Monday, July 11, 2011

The Thrill of the Thrift Shop

I’m not sure when I got my taste for thrift shops. I think it was when I was first married, we had no money and every penny counted (not that they don’t count now!). I stumbled into a Salvation Army store that was near our house and it was like stepping into wonderland. Acres of used clothes for a song. I came home with a new wardrobe for under $10.00, and urged my husband to come with me next time. To his amazement some gentleman, just his size, had donated a whole collection of winter suits (Harris Tweed, no less), overcoats, and hand-knit sweaters. This same man came every year, twice a year, with equally elegant offerings, keeping Bob outfitted for life.

When our children arrived, I found another shop called “House of Bargains,” that kept our two girls clothed until they were teenagers and began to rebel. I must admit they did look a bit dowdy in some of the pictures we have of them as tots. The dresses are a bit long, the sweaters a trifle gaudy. But I know they never suffered from the cold.

But the real thrill of the thrift shop is the thrill of the hunt. The possibility that you will find some treasure that everyone else has overlooked. Antique shops are no fun because everything has been evaluated and priced already. There are no surprises, and seldom any bargains. But at thrift shops you never can tell. A few of my finds were – a set of eight cut glass wine glasses, a spinning wheel that actually worked, and some lovely antique jewelry. But my greatest windfall I landed just a few months ago. I wasn’t planning on shopping – actually I was in a rush – but I couldn’t pass my favorite thrift store on 3rd Ave. On an impulse, I went in. I swear this item had called to me. There it was, standing square in the front of the shop with a big sign hanging from it: $20. A wooden lectern bearing a massive Webster’s Dictionary that I’m sure had never been opened.

“Does the dictionary come with the stand?” I asked excitedly.

The salesman nodded and smiled.

I plunked down a twenty-dollar bill and said my husband would pick it up in his car tomorrow.
This handsome twosome now decorates our living room, and is a conversation piece as well as a very useful item. Despite the so-called convenience of online dictionaries and Kindle touch-type, instant definitions, there’s nothing like browsing through an enormous tome, pausing here and there at an intriguing, unknown word or a drawing of a sailing ship with all its masts and rigging labeled.

Sort of like wandering through a thrift shop and pausing before a strange cooking utensil. “Now what could that be for?” or a lace antimacassar like my grandmother used to have. Price? $1.50. I feel my dictionary on its lectern is a monument to a past that wasn’t all hat bad. And to think, I found it in a thrift shop!

Robin Hathaway

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the victims of "House of Bargains" weighing in...I agree with the dowdy, and not sure if being warm tips the scales in favor of those goofy clothes. :) But I am surely in favor of thrift shops, and lecterns, and great big print dictionaries. I love the one in my mom and dad's living room, and even though I work for an online publisher, and take online classes, when I'm writing something that really matters I turn to my print-version Websters that I've had since 11th grade. Thumbing those thin but strong pages somehow adds authority to the search more than pressing a button ever could!