Saturday, March 09, 2013

Thrift Shopping at the Gates of Possibility: or, how I get told I'm old--but young!--and end up with more than a new lamp

So today I was in Value Village, the "department thrift store" that reigns all over my region, when an older woman walked up to me.  She admired E. in the sling, and then asked, "Were you born around here?  If you were born at Cabarrus Memorial Hospital, then I probably helped deliver you. I am 96 years old and was a maternity nurse for 35 years, and it was just me back then!  We didn't have the help, it was just one girl on the whole floor..." and she was off.  She smiled, seemed sharp as the proverbial tack, and told me all about working in the 1940s, how she was paid 80 dollars a week and that wasn't enough.
"Is this your first?" she inquired, gesturing at E. who was gaping at her and chewing on a teether.  I explained no, I have three.  "How old are you?" she demanded.  When I told her 37, she gaped.  "Wow.  You look too young to be that old!"

(internal dialogue:  is this a compliment?  Doesn't everyone look young when you yourself are practically an centenarian?)

I smiled and thanked her.  That's the best practice, I think.  ;)

And as I wandered off to sort through other people's castoffs, I thought of how that is the beauty of the thrift shop--I always meet people, hear stories, talk with others...albeit sometimes crazy others.  The people who shop second hand are as varied as the merchandise--there are the collectors, eager to discover a specific find.  There are the chronic impulse buying hoarders, their wire carts stacked high with stuff that just might fit someone, or was too good to pass up, despite the lack of need or use for said item.  Or the affected girls, their eyes a studied bored as they sift through ironic eighties (or insert a decade/style/fashion here) clothes, their impossibly trim little bodies a living hanger for the fashion time capsules of the past.  There are the practical, people who realize that an investment of time may yield a decent new piece for their wardrobe or home...or it may just be an expenditure of time with nothing to show for it.  Some are searching, a desperate look to them, as if hoping there is something more than old clothes or ceramic praying hands, or someone's leftover refrigerator meat drawer insert...hungry for more than a thrift store can sate.

And then there are people like me, who feel the siren song of the unloved, the undiscovered, the waiting-to-be-found.  I can be practical.  I can be a hoarder.  I can be affected.  But I am always, always thrilled by the thought of what might be lurking, hidden one row down, on a lower shelf, at the bottom of a beat up cardboard box.  It is the hunt that sustains me:  the methodical shifting of clothing from one side of the rack to another, the practiced scanning of dozens of little knickknacks to discover...what? That's the allure.

And so I love the story, be it the old woman who smiled and talked, or the untold past of the newly discovered pendant lamp that I am sure will be perfect in our downstairs den. (If you're reading this, honey, I swear it is retro-chic and not just somebody's MaMaw's lamp.) Over the years, I have learned not to take them all home, but sometimes, the story is worth saving. (Or at least retelling:  Yeah, she was in her nineties... but I'm focusing on the fact that she said I looked young. ;)


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