Welcome to our blog!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Not Forgetting: A Scavanger's Story

On "The Hunt" in Chile.

It's time for a confession...

I have sifted, scanned, perused, and walked away many times empty handed from many an indoor flea market, out door flea market, garage sale, yard sale, estate sale, street fair and thrift shop (and sometimes not so empty handed)... it's like playing the slot machine for that one big score. Holding out for that one good hand. Optimistically playing the lottery. Knowing, of course, that the odds are always against you, and that someone has plied that machine with quarters before you. But, you go anyway.

Because...you never know....

The trick, like any addiction is deciding when to walk away, don't you think?  Realizing that you are talking yourself into that Cabbage Patch doll that you really don't need, don't like, and that you would never get around to  putting on ebay. That the plastic Mickey Mouse, no matter how old, really isn't worth THAT much. And although collectible, empty Avon bottles just aren't your thing. (I mean, my dryer collects lint. I don't save that either, although sometimes I think the patterns are pretty. But, you have to draw the line.) 

Crafts fair in South America.

That's the easy part: Figuring all that out. That comes with YEARS of training for your "sport."

The real trick is getting "the eye". Distinguishing Depression Glass from Oatmeal cups; Knowing what marks to look for on the bottom of a plate, or recognizing the ting of real crystal;  Reciting the history of Halls or Fostoria or Ruby glass and remembering which of your relatives collects which; Seeing that one Goebel statue amongst the imports from China or that Eisenberg or Weiss pin hidden in the tin and paste wannabes; Experiencing that thrill when the Steiff elephant at that flea market in Amsterdam still has the original tag and button;  Getting a leather bomber jacket for 5 euros at the same place!; Walking past all the "tourist" items in Moscow to get to the area in the back where people unwrap parcels teeming with artifacts, separated from the cold ground by the thin veil of a bed sheet;  Trying to negotiate in foreign languages that you don't remotely speak!; Getting the bead on a yard sale sign from 100 yards away and putting the blinker on as easy as batting an eyelash!

No matter if you are going to be a tad bit late for whatever it was you were doing before that: "It will only take a minute."

It's the thrill of the chase. 

And if you survive and endure and get ready for all of that, The REAL trick is knowing when you've found something special. No hesitation. In the zone. You run to the cash register (sometimes cigar box) as quick as possible. As if the Junk Patrol or maybe even those guys from "American Pickers" are  going to walk in at any moment and proclaim that the price is just "Too Low!"

Finds from the Moscow Flea Market

But of course, I'm being silly.

That's not the real confession...

The real confession of why I frequent these dusty bins of forgotten objects  is that it probably really has nothing to do with any of the above...

For a little explanation: I do come by these scavenging instincts naturally.

In the beginning, one Spring,  I remember my Kindergarten teacher had very small feet and she'd give us her old shoes to take home to play dress up.  The school was in the little church, which still rests across from the cemetery where my Father and my Grandmother are now buried. The shoes were old fashioned and beautiful and fancy in a way that even then, they just didn't make shoes any more. They sparked a curiosity.

Each Summer, later on, visiting the neighborhood garage sales, I marveled at odd little items and learned their origins or uses. It  became a hobby. If the Murray's had a sale across the street, or the Morrison's a few blocks down, I was there!  Mom was usually tagging along--although not always...

It was a time when it was safe to roam the streets like a miniature modern day pirate looking for gold.

And the little treasures I'd see never failed to fascinate: Made me wonder what someones life was like that they would use an iron "like that," or make toast in something that looked like a filigree doorstop; Or the little souvenirs that said Paris or Rome or Egypt? How did they get here? And by whom? When? Why?

Mom and I exploring Costa Rica. 

Mom is/was into more specific collecting-- mostly certain patterns of dinnerware or glassware, and we'd go searching antique stores and the like.  She loved going through the racks of plates and piles of textiles as much as I did. Willow Ware was also a particular favorite. I was drawn to old books, Fiesta Ware,  Siam Silver and Big Little Books, along with anything else that had character. Still am.

