usually always have a half-hour a month to set aside in the service of others; be that serving food to the homeless, tutoring a struggling student, or collecting clothes to clad our far-flung relatives. 

Anne Frank may have put it best with her simple reminder, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Sharing the wealth may ultimately reap riches on us all.

To learn more about the other inspirational folks delivering our mail:

www.nalc.org

What’s Brewing?

 The nectar of the gods, java, cafe, morning joe, espresso, capuccino, latte, mocha….call it what you want, it’s one of the most addictive substances on the planet, yet completely legal and more often than not in our society, a necessity.  I know for myself personally I can’t even face my day without a sip of the stuff.  Almost ritual-like, it’s part-and-parcel of my very existence in the morning and without it I might as well go back to bed.  And that leads me to my next thought on the subject, purely random, I know,  yet quite valid…….how many coffee cups are in my cupboard yet how many do I actually use?  It’s  no lie to say that I’ve probably collected almost 50 vessels for my beverage of choice, and that’s not even starting to count the probably hundreds that have passed through my life up to this point.  I’ve got enough mugs on hand to host a coffee klatch of which any self-respecting hostess would be jealous. 
What level are you?

What level are you?

I’ve got the obligatory hand-me-down 1970s mugs from my parents’ house (yes I still have them all these years later), cute cat images on bone china, a mug I won by writing a winning essay on a website, various cups documenting my interests (from living in San Diego to having pet rats), the obligatory collection of employment-anniversary mugs (together my husband and I have five), one huge “cup” that could double as a soup tureen, and my latest acquisition, the Coffee Hound mug I just got from Goodwill a month ago.  Check it out…

Coffee Hound Mug Coffee Hound Mug

What attracted me to this mug is not the outside (which is cute enough) but rather the amusing graduated-line demarcation inside.  Depending on how much coffee you pour into this mug, you apparently are designated anywhere from “Kid Stuff” to the more likely “Coffee Hound” level I start off with each morning. 

Now this mug, according to some websites dealing in antiques, apparently dates anywhere from the 1950s to 1960s.  What I liked about it was its whimsy; the suggestion that ones personality somehow dictated what volume of the brew ended up inside.  Clearly even 40 to 50 years ago, the addiction to this magical beverage apparently warranted the making of this cup.  Now while most coffee back then was made at home in percolators and sipped at the Formica kitchen table before dear old Dad went off to work, it seems we’ve come full circle. 

Consider this statistic.  In the last quarter of 2008, Starbucks sales went down 97%.  It seems that as the economy took a tumble, so too did the extravagance of sidling up to the local barista for a daily latte.  According to the National Coffee Association, home brewing went up 5% at the same time, as folks revisited the joys of sitting with their spouses and kids prior to leaving for the office.  The benefits of home brewing, aside from the purely economical, also seem to expand into physical well-being.  Coffee can even be good for you.

On the WebMD website, it’s mentioned that “at least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson’s, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.” 

I’ll drink to that.  In my Coffee Hound mug, of course.  Topped off at the Hound level, thank you very much.

Goodwill Hunting Volume 2

The New Hot Store in Town

The New Hot Store in Town

What has amazed me is the national media just now getting on the junktiquing bandwagon.  All of a sudden what some of us have been doing for years has transformed into the New Thing To Do. 

Now it’s not just the thrift store Regulars haunting the aisles, but a whole slew of newbies are entering these hallowed halls, some out of curiosity and others more likely out of necessity.

And it’s our job as Regulars; the old school players of thrifting, to show these rookies around. 

According to MSN money’s website, author Melinda Fulmer notes the following,

“Driving this boom at the nation’s estimated 25,000 thrift and resale stores are big jumps in demand for clothing, especially work clothes such as dress shirts, suits and skirts, says Lauren Lawson, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International.”

It’s no longer the diehards in the aisles.  It’s all of us. 

So to the Regulars, if you see somebody sporting a bewildered look as they march through the doors of your local Goodwill, take the time to clue them in to some important tips.

It’s not likely that some of these venturers will know how to navigate the aisles, how to spot a great bargain, and, most importantly, how to hang onto the item they discover and not put it back on the shelf, as one fact remains true of thrift stores.

