Antiques* stores hurt my heart–in a good way. As much as I love browsing their musty, dusty interiors in search of treasures large and small, I almost invariably come across something that makes my chest squeeze tight, which sounds painful and sort of is, but not really. I catch my breath. swallow hard, blink, and try to look normal, hoping the clerk won’t think the customer in the ladies’ accessories aisle is having a heart attack. She’s not. She’s just having a nostalgia attack over an embroidered handkerchief.
It could be anything that sets me off–a glass snow globe, a teddy bear, a lamp that reminds me of Grandma. I never know, never see when or if it’s coming, which is part of the fun of antiquing–getting blindsided by misty watercolor memories, dreams, and yearnings.
Antiques stores help me unwind and forget (at least temporarily) my cares by drawing me into a world completely different from my own. Often this makes me appreciate my own that much more (chamber pots, anyone?). Sometimes I mourn the things we have lost, or that are increasingly hard to come by. Fine stationery and elegant pens from when people had the time and inclination to write real letters. Hand-sewn, knitted, and crocheted items that someone took the time to create instead of “finding them cheaper” at a chain store. Vinyl or shellac recordings of dance music from an era before anyone had ever heard the word “twerk” and when being asked to dance gave you an adrenaline rush like nobody’s business. Dishes and silverware and gravy boats (gravy boats!) from when families made the time and effort to sit down together at mealtime instead of passing fast-food bags around the minivan. Dolls dressed as belles of the ball instead of Bratz. Such items hurt my heart because they represent a world that is gone, or quickly going, and I can’t seem to hold onto it. Hard as I try, it eludes my grasp like vapor. And the worst is when I feel like the only person on earth left who gives a whistle. (Whistles, see toy section.) Obviously I’m not, since antiques stores abound, but it can feel that way sometimes, like everyone else can’t wait to gallop forth into the Next Big Thing while I’m saying “Wait! But…gingham aprons! But…rhinestone-encrusted owl pins! But…ceramic mixing bowls that held the batter of a thousand pancakes!”
And don’t get me started on the photographs. People sat for those photographs, and had prints made, and passed them around and exclaimed over them, and they were special and expensive and rare, unlike the there-and-gone images we send each other on Instagram and Facebook. That photo of a son or daughter, a husband or wife, was once a great treasure. And now here they are, gathering dust in an antiques store, flipped through by strangers like me who giggle over the fashions and hairstyles but know absolutely nothing about the people in them, or the stories behind them.
Oh, the stories! For a writer, everything in an antiques store holds a story, or a potential story. Every. Darn. Object. No wonder that by the time I tear myself away, I feel simultaneously exhilarated and completely wrung-out. (Wringer washers, try the housewares section.)
If cheerfully going through the wringer sounds like fun to you, check antiques.com for a dealer near you. And get ready for the routine: Squeeze, breathe, swallow, blink, smile.
(*I debated whether the correct term is “antiques stores” or “antique stores.” I decided that the former describes a store that sells antiques, while the latter describes a store that is itself antique, like stumbling upon a hardware store in some small town, complete with wooden floor, glass jars filled with metal doodads, the scent of sawdust and machine oil, and the creaky voice of an old-timer who knows how to use every tool known to mankind and is happy to tell you about it. The store has been at the same location for so long, it still has a cast-iron hitching post out front. Stepping through the door (complete with jaunty bell at the top, natch) is like stepping back a century, like the Brigadoon of retail. Just the thought of such a store makes me want to weep, and I don’t even like hardware. )