My husband and I collect and resell antiques and beautiful junk. Much of our free time is spent frequenting auctions, estate sales and little known thrift stores. We are always on the hunt for interesting items that we can make a few bucks on at the flea market.
I jump at the chance to purchase large, mangled, soggy and torn cardboard boxes of untouched, miscellaneous items that other bidders failed to see the magic in. My winning bid is typically less than a dollar. Discovering stacks of newspapers and meticulously stitched flowered embroideries from the 1800’s can often produce a good profit.
Occasionally, I find buried treasures in the bottom of these otherwise unwanted boxes. Not material ones, but treasures of the heart. They have become an unexpected bonus of becoming a flea market vender. These special finds however, will never be sold. They are tucked safely away above our workbench, in my own lopsided cardboard box. As a collector of stuff, my box contains the personal memories of people who are no longer here.
My first twenty five cent mystery box once belonged to John. He was an engineer, a pianist who collected sheet music, Zenith photo-fact folders and Baptist newsletters from 1876. He was a man of reasonable means and decorated his home in authentic looking art reproductions; reproductions so precise, that even I was temporarily fooled. The deeper I dug into his box, the more I learned about John. The 60’s were his heyday. His once possessions had great resale potential. Filtering through his manuals and music, I found something more valuable than his faux art. I found what he loved, The United States Air Force . His service documents, letters of achievement, certificates of special training, superior performance certificates and letters of commendation were carefully stored in a folder. In 1965 he was acknowledged for assisting the Air Force in developing a digital display. I gained a great admiration for John when I came across his Notice of Rating from the United States Civil Service Commission. It was dated 1954 and at that time, the paper stated that he did not meet the minimum requirements to become an Electronic Engineer. John kept this reminder of his failure in order to motivate him to succeed. Succeed he did. It was obvious that the Air Force was part of who he was in life and his documents were the first addition to my box of other peoples memories.
My box, ever growing, now contains many more mementos from those who have departed. It now includes Doris’ personal photographs. She loved the finer things in life. Exquisite hats, furs and swanky handbags. She was a church going lady who occasionally liked to bet on the ponies. I could tell by the photographs hidden in her purse that she adored her family, especially her son. The pictures of her life share a permanent space with Johns documents and my boxes newest addition, Maryn’s letters.
I bid on Maryn’s box for sentimental reasons. In it, I spotted half completed crafting projects and quilting pieces. It reminded me of my grandmother who passed away. It was nostalgic sorting through her not quite finished creative visions mixed with bits of who she was. She was, in fact, a lot like my grandma. Maryn collected recipes, though seldom used them, always paid her bills on time, loved chocolate and appreciated a raunchy joke. She was the caregiver for a child that was not her own, a Sagittarius and her husband sold hosiery. I liked her. From what I gathered, also like my grandmother, she had terminal cancer. I solemnly placed her ashtray along with personal letters and Polaroid snapshots inside my box of memories. The remnants of what was important to her when she was alive will be carefully preserved.
I am also preserving memories for Jerome. He is a veteran. He is married to a wife that takes good care of him, though in his sisters eyes, no one will ever be good enough for her brother. Jerome collects tools, wishes his family would be emotionally closer, desperately longs to be understood, gives meaningful hugs and has a hard headed, stubborn personality. We share many similarities. What brings Jerome the most joy is his freedom and that includes a weekly outing to the flea market. He often can be found on Wednesday’s at White’s Flea Market http://www.whiteswebsite.com sitting beside me at our booth sharing stories about his life. Unlike the ones that I am able to store in a box, I have been given the opportunity to hear about Jeromes lifetime of memories first hand . I store them in my heart. Jerome has Alzheimer’s and his biggest fear is forgetting the things that he loves. There are days when he might not remember my name, but, he always recognizes my face and my promise to reminisce with him about the 65 years of memories that he has shared with me, when he forgets.
I began my flea market reselling adventure as a way to spend time with my husband and do what I am passionate about, find hope where it has been neglected. Searching for misplaced potential, picking a diamond in the rough, cleaning it up and finding its place in this world is what brings me happiness. It is who I am. Little did I know that while pursuing something that is so important to me, I would become the keeper of what is important to others. My hobby has not only discovered buried treasure in damaged boxes, but, I now have a greater appreciation for the treasure so many of us take for granted, the one that’s value never depreciates, the most priceless treasure of all, love.