My Mom has always been the kind of person who spends money on others and hardly ever on herself. In fact, my Mom is one of the most selfless people I know. She talks herself out of buying things constantly-- even if it's something she needs, much less something she might just "want."

For many years, my Dad, took it as a mission to encourage her to just "Go Ahead." 

He would always make sure that Mom had something of her Miss America pattern (the pink was harder to find) under the Christmas Tree or for Mother's Day, because he knew she was that way.

He never forgot...even when he he was working long hours, or after he became too sick, he'd always direct me as to what I was to find for her.

You know, over the years, that Miss American Depression Glass pattern has become more and more rare, to the point that I hardly see it anymore. And in the year's since Dad's passing, it seems to have just gone away entirely... Or: Did we just buy it all, Dad! It's possible! 

Somewhere along the way though--and I'm not sure when-- it's gradually gotten harder and harder to get Mom to scavenge...I think half the joy in finding a beautiful object is adding to it's story, realizing you are the next block in it's journey. Then sharing the tale.

But, does it change at some point? Do we start to feel our  patchwork puzzle is complete...or, does it happen when we lose the people to listen?

Maybe? Only she would know.

Long after her shelves were full, and she seemed to lose  interest, I'd continue to go on my own, always lured by the pull of a hand written sign, proclaiming a window of "Saturday, 10-2" or a funny old antique store facade with painted on shaky letters,  that served as a magic magnet for these forgotten objects that needed saving from the Island of Misfit Toys (things).

Many times I'll find a piece of Depression Glass, or the Hall's Fall Leaves, and I'll buy it for Mom, not because she needs it, but simply because seeing it makes me think of her...

Oh...sometimes, in Autumn,  I can still get Mom to stop for some year end sales, even though she'll complain that she doesn't see as well anymore, or can't walk as fast as she once did...And this coming from a women that's still chooses to have a job in her 80's!

"I have enough stuff," she'll say.

But then she'll see something that will make her laugh.

Revisiting Summer at Texarkana Lake. 

Sometimes she repeats stories I've heard before, when certain objects make her recall. I've heard some people be short with folks when they do this, "You've already told me that," they'll say.  But I don't mind. I want to hear.

"That framed old photo--the one with the fancy frame? Photographers would come around when we were young and you'd pose in your own house, put on your best clothes, and they'd deliver the photographs later in frames like those." She has a similar one of her and her sister in her house;

"See that old washboard, when I was growing up, we didn't have indoor plumbing for the longest time. Washing clothes was such a chore." Or the Singer sewing machine. "Most of my dresses were made out of flour sacks on a machine like that." I still remember my Grandmother making her own lye soap when I was a child, even though she no longer had to.

And the the look on Mom's face when I almost bought a pressure cooker for canning, "When I was five, I came home from playing and Mother was in the kitchen, a big bloody gash down her arm. The pressure cooker had exploded, and the neighbors came and rushed her to the hospital. She almost died." I didn't buy the pressure cooker that day.

Or the increasing rare occasion when we would find one of these little bone china Dutch shoes she collects. "A little boy down the street gave me the first one when I was 7," she'll say. "Probably from the 5 and Dime.  I collect all I see now." Although she doesn't remember exactly which the first one was.

The photos, to me, are the most haunting though. Why... how...did they end up here? Didn't someone in that family want them? Maybe it's easy to forget something... but someone....

When did they just become "artifacts," their eye-witnesses lost in time, without the benefit of someone to "recall?"

Mom on the right, and her sister, Sandra.

And that's when I realize that a very large  part of the reason I love just looking with my Mom and listening is because it opens a portal, a dialogue, into the past. Into understanding...

Then, sometimes, as a BONUS, you find among the dust of stacked histories, a "jigsaw shape," for your own landscape in progress, that you didn't even know you were looking for!

The moments don't always come, but when they do, they are grand.