There’s not a huge back-stocked inventory of duplicate items in The Back if they aren’t fast enough to grab what catches their eye.  And while this may prove frustrating at first, remind them that once they’ve got over this shock, they’ll actually find a vicarious thrill in whisking special treasures in their cart, drawing longing looks from other co-shoppers. 

And by the way, remind our new friends that if they find a fabulous coat, groovy pair of jeans, or smashing pair of heels, they’d better get it right then, because it won’t be there if they leave and change their mind.  Had I heeded my own advice a couple of years ago, I’d be snuggly warm in a gorgeous wool jacket rather than borrowing my husband’s slightly moth-eaten parka for another season.

So whether you’re a old-timer scouring the shelves for another trinket or a thrift store virgin, have some fun, relax, but be sure to hunt wisely and well. 

Since we’re all in this for the long-haul, like it or not, we might as well have a good time and help each other out.  Isn’t that what a compassionate society does after all?

Welcome, friends!

http://tinyurl.com/thriftstorescore

Parts of a Whole

It's the little things that count

It's the little things that count

We are all parts of a whole.  Like building blocks, one individual block is important but put together a lot of blocks can make amazing things.

Life is like that.  How many of us go through this existence feeling alone, separated from others, cut off and dispassionate?  We live in a world now where it’s possible to never stray outside.  We can order all our necessities online, have them delivered, do research with a click of a mouse, get an education, download music, connect with others on social networks, and self-diagnose our medical problems.  In one way this is very convenient, safe, practical, and for some, the only way to function.  We become mere bytes on a computer, ID numbers on an order form, and quirky handles on Twitter.

Yet how does that ultimately serve our true essence?  We are more than just ourselves as individual consumers, patients, researchers, students, or contributors to Facebook.  In fact, one could say that perhaps with the advent of social networking, even those of us least inclined to venture outside and deal with others ultimately end up doing so anyway whenever we update our status or upload a photo or video. 

Deep down, the human psyche needs to connect; to be more than an individual block, but rather a part of something.  Look at all the organizations out there, from charities, school alumnus groups, sports teams, political committees, and clubs as varied as the NRA and PETA.  Each of us, it seems, finds some way to connect; to make more of ourselves than a single imprint on society. 

As Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate for the UK once said, “I am a part of all that I have met,”  so too are we a conglomeration of all our connections in life.  We are parts of a whole;  individual, beautiful parts, powerful by ourselves, yet unconquerable in our collective soul.

Back from Souvenir Land

Where's my bobblehead?

Where's my bobblehead?

I’ve just returned from Washington DC.  A fabulous place for all ages.  Before going somebody told me this was Disney for adults, and now I know why.  I lost count how many times I gasped in wonder at each successive vista and artifact or monument.  My son, however, had the best time.  In true ten-year-old style, he said the best part of his trip was all the souvenir shops!  I have to admit, there were almost more collections of made-in-China pencils and kitsch than paintings in the museums but after wading through the usual complement of snow globes, plates, and magnets, there were a few real trinkets worth buying to commemorate our trip.  The best one, I think, is the Barack Obama mousepad now upon which all my future chapters will be written.  It was truly Obamaland there and I, for one, was thrilled.  I’d go back in a heartbeat, and were I to have about another grand or two in my wallet, my kid would make a beeline for the roadside T-shirt stands. 

 

What a country!

Patriotism In the Dump Bin

 

American Flag

American Flag

Patriotism in the Dump Bin Twin City winter living is a dichotomy of natural beauty and dodging that beauty when the mercury dips beyond 20 below zero. It’s visually breathtaking taking in the aftermath of an ice storm yet one’s breath is literally sucked out by the frigid air. You spend much of your time dashing from car to office, from car to supermarket, from parking lot to home, all in a quest to keep your various appendages from developing frostbite along the way. The residents either fall into one of two categories: Those who are undaunted by the arctic blasts and those who venture out only when absolutely necessary.

The former types, most likely native born, seem to possess an extra layer of toughness that enables them to carry out their daily routines in temperatures that would make a polar bear pause. I’ve seen bundled-up citizens of St. Paul gamely trudging, albeit gingerly, on the ice-covered sidewalks, sidling up to igloo-like bus stops, shopping bags clutched in mitten-clad hands, steam pouring from below their icicle-laden scarves. There’s camaraderie of sorts in the true Minnesotans, for whom a drastic dip in degrees only serves as a challenge.

