I like to shop at thrift stores. I like thrift stores because you can find the most amazing and startling things there--and finding a small treasure amid trash is thrilling. A few weeks ago I found a wonderful robin's-egg-blue vase with a white daisy on it and if I hadn't looked closely at the shelf where it sat I'd have missed it because it was almost hidden by a tacky enormous china rabbit and a broken wire basket. Last winter I found a red plaid thermos that was exactly like the one my mother used to pack into my matching red plaid school lunch box. Holding it in my hands there at the thrift store I was transported back to school again, clicking open the clasps to the box at lunch time, the smell of peanut butter rising into the air around me.
Both my kids love thrift store shopping, too. Thrift stores--large one-roomed places with shelves brimming over with odds and ends like a messy room--are appealing to kids. There are huge bins filled with books and old cassettes and boxes and boxes of records. T.'s hands are the perfect size for rummaging down into the book bin until she reaches the bottom and pulls out some treasure, like Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat, or better yet, an old Calvin & Hobbes comic book.
Just this week T. and I went to my favorite store, a place called--appropriately enough--The Bargain Box. There we rummaged through a huge overflowing bin of linens and pillows and pulled out two bright yellow seat cushions with a cheery sunflower pattern. And because, after all, I do appreciate Pottery Barn catalogs, and Crate & Barrel window-shopping and The Finer Things in Life, I recognized these immediately as Pottery Barn seat cushions--ones I had coveted when I'd seen them in the catalog last summer, snagged for the low Bargain Box price of $3 each. When I find things like that I always wonder about the people who spend money on expensive seat cushions and then discard them in a matter of months so that people like me, who can't afford to throw down money on seat cushions in the first place, find them at a place like The Bargain Box.
After I had found the cushions that day and tucked them firmly under my arm I paused to look at the glassware and found myself standing next to a middle-aged lady, who was transfixed in front of a set of flowered drinking glasses.
We had glasses just like these when I was growing up! She told me when she saw me glance at her. She reached out to touch a glass, gently, as if she were afraid it was a mirage and would vanish in an instant.
I left her still gazing at them; maybe in her mind's eye she was back in the kitchen she grew up in, her mother setting out the glasses at dinnertime, the comforting clink-clink of the silverware, and the kitchen glowing warm--filled with love and the smell of her favorite food. There are valuable lessons to be learned in thrift stores; lessons about the timelessness of certain books and toys, about the history behind objects that have seen the test of time, been pulled along through the years by their owners until they end up on a shelf, waiting to be found again. Sometimes we don't even know we wanted a blue daisy vase, or that we missed an old thermos, or longed to read a forgotten book, or once drank out of glasses with yellow and white flowers sprinkled across the front until we stumble across these things, these relics so symbolic of what we want, who were once were, and where we came from, ready to be passed on again into waiting hands.