My friend Sallie, a dear friend of my late mother’s, shared Mama’s zest for Scrabble, a wicked sense of humor, and the thrift shop staying power that determines “luck” for finding bargains.
Commenting on my last post, Sallie — just like Mama would have done — immediately recalled her favorite thrift store find: A designer wool reversible coat, probably cost around $1000 new. Great fit!” And then she did a turn-about with my question: “What was your favorite find, Julia?”
My mind went blank.
If Mama were still around she would have jumped in and answered the question for me. Mama remembered not only her favorite finds — and when and where and how much she paid — she remembered mine!
But when I woke up this morning, the answer popped into my head: my Three Bears kitchen table and chairs! To me, they look like the furniture Goldilocks would have found in the Bear family cottage (except all the chairs are the same size), or what Hansel and Gretel might have seen inside the Gingerbread cottage. It was love at first sight when my eyes first beheld this set.
I was working at Things Unlimited, a thrift/consignment store run by Virginia Beach Friends School, when a man and his father (?) brought this solid oak set in for donation. The man seemed reluctant to part with the set and the older man seemed impatient with him. (Just like Mama, I began spinning backstories to explain this tiny glimpse into the lives of the strangers in front of me.) Why would anyone give away such wonderful furniture? Maybe he was sick? Maybe he was moving out of the country? Why?
I admired that kitchen set so much I had to make up reasons why the owner would ever give it away. I saw it, and I wanted it.
The store manager priced the five piece set at $100, a lot of money for me at the time. I worked part time, for minimum wage, with accommodations for my illness. I wasn’t working for the fun of it. Even with shorter hours and fewer days than the other employees, after I walked the two blocks home from the store I was often too exhausted to do anything else. Someone else had to cook the supper and switch the laundry. Little as it was, we needed the money.
So I dampened down my lust for the kitchen set and walked away from the love of my life.
Thrift store employees are subject to attacks of this kind of avarice triggered by objects that come through the store. It can be contagious. I fancied myself less susceptible than my coworkers because I didn’t have much expendable income and the five of us lived in 850 square feet, including the front porch. (The library two doors down counted as the half-bath.) Not much room for impulse purchases!
The most acute case of Thrift Store covetousness at the store was over a Les Paul guitar. The clerk who priced the it, knowing my oldest son was looking for an electric guitar, asked me if I wanted it. I set it aside in my section to ask my son about it. But when Benji heard my description, he called his brother-in-law and they decided the guitar was worth a lot of money and maybe I should get it so we could sell it and get Benji the guitar he wanted.
As I headed back to work after my day off, I was faced with a moral dilemma. Do I tell the manager this is a valuable guitar? Or do I buy it so Benji can get the guitar he wants? I don’t remember what I decided — only that I was torn. Was it me who told the manager she should get an expert to check it out? And did I do that before or after I learned that another employee was pressing the clerk who originally priced it to let her have it? That her husband had even been in to look at for himself. Feelings ran high, all centered on this object — a Les Paul guitar. Even co-workers who didn’t want it were indignant for one reason or another. It was an itchy, unpleasant, hot contagion! and a nasty working atmosphere.
The manager did consult an expert. Said expert assessed the guitar and said the bridge was bowed — a common injury to guitars — and because it needed extensive rebuilding it was only worth some piddling amount. He bought it. (In the back of my mind, I wondered if that guitar infected that guy, too, and he cheated the store.)
So when I walked away from that best-kitchen-set-in-the-world, I had to wonder if it was true love, or just a passing fancy. But my co-workers reminded me of the discount for employees, and the payment plan I’d never used before. I decided this really could be a last relationship.I longed for that kitchen table and chairs. I returned to the sales floor, removed the tags, and headed for the manager’s office.
As I made my way back to the sales floor to tape a SOLD sign to the table, two different customers stopped me to ask for a price on the kitchen set.
I did not tell them an employee bought it (me!) and for only $75 at $25 per month. Why ask for trouble? Certain customers already thought we saved the best stuff for ourselves. (And, subject to fits of avarice, this was sometimes true.) I did think the set was priced too low. But I didn’t price it and the manager didn’t price it low because I wanted it. She just wasn’t blinded by love, like I was.
And that Three Bears set served us well in our converted cottage there in Virginia Beach. When we pulled the table open and flipped up the hinged leaf, the table filled the dining room. Guests were advised to use the window in case of fire.
Now we have a dining room table ($50 at Diversity Thrift, oval, curved legs, looks good if you cover the surface with a table cloth) and my Gingerbread House table and chairs are in the kitchen. After all these years together, they need sanding and new varnish. Maybe someday I’ll do that. In the meantime, we use them everyday.
And I am still in love.