Lately, I can't help but feel a little sad when I buy vintage things. True, an old brooch or a well-used piece of Tupperware is just an object and material goods have no soul. Nevertheless, I often wonder about the back stories of the goodies I scoop up at garage sales and thrift stores.
It really hit me the last time I visited my parents' and I went to the estate sale of a woman called Willow who had just moved into a retirement home. The sale was being run by some loving neighbours who were helping Willow out. It felt wrong walking around a stranger's home, especially considering that the rooms looked like they hadn't been touched much since Willow left. I don't know why I feel this way either. It's not as if I knew her, yet being surrounded by her personal artifacts dating back to the fifties, it's hard not to feel a little connected. The objects - including her vast collections of Avon bottles - all looked lonely. I began wondering about the years she had lived in the house. Had she been married. If so, had here husband passed away? Did she have kids? If so, where are they living? What did Willow look like? What perfumes did she like? Was she a good cook? Sometimes when I buy really old things, like kitchen utensils, I wonder if the person who originally owned them is now deceased. Would they mind that kids in my class are now using their old wooden rolling pin to make salt dough Egyptian mummies?
This week a girl in my class brought in a postcard and family photo that had been left in a time capsule in her house. They were from the 1950s. The students were so taken by these artifacts and everyone took their turn examining them. When the students returned to their desks, the girl brought me the postcard, which had been torn in half as one student had grabbed it out of another student's hands. I'm glad she didn't start crying, or I may have joined her. Maybe it was PMS, but I felt really sad all of a sudden. On one hand, it was one of a gazillion vintage postcards you can find in an antique mall. On the other hand, it seemed sad to think that this card, which someone had gone to the trouble to stash in a hiding hole - a card that had survived in the wall of a Scarborough home for almost 60 years - could be destroyed in a careless second.
Vintage treasures may not have souls, but they do hold meaning. Objects passed down, or even cast out are imprinted with untold stories of places visited, happy memories, unremarkable daily routines, family tragedies, births, and deaths. They document a look, a feel, and a style that has come and gone. Quite often I get a feeling that the kind of vintage things I'm drawn to were well loved the first time around. If I'm lucky enough to buy these treasures at garage sales, I always make a point of telling the seller that the items are going to a good home. This always brings a smile. And I never haggle. Do you have the same internal dialogue play like a tape when you pick up previously enjoyed treasures?
I'm going yard saling tomorrow. Maybe I'll come back with more things to show and talk about. Until then...