Tuesday, June 08, 2021

night scavenges our cellars : writing and thrifting

 As I've mentioned, one of the things I am looking most forward to this summer is my return to the thrift stores.  While I occasionally hit up the ones in the city, I have far better luck at finding gems out in Rockford and environs (which are never quite as picked over as urban thrifts.)  What I'm looking for varies.  Sometimes it's just frames for artwork or vintage dishware. Sometimes it's another cardigan for my unruly collection.  Sometimes purses and baskets and midcentury tchotchkes.  When I sold vintage on etsy, I'd be looking for very specific things--like slips that I would alter or dye different colors. Occasionally cute dresses in very small dainty midcentury sizes.   Dishes and salt and pepper shakers shaped like woodland creatures.  Wooden plaques and framed embroidery pieces. I also hunted ebay for listings of vintage eyeglasses, typewriter keys,  and clip-on-earrings to make into hairclips. The fiercest bidding wars came from these and sets of vintage keys when I was putting together the Joseph Cornell editions.  Some things, if I loved them too much or they just didn't sell, would wind up in my home. I have a cupboard full of floral 1960's dish designs, a few pyrex bowls, and a growing collection of dripware china.  My favorite framed embroidery pieces and lots of pressed flowers. I have old cameras and typewriters and a herd of old industrial stools and chairs, as well as some 70's furniture finds procured when I was first decorating my apartment--avocado green cabinets for my tv and record player. A garage workbench which once yielded a vise still attached that I use for painting. Recent acquisitions include a mustard yellow vinyl jewelry box and metal drawer file set I use to house paints in. A black floral candy tin I keep bedside necessities in.A painting of a geisha I brought on e-bay and a weird black velvet cat with sad eyes and too many toes. 

Clothes, at least for me, are dicier and harder to find in larger sizes. . I once found a cute hand-sewn day dress from the 60's that fit, but it basically, due to some shoddy seeming, tore and fell apart around me the second time I wore it. I've had better luck with the 1980's when plus size manufacturers were stepping things up a bit.    I have cute blue dress that is lovely, but sometimes the itchy polyester bothers me if I get too hot.  I have a floral midi dress with a lace collar that I love, but also have to be careful of the fabric, which is non-breathable and gets too warm. I much prefer imitation vintage--the lines of 30's/40's dresses but in modern or natural fabrics.  70's notes but in 100 percent cotton. This year, I am enjoying some very Gunn-Sax-like florals due to the rise of cottagecore, and lots of ditsy prints and peasant sleeved smocking dresses I love. Other favorite "new, but looks old" things--my turntable that looks like a 40's radio. An atomic-inspired metal fan I keep on my desk.  While my handbag collection has a lot of vintage pieces, including some that are almost too fragile to carry, I enjoy newer bags with similar feels, including some lovely asian satin and quilted pieces that are slightly roomier than they would have been decades ago. 

When I was in college, before thrift stores, it was flea markets, huge outdoor ones where I'd come back with stacks of paperbacks and decor things for my room all delightfully inexpensive. Later, we'd hit thrifts, where my mother bought most of her decor, which she loved to switch out continually. While my first & second  apartment was a lot of gifts and hand-me-downs, my next (which is also my current) was mostly thrifted--down to the very 80's couch with paint splatters I covered up immediately (sadly, she was uncomfy and I eventually replaced her with my aunt's blue velour cast-off, which is what i have now under my neutral slipcovers) .  

I still have the media cabinets I always said I'd paint (but grew to love the avocado green.)  All the chairs and trunks and tables found at Goodwill and Salvation Army.  Slowly, I built up my collection of artwork and decor, dishes, various chairs, a green industrial school trashcan to catch paper shavings. Part of it is nostalgia--many things remind me of my grandmothers.  My dad's mom collected animal salt and pepper shakers. My great grandmother wore cat eye glasses and dainty floral dresses and collected velvet souvenir pillows from the places she visited. My mom's mom had an enormous collection of costume jewelry she'd allow me to play with, which spawned my obsession at making them into hair clips. But so much gets lost.  My mother and aunt burned my grandmother's jewelry and clothes in a grief-stricken bonfire because they were angry she died so young. My great grandmother's goods were sold off my an unscrupulous uncle. We salvaged some things from my paternal grandmother's house--including a couple of diaries and a porcelain jewelry box I've broken and glued together three times.   It sits on a mirror tray on my built-in, but the salt-pepper shakers didn't survive the years. 

In my first book, I wrote a piece called "the blue dress poems" which was about how we haunt such things as much as they haunt us. A fictional blue dress that holds not only personal memory, but the decades of its history before me. A tipsy woman in a boat. A war.  The seamstress who sews it.  I have a frequent dream where I inherit my maternal grandmother's house, which was torn down decades ago, but it's filled with all the things she left behind, completely intact.  I've written about this often and it crops up in poems and blog entries. Sometimes, the nostalgia isn't mine (I once wrote a line in another poems "filled with a nostalgia that wasn't even my own" and I feel this way sometimes. There are things that remind me of the past, but less in a personal connection way.  The metal green trash can echoes the gray and putty colored ones in every classroom throughout the 80's.  I don't have room for collecting them, but I'll fondle vintage metal lunch boxes and remember my own. Show me something old, pre-1980's--and I'm sure to love it.

But then what are objects but vessels for ghosts of some kind or another. Not always spooky ghosts, but sometimes, yes.  A friend once told me of a thrifted wooden box he threw out because it gave him "bad vibes.'  I bought a blue suitcase off e-bay that held a psychiatric unit paperwork and a greyhound bus ticket that smelled so much like mildew I was certain it had been submerged in a lake. I hid it in the closet for a few years and the smell seems to have dissipated.  More recently, I filled it with sweaters, but every once in a while, I'll catch a whiff, despite the lavender sachets tucked inside.  Another friend bought a victorian wheelchair at an antique shop in Kentucky infested with spiders and that she's still too afraid (of spiders, of ghosts) to bring upstairs from the basement.  And yet, she kept trying to buy a funeral home gurney to use for art supplies to no avail off craigslist. Sometimes, these things bring both fear and fascination in equal measure.