One doesn’t have to hang with me for very long these days until they know I am a junkin’ junkie. Yep, I am the crazy lady that rubbernecks when she sees a lime green sign on the corner of an intersection, slams on brakes at the sight of a pile of hastily thrown together boxes and oddities waiting by the road for the garbage men, or wakes the rooster up before dawn gathering change and a few dollar bills from the recesses of the stoneware cookie jar of “mad money”. I admit it, I am addicted, and I do love it.
I don’t really know when that persistent little bug bit me. But I do know I have loved hunting vintage items since I was very young, and eclectic decorating pieces, dusty reading materials and absorbing collections of these items have comforted me the better part of my 50 plus years. My collections have been varied and interesting over the years, and they have also matured in content as I matured. But my most cherished collections began when I was but a young child.
I was growing up in Whitehaven, a suburb of Memphis, Tn, and we had a McCrory’s 5 and 10 that was within biking distance of my home. In those days kids could actually ride their bikes to the little shopping strip and walk from store to store in safety and without parental guidance. Our allowance of 50 cents a week was saved up for two or maybe three weeks at most, then my sister and I would either hitch a ride with Mom on a Saturday or we would be allowed to ride our bikes to the shopping center after we got a bit older. What fantastic independence we felt! Money in our pocket, our own wheels, and no adults…come to think of it, maybe those things were the real allure. The McCrory’s was by far our favorite store and the place we laid down the most pocket change each week. But we always saved it for the very last stop.
I had a pattern when I shopped. There was a whole lot of walking, peering into windows, watching people, and going from one end of the plaza to the other before spending the first penny. We’d start out at the Mannie and Karls’, the most boring store to kids since it was all ladies and men’s apparel and shoes, hats and gloves…not really much appeal there. At the other end was a Baskin Robbins and boy, that was one amazing place. Imagine, 31 flavors of ice cream. When it first opened, my friends and I all discussed the impossibility of there truly being that many flavors of the soft creamy stuff, but we also pledged to try them all just to be sure. In between the boring and the amazing was a myriad of shops and so much to see, and every visit it seemed new and different to me. There was a bowling alley smelling of popcorn and sweaty feet, and the loud crash of the balls could be heard streetside on a clear day. The Fred’s Dollar Store, Dreifus Jewelers and many odd shops I can’t quite recall were sandwiched between the barber shop and the Buster Brown shoe store. One of the stops on our itinerary was to gawk at mystical fortune-telling gypsy machine with the red-glowing eyes. I had dreams about that thing from time to time and would even waken crying from fear. But it was so mysterious and unearthly my eyes remained glued as it swallowed my quarter, groaning and jerking as it leaned downward over a chipped crystal ball and told you what your life would be, well at least till the next visit and your subsequent quarter was dropped. Then of course there was the goose that laid the eggs, not a real goose mind you, nor real eggs, but a mechanical goose much like the fortune teller only less unnerving. We all hoped to get the golden egg…and for the life of me now, I cannot remember why. We just, well, all wanted a golden egg, so I guess that was enough to keep us trying.
Around the corner past the ice cream place was a wig and dress shop. I loved to look in the wood paned windows and study the mannequins. We’d spend inordinate amounts of time trying to stand very still just outside the front door of the shop and see if we could fool the strolling people into believing we were mannequins too. I can’t remember thinking we were ever wildly successful, but it was still fun to try.
When all the places were visited, and all the first round of oohs and aahs were over, it was time to hit McCrory’s. Armed with the piggy bank money my sister, Lori, and I would go and meander in the store for hours. We lingered in the candy aisle, and gently touched the faces of all the dolls and fingered their delicate clothing. There were cap guns and hula hoops, jacks, slinkies and wheelie toys. My mom and dad were not fond of the trip when Lori introduced our household to the klicker klacker balls. Held together with thick cords were two brightly colored iridescent hard plastic balls. While you pumped your arm up and down the balls would strike each other with a loud “KLICK” then down with an equally ferocious “KLACK” ……repeatedly. Yeah, they didn’t last too long. She went outside her usual buying zone that day. Most of the time sis ended up with a fistful of candy that was long gone by the time we reached our front porch again. But not me, even when I was that young, I wanted something more stable, more valuable, more lasting and even something that would grow in meaning to me. And that one store in the tiny strip plaza is where my true collecting began.
