I think it’s safe to say that none of my friends would characterize me as an antiquing enthusiast.
Perhaps it’s because I know virtually nothing about what constitutes an authentic antique, why they are desirable, or what they are worth. I don’t peruse antiquing catalogs or go to shows. I don’t watch stuff like Storage Wars or Pawn Stars. And while the hobby seems like it could be interesting in an abstract sort of way, the whole thing to me seems like an insufferably boring way to waste a perfectly good afternoon.
Plus I tend to be a pack rat…and the last thing I need are old brass pocket watches and dented candlesticks laying around.
At least, that’s what I used to think about antiquing.
Was at a family reunion week or two ago up in rural NW Pennsylvania. It’s a John Cougar Mellencamp song, personified; living and dying in a small town. Other than the lake we stayed on, the local hot dog place and the local ice cream stand, there’s little to do. I’ve been going there for almost forty years and hardly anything’s changed…which is kinda nice, comforting on a certain level.
So one afternoon after days of doing nothing but boating and playing cornhole, the girls announced we were all “going antiquing.” My toes curled. The guys let out a collective groan.
The “antique store” was a barn next to a vast fallow field; the dull yellow and browns seemed to be the perfect colors to accompany pawing through creepy things from dead centuries long forgotten.
The proprietor, a farmer-ish looking guy with tinted gold aviator bifocals from the 1990s nodded politely as he opened the door for us. “Afternoon folks,” he said. “Take your time.” Welcome to the twilight zone, a certified time suck region. Don’t blame me if all your watches stop.
Piles of old junk were placed on dozens of tables and shelves among dusty feed sacks and bags of fertilizer. Sunbeams came through windows last washed during Desert Storm. Dust motes floated lazily in the warm, musty air. I felt energy literally being drained from me as our group spread out.
I hadn’t wandered far when I noticed a water ski that looked vaguely familiar. I picked it up and a memory of me at 11 or 12 flashed into my mind. I was in the water behind our boat on Lake Ida, the Evinrude idling, exhaust fumes in my face, trying to put on this very same water ski. It was endorsed by Cypress Gardens who, before Disney, was the major Florida Tourist attraction, the go-to folks on water sports. I turned it over, marveling at all the details I’d forgotten: The rubber foot slips, the flap on the back for slaloming, the polished wood, the Cypress Gardens seal. It was a steal at $35.
Next I found a pile of hard-bound “Companion Library” books for young adults; again, memories came flooding back. Companion Library books contained two different stories in one bound volume, with a twist; they were printed in opposite directions. Half the book was upside down; when you finished the “A” side, you flipped the book upside down and read the second story on the reverse side. Many hours were spent with my Companion Library books.
As I kept going, it was like I was stepping trough a time portal into my pre- and early teen years. Toys, 45 records, magazines filled with vintage ads, tools, games, puzzles, old rotary phones that we used to ruin by stretching the cord and shutting the sliding glass door on it for speech privacy. Kristen, my oldest, comes over and looks at them. She puts her finger in the “one” hole.
“Would this be dialing a one?” she asks. I explain no, you gotta turn it until you finger hits the little metal thing. She moves her finger. “Now?” she asks? No, now you gotta let go. Oh. The plastic dial rotates counterclockwise with a staccato clicking sound and she gives a startled look. “Whaaat? Really?” She laughs.
I picked up a Life Magazine from 1971 and skimmed an essay about a guy who always felt the passage of time most acutely in the summer. He was reminded of the need to stop planning and do, that the years are fleeting. He instinctively took stock of his life, his progress, during the season of heat lightning, fireflies and warm lazy evenings…and usually found himself behind schedule. I wondered who the author was, was he still around, were his last thoughts ones of satisfaction or regret.
In that place, surrounded by stuff that I didn’t realize were antiques…hey, I REMEMBER this stuff, it MEANS something to me…it’s not 19th century candlesticks, it’s part of who I AM… the article resonated with me on a profound level. I understood what the author was saying; I never realized it, but I felt the same. Where did almost half a century go? Where was I on my bucket list? These touchstones to my youth had not changed one iota; yet I had, profoundly. In the stream of time, they were on the bank, unmoving, unchanging, silently watching me; while in mid-stream, I was a twig, being inexorably and unwillingly carried along toward an uncertain future. And at an ever-quickening pace, it seemed.
All these things that instantly took me back to my boyhood silent asked me questions that the essayist struggled with. I wondered what the date was of the last time I had water skied or read a Companion Library book. Had I known then it was going to be my last time? Did that mean I was an antique, too?
As we reconvened at the checkout later, our selections in hand, I took a final look around. I seemed to be stepping not out of a time suck, but rather a place of familiarity, a place of comfort. A portal to a simpler time, of endless summer days, of three TV channels, of playing Marco Polo until my eyes were red from chlorine. Of dinners with my family and our dog, of riding my bike with no helmet, of drinking out of a hose. Of contentedly reading a Companion Library book in my room as an afternoon Florida thunderstorm boomed and hurled sheets of rain at the window.
Very cool way to spend a summer afternoon.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”