Yard sale finds

At a raucous yard sale with kids and dogs milling around the merch, I ask an old woman how much she’d like for her vintage olive suitcase.

“Can’t take any money for it, dear,” she says. “I can’t remember the lock combination.”

I test it out and confirm that yes, the suitcase is locked, but since I intend to use it on my stack-of-suitcases nightstand, it hardly matters. Though it does feel strange to buy something you can’t open or use for its intended purpose. It also feels wrong to take it for free.


“Wait, is there drug money in there?” I ask.

“I should think not! It’s empty.”

I offer her some money, but she won’t hear of it, so I head home with a small suitcase that a stranger tells me is empty, but that makes me wonder, especially when my cat sniffs it all over. If you are a retired spy and know how to bust open a locked suitcase, let me know.

In addition to the mysterious suitcase, I also score a couple of necklaces and tops before something compels me to buy this kitschy fisherman needlepoint from a woman who says it was her mother-in-law’s, and who perhaps isn’t sorry to see it go. I add it to my wall of eclectic art.




Yard sale finds


If you ever shopped at the original Filene’s Basement in Boston, you know if you saw something you coveted  you had to grab it, despite who was holding on to it at the other end. Bargains are strangers to politeness. At a yard sale today, I spied an antique wooden toolbox that another shopper had her grimy hands on. Not one to actually take it out of her hands, I waited until she walked away, debating the $20 price and what she would do with it. No debate necessary from my point of view; I got it for $15. It was my only find, aside from a $3 bag of potting soil that a guy nicely hosed down for me (you can keep the slugs, thanks) and put in my car. The soil will go right in the toolbox, which I plan to use as a planter, while the other woman berates herself for walking away. But given the sad state of my plants after the heat wave, she’ll probably get the last laugh.


Note to the child selling lemonade: people do not like when you act as a personal shopper and follow them around, asking them if there’s anything they’re looking for and would you like to buy some lemonade? No, no I wouldn’t, because I’ve seen kids in the kitchen and you’re . . . germy. But I’m a sucker for an articulate kid who seemed disappointed that “nothing was too my liking” and gave him a quarter for his icky Crystal Light. Kid’s gonna be a salesman. At least when he’s older I can hang up on him.


Yard sale finds

This week’s Marblehead haul included a crock for my birthday plant, a vintage box for stacking plants, and an amateur portrait of a very serious Bert. Rest assured, Bert will not be living in the garden, but nailed to the wall in the living room. Sorry, Bert.

I’d been hoping to score a planter at Brimfield, but the prices were high, especially for those stamped with a little number like this. Must be valuable, but I just wanted a solid, vintage-inspired container for my plant. This one was marked $30, but I talked him down to $15, getting it for $14 when I realized that’s all I had in my wallet. Whoops.

On the back of the Bert illustration was a handwritten note: “To Peter, Happy 4th Birthday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” I decided it was a keeper when I heard someone call out, “Peter, how much are you selling this for?” Sandy-haired Peter was now my age, the two of us children of the 70s. “You sure you want to sell it?” I asked. He seemed unfazed, and couldn’t remember if it was from his father or grandfather. For that, I asked if he’d sell it for $2 instead of $3. A man should know who drew and framed a portrait of Bert for him when he was four. But Bert, just so you know, I would have paid $5 for you.

Yard sale finds

I’m having a beach birthday bash for the big 4-0 and you know what an event like that needs in addition to good weather, waves, and well wishes? A vintage cooler. A mere $5 got me this gem, which is also appropriate for the 4th of July, no? Already I can feel my hand going numb from digging for a cold lemonade, images of a Levi’s commercial with bonfires and bikinis flashing, the minor detail of turning 40 dissolving like a sandcastle . . .

I also scored that giant vintage enamel bowl for $3 because everyone needs a giant bowl replete with chips. Haven’t you always said you need a mammoth chippy bowl? A fellow shopper said it could be a sink; not a bad idea. However, I’d like to use it as a centerpiece despite its enormity because it’s an unbelievably perfect match to these plates I’m coveting. Right? But how can I use it on the table? Help, please. Just don’t say, “Fill it with lemons” because it would pain me to watch that many lemons shrivel. Unless I use them in the lemonade . . . hey!

Puppet bathtime

I’m a little slow when it comes to projects. I realized in cleaning the basement today that I had bought this trio of friendly-faced puppets fully intending to give them a good soak right away. That was one year ago.

But today was bath time for the puppets. Furry, buoyant bodies floated in sudsy water as I kept dunking their heads under to clean them (another reason I shouldn’t have kids). I left them to drip-dry while I cruised eBay, curious about their value. I learned what I suspected: they’re probably Steiff, a German company known for its collectible stuffed animals, probably worth a few hundred dollars, and probably best to check online next time before I go plunging valuable little bodies under water.

The drying cycle



Nostalgia: an enterprise

I have a vintage computer model at work, a VAX terminal (no idea what that is, but maybe it’ll help you picture it), complete with a monitor by Digital and a green screen reminiscent of early Macs. I find it charming, but students crack up when they see it. “You’re really rockin’ it old school, huh?” they ask. Tuition dollars do not trickle down to our office, so I choose to think of it as precious, a relic from the days when things worked and computers were rarities. And this thing works. In the 8 years I’ve been here, I’ve gone through three Macs, but that workhorse has never failed, its green cursor blinking with regularity.

I used to think it was I alone who longed for the days of five and dimes and typewriters, but there seems to be, of late, a resurgence of discoveries from the olden days. A friend and I, lamenting the loss of the click-clack sound made by the typewriter keys, were happy to discover there is a software download for that very feature. 

Digital cameras have joined the fray with their old-fashioned “clicks” that imitate the shutter sound. And the only ring tone I can stand: the generic telephone ring that harkens back to a rotary phone. It seems even tech savvy designers recognize the demand, or at least the desire, for some frills from days gone by. Silly flourishes, maybe, but comforting.

Children of the 80s who lamented the loss of the mixed tape (was there a better gift?) rejoiced in the ability to make an online version of the tape that appeared last year. Of course, when I just went to check it out, it had folded. Sigh. Today, in my Daily Candy email, I read about something that eased the pain: an online application to create Polaroids from your photos. Hello, 70s! I miss you, Polaroid with your blurry, filmy shots and element of surprise.

Maybe there’s always been this fascination with vintage, a longing for an earlier time. But in a book I’m reading, The Thing Itself, Richard Todd suggests that a related interest, “antiquing,” is a recent phenomenon—one that developed in the late 19th century. “Before that time one was more conscious of the condition of something than its age, and to go in search of an old piece of furniture would have been felt by most people to be quite bizarre.” I suppose people then had bigger things to worry about than finding just the right sideboard for the dining room.

Still, I can’t help longing for a simpler time, which, I suppose, would require losing the cell phone, digital camera, and sigh, even the VAX terminal.


The dinosaur

The dinosaur