Thrifting is in my Blood


            I was a second generation thrift store clerk.

Goodwill Industries was an angel for my mother. After a suicide attempt, Mama was afforded a long, leisurely rest at the state hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Once she regained her strength, she remained there but took the bus from the hospital gates to a Goodwill store for “training”.

Mama loved working at Goodwill. There was always something new to look at and interesting people to meet. She made friends with some of the regular customers and got to know what they were looking for. Old postcards? Vintage dolls? Gold jewelry? Sometimes she’d set back and hold small items for her favorite customers.

When Mama’s Goodwill location was scheduled to shut down, a few of those customers offered to serve as references for Mama in her search for a new job. Because of them, she landed a position as a copy clerk at a research facility that paid well enough that she could afford her own place. (And she stayed long enough to get a pension.)

Mama not only worked at Goodwill, she shopped there. And even after she changed jobs, she continued to “thrift.” She appreciated nice things and, thanks to thrifting, she surrounded herself with them. And she bought things for others.

My infant daughter had LOTS of clothes. Except for a few special outfits I stitched up for her, and her underwear and shoes, almost everything she wore came from Goodwill or from the yard sales Mama tracked down every weekend.           

After Mama retired, she moved from Columbus to live near us in Virginia Beach. She had a tiny house of her own that had once been the servant’s quarters behind a summer cottage. She quickly found the best thrift stores at the Beach and furnished her place with her finds. Her walls were covered in framed pictures of all varieties, whatever appealed to her. And if something else appealed to her the next month, she’d switch out the artwork.

I came to depend on Mama’s shopping prowess. I was often flat on my back — the volatile weather at the ocean front aggravated my CFIDS/SEID — and I didn’t have much energy left for tramping around in stores. The grocery was often too much for me, thank you. But if I wanted a bathrobe, or a black cotton cardigan, I would just tell my mother. She accepted each request as a personal challenge, like a quest! It might take her months, but she’d find whatever I’d asked for.

All her friends ( and some of mine) were envious. How did she ever find that perfect Liz Claiborne dress? And she paid how much for this tea-kettle? She was SO LUCKY!

And let’s take a look at Mama’s luck. Her luck worked like this: she went thrifting often and knew which stores had good stuff and reasonable prices. She checked the yard sales in the newspaper and mapped out a route to ones that looked promising. She took her time. She bargained. She was charming.

I remember the first time I drove Mama to my favorite thrift store in Virginia Beach. After thirty minutes, I was ready to leave. Mama? “But I haven’t seen everything yet!” And she did mean everything. I bought a paperback (it turned out to be a gay romance, the first one I’d ever seen — I didn’t know such things existed!) and sat down to read. I was halfway through that book before Mama was satisfied that she hadn’t missed anything. She had carefully looked at each and every blouse, skirt, dress, etc. in the store, sliding hangers across the racks one by one.

She was just as thorough at yard sales. She’d size up the offerings and quickly check out the prices. She wouldn’t waste time with people who weren’t serious about getting rid of things. But if they were, she’d look at everything. She’d spend so much time at some yard sales, she and the sellers were old friends by the time she handed over her cash. She’d come home and tell me their life stories.

Thrift shops, estate sales, consignment stores, rummage sales, church sales, flea markets, library sales, etc.– Mama could be found wherever bargains were waiting. She bought clothes and art and furniture and rugs and dishes — and lots of books.

Mama loved to read. And she loved to read to her granddaughter. She bought my little girl countless used books which were, eventually, passed along to three younger brothers. We still have some of those books.

And that is how I came to be reading Mark Alan Stamaty’s Who Needs Donuts? to my grandson Atticus this afternoon. At the end of the book, Atticus turned back to the page where Sam sits in the grass. He pointed out Mr. Bickford and the tiny giraffes and other creatures almost concealed within the myriad individual blades of grass. This marvelous book was another of my mother’s “lucky” finds.

What wonderful thrift store purchase is your favorite find?


Books: the Obvious and the Undercover*


Books out in the open and books inside a Kindle case.


There are not so many books on my side of the bed. Only five.

This is because our house was built in 1950 and our bedroom is not a large room. The bed itself is an old-fashioned ¾ size, extended lengthwise for my 6’2” husband. Only a small table fits between my side of the bed and the wall and it only holds around five books at a time while still leaving space for a cup of tea.

Here are my current five books:

  • The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
  • Far More Terrible For Women: Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery
  • The Quakers, A Very Short Introduction by Ben Pink Dandelion (you are getting the author’s name because I enjoy telling you his name)
  • A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story
  • The New Revised Standard Edition of The Green Bible

And doesn’t that make me look like a serious reader? Since nobody ever sees this pile of books but me, I am only fooling myself.

I’m only halfway through three of these volumes, just beginning the fourth, and open The Green Bible mostly for reference. (Can you hear me blowing the dust off?)

Stories of enslavement can be hard to read.

And I haven’t made it though the rape scene of a ten-year-old Afghan boy. (As long as I don’t read it, maybe it never happened.) And I was doing so well before that. Qais Akbar Omar’s prose is flawless, a joy to read. I am sure he will handle this difficult scene with grace and beauty but I can wait to find out.

In front of this pile of books, on the coaster waiting for that cup of tea, is my Kindle Paperwhite, hooked up to its umbilical cord and safe in its needlepoint case. Here is where I keep my light reading, the books that entertain me when I am immobilized with the fevers, aches or insomnia of CFIDS. I am grateful that when I can’t write myself, I am seldom so ill that I cannot read.

Currently, magically concealed behind the Kindle screen, there are historical romances by Mary Blalogh and Sarah MacLean and Marion Chesney. In Chesney’s other incarnation as M.C. Beaton there are cozy mysteries. And here’s The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe (recommended by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) and a book from Angie Sage’s Magyk series. And here’s the intriguing Transit in B-flat by Joeseph Erhardt, Fearless Leader of the Rich Writers’ Critique Group.

And oh, look! here’s have a sample of McDonough’s William Tecumsah Sherman. I read an intriguing review of that book somewhere and, when I didn’t find it in the library, thought I’d get acquainted with it before making a serious commitment that involves money.

There are also, sometimes, magazines beside the bed; rug hooking or quilting or mixed media magazines with articles that feed my dreams. But not today.

Less you might think me an ascetic, I will admit to more books in the bedroom than these few. There are books on the other side of the bed (which will not be listed because they aren’t mine since) and books on top of my chest of drawers and an actual bookcase on top of my husband’s dresser.

Of course, there are books, magazines, manuscripts, etc. in every other room of the house, too. And more books inside Little Free Library 3966 in front of our house, which itself is featured in the book Little Libraries, Big Hearts.

So, what books are beside your bed?

(*Books undercover are often also under the covers.)