In Texas recently, I stopped at one of those indoor markets-- my Mom as reluctant participant-- and noticed an authentic oil painting stacked in the mix-- The technique of the sky and snow, the tranquil vibe, almost made me feel as if I could hear the rush of the wind, grasp the frame and walk right in...

I asked how much it was. Nobody knew! They wouldn't sell it to me without a price. BUT they couldn't give me a price?!

The canvas was old, so I guessed the piece was probably from the 40's or 30's, with a "Munich" stamp on the back, and writing in German that talked of a "winter morning on the Matterhorn." The artist, someone I had not heard of -- E. Kettemann.

Distinguishing clues.

All little details that piqued my interest even more....

I left my name and phone number. That afternoon, the lady at the shop called back and said they found the owner and he was in the store.  Just happened to walk in that day. The painting had been in the wrong booth. A stroke of luck.

"He wants Fifty Dollars," she said, almost apologetically. "I'll take it," I said, without hesitation.

Someone else had already inquired about the painting, but I had first dibs. I didn't waste a moment throwing on my shoes and heading for the car. Mom in tow. Sometimes these things change in a flash, you know.( Like that Murphy Bed I was going to check out in Manhattan, only to have the owner "text" me--not even call-- to say he'd just sold it to someone else, WHILE I was in the taxi going there, and even though I had an appointment.  Dude!!  Not cool. Just saying. And let's talk about the $40 cab ride while we're at it.)

But back to the tale (and thanks for sticking with me)...

By this time, after my digression, Mr. Kettemann's painting was sitting snugly in the back seat.

So, yes, I know why I love the hunt...

It's not a pack rat thing where your house is piled high with newspapers and soup labels or ski slope schedules from 10 years ago. It's different. It's more seeing what resonates. What says "take me home," and thinking how this artifact, this teapot/figurine/jewelry item--whatever it might be-- has survived wars and earthquakes and kids and whatever happened in it's world, to get to this crossroads in it's unknown travels. That it was held, poured tea, listened to conversations, that only it is witness to now, and can never relate. Was wrapped, unwrapped, saved for...and somehow ended up here.

It's all beautiful, sad, joyful and temporary. All at the same time.

It's the story, for me.

Winter Morning in Zematt at the Matterhorn

Later, I looked up E. (Erwin) Kettemann...well-known German landscape painter (1897-1971), born in Munich, he lived and painted there his whole life, doing mostly landscapes and most of those, winter scenes... His paintings well... they go at auction for ALOT more than $50.

I'd have loved it even so. It whispers to me from decades past of something beyond a monetary attribution-- a sense of peace perhaps, the sound of quiet, a portal to a place somewhere in time... and I wonder what Mr. Kettemann was thinking when he painted it, and did it speak in the same way to the people that owned it before me?

Again... I don't know... But, I'm  happy to have this, and all my pieces, as part of my own puzzle for a time...until the puzzle breaks apart again.

So, by now, you realize the real confession: I am a fool for the sentimental.

My most prized possessions are things that have little value. But they once belonged to my Grandmother, my Mother, my Aunt Margaret, my Father's Mother who died so young, and whom I never met... but when I hold the Milk Glass trinket box painted with pink roses that once belonged to her...I remember.

As for my "adopted" things...I like my addiction. It's a happy one. And often times cheaper than my predominate addiction, coffee, after all! 

It's also an unspoken acknowledgement  that nothing here ever was--that nothing was ever cherished-- with the intention of just throwing it away...Nothing important should be.

Like a "Winter's Morning..."

My Mom...being more into looking at the old Elvis memorabilia that day, didn't really get it at first. "Why are you buying a painting," she said, but on the short drive home, looking back, she finally remarked "You know, it's really very beautiful." I laughed.

She usually comes around.

And then she looked down at what else we found that day-- the small, white, porcelain Dutch shoe, cupped in her hands, and she smiled.

Had it only been in my mind?... I'm sure it was just there-- a whispered:  "Go Ahead." 

(But, , oh... I was being totally serious about one other thing:  I do keep one eye open for those "picker" guys.")

-Renee W.

The Little Shoes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment