Wednesday, May 4, 2011
My parents made me take this tackle box when I moved from NYC to Texas seven years ago. For the nearly two decades I lived in the city they'd been sheltering my childhood detritus and they saw my move as a big opportunity to downsize—or at least to clear one small corner of one of their flotilla of storage units, which for them qualifies as decluttering. The third-grade artwork and moldering copies of Rolling Stone, I wasn't so psyched to see, but this tackle box...? Wowsie.
I’m not sure when I got it or when exactly it became the receptacle of my treasures but judging by the stickers affixed to its sides (Rizzo from Grease, the mothership from Close Encounters, Obi-Won from Star Wars), it was definitely the ’70s. I didn't need to open it to know what was inside: shark's teeth, key chains, those tin clicker "crickets," plastic animals from an old advent calendar, tiny notebooks, sea glass, shells, bits of fur, buttons, gumball machine prizes...I could go on and on—a tackle box seems to have a bottomless capacity for treasure. A dried-out piece of duct tap flaps uselessly where there used to be a lock, but I don't think it ever had one. Maybe that’s how I ended up with it in the first place—who wants a broken tackle box but a 9-year-old magpie?
Nothing keeps Pandora’s box shut, anyway.
Not to get all crazy out-of-control self-mythologizing, but this blog is a little bit of a Pandora’s box I’m opening. Kinda, sorta. When Pandora opened her box (which I believe was technically a jar), only bad shit flew out—greed, hatred, snarkieness—leaving just Hope to pick up the pieces. But this box/blog represents the good and the bad—the human. The human packrat. The Hope that remains is the eternally springing Hope of finding more cool stuff and having a place to put it.
See, like my parents before me—well, my mother really; my dad is mostly the driver/hauler—I have a bit of a problem with acquisitiveness. I am not a hoarder. I want to get that out of the way, right away. But I'm also not a dealer or professional picker—I don't even have an online store (yet).
I am a collector and my collections are always shifting. I am an appreciator of beauty, of symmetry, asymmetry, silliness, whimsy, kitsch and craftsmanship. I am a connoisseur of objects, and a hopeless nostalgist. I love googling my new purchases and trying to put a dollar value on them. I crow victory when I've scored a serious bargain, make immediate plans to flip it on on ebay and then do nothing. I try to buy with a purpose— like "Hey, this is something my kids would enjoy" or "Gee, isn't this just the thing to fill that yawning space over the second couch in the den." I've got two girls who need entertaining, I've got a big ole 1950s ranch house that needs filling—no one can blame me for my weekly haunting of estate sales, my trawling of Goodwills, garage sales and junk shoppes.
Except that sometimes I feel myself evolving from a person who buys stuff she needs—even if it takes a really long circuitous route to justify that need—to someone who just needs to buy stuff. Because it's a compulsion... because it's In My Blood.
I spent the weekends of my formative years not playing soccer or T-ball or being expensively “enriched” at camps or academies. I passed my Saturdays in strange school gymnasiums, airplane hangars and drive-in movie theaters, in the parking lots of stores that no longer exist (Two Guys, Alexander's), in town squares, rehabilitation centers and restored historical villages. I spent the weekends of my childhood on the flea market and antique show circuit in New Jersey.
Fairlawn. Paramus. Lafayette. Becker Farms. Long Valley. Ramapo. Mahwah. Speedwell Village. Waterloo Village. Morristown. Teeterboro Airport. Beach Haven. Nyack. Morris Plains. The junior high school in Sparta. The beloved Newton Drive-in. I have distinct memories of all of those antique shows, but they all started out the same way: The night before, my father would put down the back seat of our bronze Grand Torino station wagon, and we’d commence loading: first the metal folding tables, then the odd bit of furniture (small stuff, like plant stands and footstools), and then the endless parade of tomato boxes (procured from the supermarket, valued for their strength and excellent lids) filled with objects carefully wrapped in newspaper, my mother's inventory from garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets and the auction at the old grange hall in Branchville we attended every Thursday night.
This was the time before ebay and etsy, before Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Stars, American Pickers (I don't think I even heard the term "picker" until a New York magazine profile of one back in the 90s). The time dealers of a certain age wax misty about, an age of innocence when no one knew what they had, no one had any expectations—the countryside was replete with rubes unloading their heirlooms for a song. This was a time before even antique malls. When my mother eventually became a charter member of an antiques cooperative, it signaled the end of an era for us, and my brother and I were rarely called upon to carry a tomato box again. Not sure why, maybe it was because the four of us could no longer squish into the front seat, even in a wide-bodied station wagon unencumbered by carseats, boosters or seatbelts.
I don't know if my brother and I ever questioned or resented our lifestyle. My memory has quite likely gone wobbly and hazy around the edges. I mostly remember drinking hot chocolate in styrofoam cups. Sitting in the station wagon with a stack of comix and watching the planes take off at Teeterboro. Renewing friendships with other kids on the circuit every year. Going on 12 pony rides in one day.
My daughters don't have that warm and glowy feeling about accompanying me on the estate sale rounds or on flea market pilgrimages. They could not be noisier about their disapproval. Nevertheless they exhibit collector tendencies, with their eye for vintage books, Barbie paraphernalia and Vera scarves. They squirrel away precious objects in drawers and in tiny boxes, reminding me of Pippi Longstocking and her magical chest of drawers, of me and my tackle box.
I've already written about my estate-saling obsession here and here. On this blog, I'm going to be working through some issues (am I turning into my mother? did that already happen? am I making my kids crazy hoarders?) while archiving my finds, new and old.