A few deep thoughts about Thrift Stores, and Why They Are Important. Sure, there is the chance of stumbling upon, for a mere $2, that gymnastics leotard for which your daughter has been clamoring. There is the goofy sentimental artwork which you, in your clever irony, MIGHT buy and hang just for fun. Not to mention the occasional stunning original sketch priced at $100, that will stick in your mind for years after you, alas, let it go. And perhaps in your winter gloom, you need a keyring bearing a cherub and the motto, “Some things even smell happy!”
In my free time I like to roam around the Salvation Army thrift store in Hadley, often buying nothing, but on a kind emotive quest, waiting to be reminded of people and places of my past, and determined to bear whatever memories might be stirred. I might stop to respectfully admire those shining, pointed Florsheim shoes of such fine leather that they deserve museum-style preservation. My Dad used to say they were no shoes as “as good as a Florsheim shoe.” He was a man who took good care of his shoes, polishing and buffing them on a Sunday evening, holding up each one to admire the shine when he was done.
Those shoes – really all of it – is much more than “Good Stuff Cheap,” as the owner of Building #19 – that long- forgotten Massachusetts pilgrimage site – liked to say. A thrift store is a temple for the material flotsam and jetsam of our lives. Who died wearing this paisley scarf? When was the last time plump baby feet were slowly eased into those white lace-up booties?
Let us consider the movement of objects across geography and over time. I swear that I stumbled upon a mustard-colored, polyester skating dress in the Amherst Goodwill a few months ago that I MYSELF WORE to the skating rink in Watertown in or around 1976.
How many such dresses could have existed? (My mother was certainly the only mother I knew who would have found that color “interesting.”) Did a great many little girls wear my skating dress over the decades, or did it stop one or more times in its travels across Massachusetts, in a closet floor pile, or a basement box?
I have to admit I was afraid of this skating dress. Had I found, unprepared, my own personal wormhole in time? (Will another ever open, and would I go through, knowing nothing of the route back?)
I see there are still a few such dresses knocking about on ebay, where they are considered “vintage.” (It only follows that if such dresses are vintage, so are the original owners who wore them as cold little girls, with very sore ankles.)
My mother, God bless her, was a smart woman – a biologist – and yet was a great fan of little knickknacks with cheery messages. Even when I was away at college, she would send me small oddities (tiny placards, stuffed animals) bearing jolly words in packages I was embarrassed to open in public. My friends scorned these for their sentimentality. But, who were they to judge? In the end, we will all outgrow, discard, and abandon everything we ever owned. If there is a small comfort for someone in a wooden key chain, or if it can serve as a brief totem of love, then I say let it be.