As a transplanted Canadian via California and most recently the balmy climes of Atlanta, it was in this setting one afternoon that I found myself in conversation with a kindred soul.

Admiring my bus shelter companion’s wooly boots, I commented that as a newcomer to the Twin Cities, I’d need some warm footgear soon or I’d probably have to donate my toes to science. Laughing, she said, “Well you could spend a pretty penny on boots around here but if you’d like to be in on a little secret…I got these at the Salvation Army just down on University.”

Now she was speaking my language.

“Oh, really?” I exclaimed. “There’s one so close by?”

Now being the typical Minnesota-nice lady that she was, Kirsten, as her name turned out to be, promptly dug in her purse and produced a local map. Circling the street and scrawling an arrow, she said, “You can’t miss it, dearie. It’s three stories high and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be shopping there all day!”

I climbed aboard my bus that afternoon, sneaking glances at Kirsten’s boots from time to time, wondering what else I would uncover at my newest shopping venue. Meeting my new husband, Alex, at the bus stop, I plunked myself into the careworn bucket seat of our vintage Toyota and eagerly told him my news.

A recent convert to thrift store shopping, Alex smiled, “Do you think they’d have some nice pants for me there?”

That Saturday morning found us parked outside the most monstrous thrift store I had yet witnessed. As Kirsten had proclaimed, it was indeed a three-story brick building nestled underneath a highway overpass, its Salvation Army insignia on the 30 foot sign proclaiming its domination for miles around.

This was going to be good.

I darted across the small parking lot, dodging upended shopping carts and scattered sheets of ice, Alex in tow. Marching through the glass doors, my eyes took in the wonders before me.

An enormous room, clearly a converted warehouse, chock full of seemingly endless racks of clothing, invited me to browse. The soaring walls, covered with latent velvet art and various posters of bygone days, led the eye to a second level where a sign pointed out “Books, Records, Tapes, Baby.” To the left I noticed, amid bent orange racks of every type of plastic ware imaginable, haphazard stacks of coffee cups. One caught my eye. Along its pink side declared the words, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” Amen.

We decided to try the book section first, being avid readers and having discovered that paying full price for books on our newlywed budget was not feasible. Alex and I had already found hole-in-the-wall secondhand bookstores and were happy to come across another source of books. Noting a lack of elevators, we climbed the linoleum-clad stairs two at a time, eager to see what tomes awaited us on the dusty shelves.

Splitting up, Alex as usual headed for the magazine section, looking for those pertaining to his favorite topics of pop culture, history, and cars. We already had amassed a considerable collection of National Geographic magazines, and enjoyed looking at the vintage advertisements and laughing over the archaic lingo. We agreed to meet downstairs in half an hour in front of the shoes.

I perused the riveted shelves for a while, finding a copy of Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, a favorite from my childhood. Clutching it to my chest, I gazed down the mismatched collection, ranging from diet books, to coffee table books, to obscure computer-programming manuals. Finding nothing else compelling, I decided to return downstairs and look at shoes while I waited for Alex.

Passing a young man in dreadlocks, I had to smile. His T-shirt, clearly a joke, read “Outrageous Granny.” Meeting my smirking gaze he shrugged, as if to say, “It was cheap!”

At the bottom of the stairs, before turning right towards the rows of shoes, I noticed another sign. This one, scrawled in Magic Marker on a dingy piece of cardboard, said, “Bargain Basement Below.” The hand-drawn arrow drew my eyes down another flight of stairs to what seemed like a cavern.

Not wanting to lose sight of Alex, I waited for what seemed an eternity amid the shoes. Almost tripping over a pair of glittering gold-lame high heels, I finally spied him and waved him over.

“Hey, it says ‘Bargain Basement Below’, let’s go!” I could barely contain my excitement. A bargain basement in a thrift store was an added bonus. Peering over his shoulder at the sign, Alex took my hand and we descended into the depths.

