Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Other peoples' stuff: buying memories

 I wrote this originally in 2006. With some editing and some updating I am presenting it again.

You walk into any thrift store in America, I don't care what it is, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Thrift Town, whatever, about 95% of what you see will be typical thrift store fare.

By that I mean you'll see the same 1970s stoneware dishes, the same coffee mugs that say, “World's Greatest Fisherman,” the same Andy Williams or Herb Alpert LPs. I go in trying to find something different so I've got a practiced eye at mentally sorting the everyday from the exceptional. My granddaughter, Gabby, went into a thrift store with us last summer, and liked what she saw. She said, “We get to buy other peoples’ stuff!”

Like these photos. A few years ago I went looking for a nice photo frame. I found what I wanted and when I got it home took a good look at it. What I thought was the original advertising print in the frame was actually a school photo of a pretty high school girl.

I don't have any idea who she is, or why her picture was in a thrift store. Stuff like that happens occasionally, and it’s probably some sort of mistake. I could give back the picture, but I don't know who she is.

She is a cutey, though. Maybe 16 or 17-years-old, nice broad forehead, connoting smarts — probably an AP or 4.0 student — pretty brown eyes, nice chin, but an especially pretty smile. Young woman, I'm sure that to this day when you turn that smile on you melt hearts.

I don't know how to date this picture. Probably early ’90s; the moussed hair is a clue.

A couple of years later the same scenario: I’m looking for a frame and come across this picture I call Yankee Baby. What the — ! This one I spotted immediately as a family picture. It even came with a name on the back and maybe someday I’ll google that name and see if I can locate the subject.

The photo appears to be from the late ’40s or early ’50s. I love the Yankee outfit! I tried to sell this on eBay once, shamelessly listing it with the name “Yankees” prominent in the headline. I had no bidders. I guess Yankee fans don't want pictures of babies dressed up like Babe Ruth. To me it gives new meaning to the nickname, “The Bambino.”

Family pictures are so intensely personal. They mean something to the family, very little to anyone else. Still, I like the subjects in both these pictures. As a former school district employee, I saw hundreds of high school girls every day and I didn’t take much notice because there were so many of them. But there is something about the frozen moment aspect of a photograph, the attention to the subject that school photos specialize in, as well as that pretty smile that draws me back to her picture.

I've already talked about how many Baby Boomers there are in this country, and the little Yankee Boy looks like he fit in with my generation. Maybe the scenario is something like this: his mom took him to the photo studio and proudly put him on a stool and told him to look at the birdie and smile. Awwwwww, how cute he looks, she thought. Then years later she’s dead, he’s an executive with IBM living in Hong Kong; someone cleans out her stuff, selling it in an estate sale. The new owner looks at this picture along with the van load of other stuff he got at the sale, says, “What the hell do I do with this?” He tosses it in his junk box. From there the picture makes its way into the donation pile at my local thrift store, and ultimately I buy someone else’s memory for 50¢.

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