Tag Archives: old

My Old Stuff

It was a beautiful day in town with so much to see and do. Any outdoor seat could have guaranteed great people watching, but on an early spring day like this, walking and window-shopping were in order.

I strolled past the front window of a nearby antique shop. Sunlight reflected in a hundred directions as it struck crystal glasses lined along a shelf. The rainbow of sparkles caught my eye so I stopped to look. My mother has glasses like these, I thought. On a shelf below was a huge punch bowl. Also similar to hers.

Staring at these pieces reminded me of a conversation I once had with a coworker. A pre-virus, in-person discussion, long before Zoom meetings replaced water-cooler chats. My office was just down the hall from Karen’s.

I glanced in her door on my way to the copier and she motioned to me frantically. Hardly looking up from her computer, her hand waved me towards her desk. She was breathing heavily.

“Isn’t this antique Italian walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I wasn’t even sure what language she was speaking.

She shoved the monitor in my direction, pointed at the screen, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “A wardrobe.”

You have one?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Of course.” She frowned as she slid the monitor back towards herself. “I love proper antiques.”

“I like old stuff too.” I left for the copier.

I have plenty of old stuff. Not just old, but meaningful. Each piece belonged to someone in my family and was passed down and down again until landing with me. Most aren’t valuable in dollars, but each has a story. When I look at them, I imagine the person who touched them, used them, and whether they ever imagined that a hundred years later a relative would be grateful to have them.

The fancy Italian armoire that Karen panted over was pretty, but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s simple cedar wardrobe than all of Italy’s armoires. Then again, I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

Some weeks later, I invited coworkers over for Friday night pizza. Karen was the first to say yes.

“I’ll get to see your armoire!” she squealed.

“It’s a wardrobe.” I reminded.

“Of course.” Karen said.

Friday evening arrived and with plates full of pizza, we launched into small talk and office gossip. Everyone, that is, but Karen. She was only interested in inspecting my wardrobe.

“What a fabulous vintage mid-century cedar wardrobe!” Karen felt obliged to confirm. She smiled her approval, and then suddenly looked down at her feet.

“Wait. This appears to be an American folk art style hooked rug, likely from the 1930s.” She leaned down for a closer look and glanced up at me. “Did you pick it up from a specialty shop?”

“No, I picked it up from my mother’s hallway.” I laughed. “I told my mother I liked it so she rolled it up and gave it to me. It previously belonged to my grandmother who decades earlier rolled it up and gave it to her.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

She eyed the small table in my hallway. “What an absolutely beautiful mahogany telephone table. And matching chair!” she noticed. “Did you find them at an auction?”

“No, I found them in my grandmother’s spare room. She used them for decades and always told us grandkids about the funny things she’d overhear while making phone calls back when party lines were common.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

The show-and-tell process continued as Karen moved from room to room examining my old stuff. She finally stopped in front of the rusty handheld pruning shears I kept on a shelf. This time she didn’t make a guess or even comment. She simply pointed at the shears and waited.

“Oh.” I took my cue. “They were my grandmother’s and I keep them to remember her love of gardening.”

Karen actually smiled. “Does everything have a story?”

“Of course.” I said.

We rejoined the pizza party and later as people began their goodbyes, talk turned to weekend plans. Somewhere in the chatter, Karen was asked if she would hit the antique shops in the morning, her well-known Saturday routine.

“No.” Karen tapped her chin with her forefinger. “I have enough of those.”  

The room fell silent in disbelief.

She looked towards the rusty old pruning shears as she spoke again.

“What I need is some old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Small Town Ways

With a warm spring finally here and hotter weather to follow, a store near me has filled its seasonal section with all things summer. Though still April, I saw stacks of Fourth of July themed party supplies, plastic cups for poolside use, and a display of various sunscreens. It was the sunscreen display that reminded me of a day trip I took years ago with my kids.

The three of us set off to spend a day on the beach of a small town I’ve visited all my life and I knew the kids would enjoy sun, sand, and saltwater. As for me, I immediately felt calmer simply leaving work, traffic, and fast-paced living. While the kids argued in the back over who would be first to get in the water once we arrived, I drove and looked forward to experiencing again the small town ways I love but see disappearing. It’s hard to describe those ways, but you know them when you see them and every time an example pops up I hear myself say “There it is.”

People used to wave when they passed one another. Strangers smiled and nodded to each other. If you got lost while traveling you pulled over and the service station mechanic happily got you back on track. If he didn’t know how to then the man reading his newspaper while waiting for an oil change certainly might. And you didn’t have to ask, he’d eagerly put down his paper to help.

There it is.

People reminded one another to carry an umbrella as the weatherman had mentioned thunderstorms for later. If you needed a pen then the woman in line behind you was glad to offer hers. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other. There was no agenda, helping out wasn’t done for personal gain, and kindness was expressed simply because it was good and right.

There it is.

As I parked the car at the marina the kids scrambled over each other to race to the beach. I looked around, sad to see some of the quaint out-buildings now gone. Rustic boathouses and a tiny bait shop were replaced by an over-priced restaurant and a store with neon signs screaming at me to buy souvenirs. No wonder small town ways are disappearing; they have no place to live.

Carrying towels, toys, and floats, I made my way over hot sand to where the kids waited by the water. It was then I realized I’d forgotten their sunscreen. Reluctantly, they left the beach to walk with me to the shiny new store at the marina. I hesitated, unhappy about supporting something that helped replace the very ways I’d been reminiscing about, but the kids needed sunscreen. Gone were the days of the smiling bait shop owner asking how he could help. We’d just have to go in and hope a cashier would even notice us.

Walking in I was surprised. There beneath garish fluorescent lights was an old man stocking greeting cards. Wearing faded jeans and a worn flannel shirt, he used a cane for balance as he stooped to fill the lower shelves. Although surrounded by displays of magazines, coolers full of sodas, and racks of colorful t-shirts, I saw no sunscreen. Interrupting his work, I nodded towards my kids.

“Do you have any sunscreen?” I asked. “I forgot theirs.”

“Well, I believe I might.” he responded with a smile. “Let me look.”

He seemed out of place there surrounded by beach jewelry, scented candles, and baskets of packaged seashells. Dance music over store speakers nearly drowned out his voice. As we followed him through aisles crammed with flip-flops and plastic buckets, I thought sadly how his working in such a place was final evidence that the small town ways had been all but swallowed up by sterile progress. This man, and others like him from the old days, had to adapt to the new or be left behind. Surely in that transition small town courtesies would be lost, gone for good, all part of the change.

The old man led us to the checkout counter but I still saw no sunscreen. Using his cane again, he stooped to reach down behind the cash register and lifted up an old knapsack, obviously his own, and opened it on the counter. He dug inside removing a frayed wallet, rusty keys, and a tiny old notebook before saying “Yep, got it.” With a smile he produced a large tube, told me there was plenty to cover both kids, and handed me the last of his very own sunscreen.

There it is.

Stuart M. Perkins

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