What met our eyes next still reverberates in my mind today. Reaching the basement floor, spread out before us lay the largest collection of junk I had ever seen, haphazardly strewn on white tables, bric-a- brac aplenty jutting out at every angle. It resembled a tornado only with the debris field contained in one room. For what seemed like miles lay the remnants of society, tossed aside by one to be considered yet again by another. The fluorescent lights, intermittently blinking on and off, cast an eerie glow over the entire room. Children darted around and underneath the tables, mothers scolded while holding onto half-mended shirts, grunge kids crowded around a pile of LPs, and seasoned thrift store veterans established themselves at stations at various sites, carefully examining each careworn item in turn, seeking the value in the vastness.

I was in heaven.

Splitting up again, I left Alex to mingle with the grunge kids while I made my way toward a likely looking first table. The only other patron there, a wizened man in too-short overalls and red flannel shirt glanced up from his inspection of a CB radio microphone to smile at me.

“Nice day,” he grunted. Agreeing, I carefully set to work a respectful few paces away from him. Grasping the first item that seemed promising, I turned it over. Stuck inside a wad of ages-old corner lint, sat a thimble from Niagara Falls. Only a small chip marred its bottom rim. Dusting the lint on my pants leg, I considered it’s value but then I noticed no price tag. Looking about for a clue to unlock the mysteries of this bargain bazaar, I saw a sign taped to a support post behind my elderly partner.

“All bin items 10 cents CASH only. NO RETURNS. You Broke It you Bought it. Shoplifters will be persecuted.”

Taking this information in, noting the reasonable price and the standard warnings, amusing misspelling notwithstanding, I decided the terms were fair and continued on in my quest.

Regretfully returning the thimble from my home country, mentally noting to acquire a tube of super glue for just such an emergency in the future, I returned to the bin before me. Digging through tangles of telephone wire, pushing aside a half-clothed dolly, her blonde locks shorn to stubs and missing a finger or two, my fingers brushed up against those of my gentleman shopping partner.

“Oops! Sorry about that.” I said. “Didja want that mike over there?” he asked, pointing at another CB radio microphone hiding below a blue plastic Las Vegas visor, its frayed cord patched here and there with electrical tape. “Gosh, no, it’s all yours,” I said, and slid the mike over to his digging burrow. “Oh, good, thanks. I collect these. Remind me of the days on the road.” His blue eyes twinkled with glee as he began unraveling the cord from around a shoelace.

Finding nothing more at this table of particular interest, I waved farewell to my ex-trucker friend and proceeded along the cracked concrete floor towards the back of the basement where a sign read, “Jewlry and watches 50 cents each.” Nimbly jumping over a purple jump rope strewn in my path, I scanned the area for Alex. Still bent over an enormous collection of vinyl, he seemed quite content. I turned my attention back towards the jewelry table when I stopped dead in my tracks.

The stripes poking out beneath a one-eyed doll called to me. Walking over to the table, blissfully unmanned, heart pounding, I hoped that what I thought I saw was indeed the real thing. Setting my book aside on top of a broken wrench, I grasped the fabric’s corner. Pulling it slowly so as not to usurp a chipped teapot, I gathered the fabric into my trembling hands.

The brass grommets gleamed in the fluorescent light. Turning it over, I read the still-intact tag, “Defiance, Reg US Pat Off, 2 ply Moth Proof, Bunting.” Between the grommets, barely discernible, was a name, “Andersen.”

Counting the stars on the field, I found only 48 individually sewn stars, the patina of age only making the flag more intriguing and poignant. The frayed halyard edge, its fibers unraveled only slightly, still bore marks of attachment to a pole. There were no silk-screened stripes here. Only lovely alternating red and white intermingled in the basement’s harsh light. A single tiny moth-eaten hole marred the field, near the topmost left star. I brought it close to my face, touching its fabric to my skin and breathed in the ancient air.

Whose hands had sewn these stars so precisely? What winds had fluttered this beautiful flag? Where had it been before its untimely and unceremonious end here in the dump bin deep in the bowels of the Salvation Army thrift store? What Andersen had seen fit to donate such a memento rather than preserving it for future generations or retiring it properly? And why, as a Canadian citizen, did I seem more touched than the other shoppers around me by this hapless vintage flag?

Drawing it to my breast, I gathered its folds gently and ambled over to Alex, now holding a copy of an obscure jazz musician’s last LP.

“Look at this.” I held out the flag.

