Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vicarious thrifts

The conversations I overhear around me at Goodwill make me feel hopeful for the human race. These are true descendants of pioneers: plucky, resourceful, optimistic people who make the best of every situation, who thrive on adversity.

"This would work great, don't you think?" says a woman in faded jeans and a threadbare t-shirt as she holds up an unidentifiable monstrosity of twisted metal and wood for her friend to see. "We'd have to trim off this part, of course, and angle it some..." Her eyes shine as the dream takes shape in her mind's eye, cast off junk transforming into something wonderful, though I've missed too much of the story to hear just what, and looking at the thing, I can't imagine. A coatrack? Something to prop up a plant? An organizer for cords in the garage?

Other people are obviously gathering supplies for art projects: transparent bags filled with odds and ends of old yarn, rags, odd little bits and pieces from the bottom of bins at the ends of the home decor aisles. They talk excitedly amongst themselves about glue and fabric and other crafty things, and I try to imagine how the components they carry could possibly come together. I long for craftiness of my own, and then resignedly poke through the bin full of rejected stationery and unused thank-you cards: the closest I'm likely to come to art.

In another aisle, a young couple surveys the most hideous dresser you could imagine. It is a pale green color, with a top covered in water-stains, and on the front, there are stickers upon stickers: smiley faces, flowers, foil stars, cartoon children, the dirty back layer of what were once puffy stickers. All are sticky and blackened, scuffed, peeling around the edges; the dresser looks diseased. Only one drawer still has a pull knob. On the others, there are only blank holes with vague circles around them where a knob once spun; the empty spaces with the screw-holes in the middle look like eyes dilated in fear or anguish.

The woman bounces her baby on her hip. "We could clean it up," she says, " sand the stickers off if they won't scrub up. And then we could paint it blue or red--something bright. And put white knobs on it." She smiles into the baby's uplifted face. "We could even stencil something fun on it, huh?" she says to him. "We could put your name on it, huh, Jack? And maybe a doggie."

"Goggie!" Jack shrieks, waving a well-loved plush hound, its ears flapping wildly.

"Shh!" says his mother sternly, but she is smiling. She looks to her husband in appeal. "What do you think?"

He grins lopsidedly and shrugs. "I'll bring the truck around front. Better see if you can find someone to let us use a dolly."

Her face lights up. "We could stop for paint on the way home."


He strides off toward the front of the store and out, and she lays a wondering hand on the ugly dresser, her face lit up with the thrill of ownership, before heading off in search of a Goodwill employee. I smile for them, tuck the pair of shoes and stack of books I carry more firmly under my arm, and head for the check-out counter.


Joe V said...

This was a wonderful story. Thank you.


Strikethru said...

Love the story as well. I felt like I was standing there listening to them. You don't hear enough narratives with that particular type of optimism in them anymore. I am envisioning a great series of short stories about thrift store finds and hopeful people. Care to write it so I can read it? :-)

Adwoa said...

I enjoyed this very much; it was like reading a passage out of a novel. I would like to cosign Strikethru's suggestion for more short stories about thrift store finds :-)

mpclemens said...

That could have been us two weeks ago, sans baby. We just furnished my daughters' shared room solely out of thrifted and secondhand furniture. Their new/old dresser was a storehouse of treasures, including a bank statement and knit legwarmers from the 1980s, and a pair of ticket stubs from the local community theatre from the 1960s. I can't tell you the number of dressers-with-potential we looked at this past month.

Our own be-stickered and battered furniture moved on to other families with kids of their own. It's the circle of life, I tell ya. *snif*

Word verify: portin

I had to take the seats out of the van so we could be portin' all the furniture finds home.

Mike Speegle said...

OK, so for some nonspecific parent-reason, your story made an unexpected dust-mote fly into my eye.

I had to use tears to get it out.

So yes, I must agree with the above that I would purchase such a collection written by you specifically with actual cash money. I mean, "He strides off toward the front of the store and out, and she lays a wondering hand on the ugly dresser..." is damn near lyrical.