McCrory’s was where I started my first collections of dolls and Trixie Belden books. Each time I went in I would go back and forth and up and down the case with all the dolls and finally settle on the one who deserved to go home with me. Some had beautiful hair and printed dresses, some were Barbies or Cassie Dolls. But the one doll I remember for some reason had no real identification or name. She was a beautiful little blue-eyed doll with porcelain-like skin, long platinum blonde hair tied into pigtails with pink ribbons, and she wore a bright pink raincoat set that ended at the top of snow white boots. I had that doll for most of my growing up. Maybe it was was my favorite because she was so opposite me and my own looks. I was just shy of chubby and for sure freckled, with long auburn hair and big brown eyes. I thought that doll was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen when I first laid eyes on her.
Trixie Belden was an escape for me. I was a voracious reader and so the independent little curly top was fascinating to me as a pre-teen. Solving mysteries, cooking her own food while her mom was at a bridge game and her dad was working, and the fact of her having a BOYFRIEND…well, she was who I wanted to be when I grew up. I just knew I would own a private eye agency one day with a swimming pool out back and my pick of young men trying to win my hand.
And to think, all those things that struck my fancy and turned my head then are the same things I gravitate toward today. When I go on my picking trips, I do buy some things that are good sellers that I know I can turn over for a profit quickly. I have enough business sense to know I can’t buy just the junk I like, I have to buy the junk other folks like, too or I won’t be in business very long. But the pieces I am wooed by time and time again remind me of those good times as a child. I find myself wanting to go back there, and there is almost a voice I hear in the recesses of my mind saying “If you choose me, you will remember what it was like then.” Funny how when I really take a deeper look at it, those things were just a prop in my childhood. There were some hard moments growing up…we all have them and some are more difficult to get through than others…but I can see where I chose certain things to embrace so the loud voices of the hardship would melt away. I would replace the uneasy moments with peace when I would hold a blue-eyed little doll, or immerse myself in a new adventure with my favorite character. Those things became substitutes that gave me belonging, and many times provided something to share or talk about with my friends or even my family. But sadly, I can see where I knew more about the props than I did about my own story that was being written at the same time.
In the junk business, I have a variety of items that I have sold or rented to local playhouses for their theatrical productions here and there over the last year or so. This makeshift “prop shop” was kind of an offshoot of me just buying things I loved, then people coming to my sales that were involved with the local theater and they purchased those items that fit their particular script. Using them would move their story line along because the props gave the story strength visually. Recently, a young friend took a position as a performing arts teacher. She had been following my junking business and approached me about providing some props for her productions in the future. In the talking, she sent me a site that lists the props that are suggested in a variety of plays and it was so interesting to me. As I flipped through page after page of the site, many items that were on the lists of oft performed plays were either already in my stockpile waiting to be sold or rented out, or were items I had gravitated toward in the past and were already sold and out of my inventory. If I had not sold anything in the last year, I would have had enough of the “right” items to open my own full prop shop with the exception of a handful of things that I had not run across in my experience junking as yet. All those years of looking much, buying little but purchasing the “right” things had trained me to know what would become vintage and useful to me later.
Our lives are really just a big production on this earth. We are here for a few acts, some of us more than others…then the curtain will fall, the audience reaction will come, and it will be time to leave the theater. When it comes right down to it, the believability of any story, any play, or any musical lies with the actors, yes. But the support of that story is found in the type of props they can rely on to get their story across to their audience.
I wonder if we took a steady, quiet look at our own lives, would they be so cluttered with props that we can’t see the actual story? How many things would we find that are not even really a part of the production of our life, in other words useless, ineffective props? The props we do need for our story …are they in good repair, clean and make us look good and usher us easily into the character we are meant to be ? Or are they tattered and worn, pulling us down and making a shabby mess of life?
Props are necessary in the telling of any story, but they are not the story itself. Time to buckle down, take a good long look at the list of props that are and are not part of the play I have been cast in, then spend a little time getting my prop shop back into order. It just wouldn’t do for the King of Siam to wear a cowboy hat, or Dorothy to be seen easing on down the yellow brick road on a unicycle, now would it?