His eyes widened at the find. He took it from me, carefully ensuring that it would not touch the floor, unfolding it fully for the first time in probably a decade. Dust entrapped in years-old creases fell at our feet. Alex drew his finger along one carefully handsewn seam and whistled. “Wow,” was all he could say. His eyes caught mine and we knew we had to have this flag, insulting at a cost of 10 cents yet priceless to us.

We brought it to the cashier, along with my book and his record. Ringing us up, the pockmarked boy stopped for a moment upon seeing the flag.

“It’s ripped. Do ya still want it?” He paused over the register, waiting for our response. Silently we nodded, paying our total bill of $2.58 and took our flag home.

Later research led us to discover that this flag dated somewhere between July 4, 1912 when the State of Arizona was admitted to the Union and July 4, 1959 when Alaska joined the United States. This beautiful old girl had flown during the presidencies of eight men from Taft to Eisenhower. The history she had seen from her vantage point atop a pole resonated in our minds.

The Andersen flag, or as we came to call it, “Salvation Army” flag once again flew proudly at each of our homes until this past winter when a sudden ice storm ripped it in two. Heartbroken we gave it a proper sendoff. We brought it to the American Legion and we participated in a flag retirement ceremony.

And as the flames transformed our flag to smoke, no one was prouder than I was.

Rules of the Road for Dump Bin Items: Never be afraid to get your hands dirty.
 
From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards 
 
 

 

 

The Dot-Com Millionaire and the $4 Shoes

  
Not Florsheims but still cool

Not Florsheims but still cool

Fashion is a truly subjective thing. Adorning one’s body with the latest garments from top designers to some may be the be-all and end-all of existence. Others seem quite happy to outfit themselves with simple clothing from local discount stores, oblivious to manufacturer name or lack of pedigree. Some pour over the fashion magazines, eager to get a sense of the trendiest styles and hopefully emulate those able to afford high-priced clothing. Each season’s clothing line from the top fashion houses becomes a sought-after goal; perhaps in a quest to prove one’s intrinsic worth through the wearing of exotic garb. Indeed, a trip to any major city around the world will provide many with inspiration, not only from the historic architecture and fascinating sights, but also from observing the attire chosen by the local residents. From those high-flyers strolling down Broadway in New York, clad in silk suits, patterned dresses, and toasty warm woolen overcoats, to the debonair criss-crossing Michigan Avenue in Chicago, wrapped up in the finest scarves known to man, self-expression can be found in all forms of clothing.

Perhaps one’s preference leans more towards tie-dyed T-shirts and leather sandals; in which case perhaps a visit to Berkeley or San Francisco may prove fruitful in the search for such garb. The farmer or construction worker may find value in a sturdy pair of work boots, while a teenager from Sydney may gravitate towards suede and shearling clogs. As different as each of us is, it seems there is a special style that we can call our own; an identifier of sorts, separating us from our neighbor and establishing our uniqueness in society.

We all strive to cover our nakedness not only out of a sense of modesty but more likely a need for practicality; most of the outdoors can be harsh on our skin and thus clothes and shoes are essential to our very lives. Unless we find ourselves in the outback of Australia or in the rain forests of Brazil, needing mere loincloths or body paint, a more complex array of protection and expression becomes mandatory. In modern Western society, we therefore must seek out and establish a method for adorning ourselves in order to properly interact with others. Thus, the clothing industry is born.

And so we shop.

Notwithstanding the ability of some more affluent of us to travel to Paris or London to attend the annual fashion shows, a more basic requirement for decorating ourselves presents us with a quandary unique to our financial means. Listen, I’d love to go to a fancy department store and plunk down over $5000 in one visit! However, nobody’s subsidizing my shopping trips, so alas I find myself remanded to the more modest venues for my clothes shopping. Of course, having been a lifelong thrifter, I have developed a rather warped view of the value of things and thus perhaps might not possess an accurate perspective on what one should typically pay for garments. I take great umbrage to the thought of parting with more than $10 for a pair of jeans, so a recent visit to Sears on a quest for Christmas presents found me on more than one occasion laughing out loud at the prices displayed on the racks. Avoiding the sidelong glances of the saleslady stacking T-shirts nearby, I muffled an indignant snort or two as I scoffed at the temerity of the store to price a simple hoodie at well over $50. Are they serious, I thought to myself, looking over the cheap plastic zipper, destined for breakage within a month or two. The thing looked no more substantial than an overgrown sweatshirt; the only seeming justification of such an outrageous price being the tiny label stitched in the neckline. Did they expect the wearer to turn the jacket inside-out, so as to impress anyone with sharp enough eyes to see the tag?

