Our cable shows have made going to flea markets and antique stores a hot fad by showing professional pickers and treasure-hunting contests between eccentric personalities, but I've always loved that scene. I still do.
This past Saturday I got two wigs, a fluorescent tiger-striped fur trench coat, and a pair of school-marm glasses from the 60s all for about 3 hours of wandering and seeking (I collect wigs and costumes in case you were wondering). I even picked up a pair of hedgehog sculpture bookends for my wife (She raises, breeds, and sells hedgehogs in case you were wondering).
I came across a quote this weekend as well, ironically, that I had written from an antique store on one hunt long ago:
"We now live in a world where we see antique furniture and we want to
turn it into a profit without ever hearing the story of the owner or the
This quote has multiple levels of meaning for me, so it was interesting to see it lived out in a literal sense at the antique markets this past Saturday. There were many booths and tables of junk, with folks just heaping piles of unwanted items that they had purchased for a lump sum at a yard sale or that they had raided from a relative's home. As they stacked their trash, they hoped it would become someone's treasure.
No stories, no interaction, just dollar signs and stained merchandise and castaway toys. And to be honest, if I found a "treasure" there, I would have bought it and walked away. . .both of us happy with the transaction.
But at the good flea markets and the real antique stores (not just the ones selling snowman crafts or candles that could be purchased at Cracker Barrel type stores) there are folks who know their wares. They have hunted and studied, traveled and haggled, cajoled and connived to put this motley menagerie together. Walking the rows can take on a magical and whimsical feel.
Also though, many of them have lost grandfathers who fought in forgotten wars or family homes where life took an unfortunate turn.They bring together chairs where their parents learned to drink from a cup or favorite knick-knacks their crazy great aunt would let them get down off the shelf when they visited...they bring together a museum of memories, and the true treasure in their chests are the stories. . .
They don't just want to make a dollar off the material goods of their heritage, in fact, I would say many don't want to sell at all, but reality has forced their hand. What they really want is to share their lives with people. . .(I got the story on the tiger coat by the way, in case you were wondering)
We are losing the ability in our culture to engage people in genuine conversation, to freely listen to their stories, to understand that when someone tells you about their past they aren't always being egotistic, they're actually being vulnerable and hospitable. . .inviting you into their story.
I wrote that quote in an antique market as I watched people speed through looking for the hidden buck that the vendors had somehow missed. I found it sad that we looked at these valued nostalgic pieces from past moments as just pragmatic goods to be transferred. . .
But then I realized with sadness that in today's world we can look at people the same way. . .
I don't want the story, I just want to know what you can do for me.