I have a confession. I have not always been this cheap. Thrifter or not, during my teenage years, when money poured fairly easily from my poor mother’s purse, for me price was not a concern. I recall many times giving her the “eye,” (my lame attempt at a puppy-dog look) virtually begging her for the latest designer jeans. All my friends had their behinds covered with designer jeans! How could I face the world clad in lowly off-brand dungarees? Perish the thought! More often than not, my indulgent mother would shell out, albeit reluctantly, the money, and before I knew it, I too became a high school fashion diva. I felt ALIVE in my snazzy jeans, worthy of respect and admiration (or at least not the target of teasing for wearing something uncool).

That changed when I moved out of their house and had to pay for things myself. All of a sudden, the luster of such an expense dulled and my high fashion sense took a back seat to survival. Whereas before, money was no object to me, now the thought of parting with my hard-earned cash for such an extravagance as designer jeans seemed abhorrent. Thus, my “cheap” sensibilities resurfaced and once again I found myself scouring the dusty racks at the local thrift store, seeking high fashion wedged amongst the polyester muumuus. A $5 pair of slightly ratty, “worn in” jeans seemed quite suitable when I was faced with paying for my own electricity and rent. And so a thrifter was reborn.

Fast forward many years. A married lady now, with a husband possessing the same frugal mindset, I frequently scanned the shelves at our local resale shops for duds for my dude. He seemed quite happy with his secondhand sweaters and pre-worn pants. These items were easy to find; however, it proved more difficult to shod his feet. Similarly outraged at the exorbitant prices for men’s dress shoes at local department stores, he and I would often return to the thrift stores, looking for suitable substitutes. More often than not, we’d come away empty-handed; it seemed these were the Holy Grail of the secondhand venues. It was as if there’d been a run on fine Italian leather wing tips just prior to our arrival and all that remained were scuffed sneakers and careworn slippers in his size.

This continued to haunt us until one day when on one of our usual thrifting jaunts, I heard a familiar voice calling my name. Whirling about, almost upending a rack of leather belts, I peered over the rows and rows of men’s clothing to see my husband waving me over, his hands clutching something dark and mysterious. Curious, I ventured towards him, smiling at his childlike attempt at a jig in the aisle.

“What’d you find, Elvis?” I laughed. “Better,” he smirked, holding his treasure, “how’s about a size 10 and a half Florsheim Imperials in cordovan?” He plunked himself down on a dented metal lawn chair and proceeded to pull off his sneakers. After a moment of wriggling and tying, he stood up, beaming. “What do you think? Can I wear these to the office?” he asked, pointing at his feet. I had to admit, he was a vision. Clad in his dusty jeans, an old sweatshirt, a baseball cap, and the shiniest dress shoes I had ever seen, he was adorable. “How much?” I asked. Holding one foot aloft, clutching the wall for support, he produced the price tag on the bottom. I was impressed. For a mere $3.99, he could walk the streets of Corporate America with pride. We brought them home and he wore the shoes proudly to work every day, his coworkers never suspecting the source of his fashionable footwear.

A funny thing happened shortly after that day. Attending a party with some of our oldest friends including a pal Alex had known from childhood who had become a “dot-com” millionaire, the dinner conversation turned to shoes. Admiring the thrift store wing tips, our friend Tony exclaimed how similar they were to his own $500 pair. He wanted to know where we had bought them. Sharing a knowing smile with me, Alex turned to Tony and held up his foot. After a bit of confusion, Tony squinted at the tiny, somewhat scuffed but still legible label. He sputtered, red-faced, and snorted, “$4? You’ve gotta be kidding me! I would have had enough left over for a night on the town if I hadn’t plunked down this ransom for mine!” Slapping his back, Alex smiled, “I guess you’ve been hanging out with the wrong crowd!”

Rules of the Road for Thrift Store Fashion: Coolness doesn’t always come with a big pricetag.
From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards