In a bitter irony, a recent freelance-writing assignment for a magazine I’d never worked with before was something that’s caused me much aggravation in the past many decades: shopping in local antiques stores. My unease about antiquing began early. My mom was (and still is, but more on that in a minute) an enthusiastic collector of linens and glassware. Of course, it can’t be a coincidence that her mother also amassed extension collections of … linens and glassware. One of the rituals of our yearly summer visits to my mother’s native Illinois was sitting in my grandmother’s dining room as she pulled goblets, plates and bowls out of her two corner hutches and she and my mother discussed marks and patterns and auction prices and my 10-year-old self wondered when we could go swimming and/or get some ice cream. But my mom did plenty of antiquing on her own. Most family vacations — always car trips for us — involved detours through towns where she would promise my dad she’d only be in the shop for a few minutes and HOURS later we had added carefully wrapped breakables to the precariously full trunk. At least, it seemed like HOURS. No complaining from me, though. As long as I had a book — and I almost always did — I was content. Luckily, by the time I was old enough to opt out of enforced antiquing, my younger brother stepped in. Apparently the antiquing gene in our family skips siblings instead of generations, and he happily went along with Mom to add to his collections of advertising and sports memorabilia. That is, he was a co-antiquer until he reached the age, as we all do, when shopping with your mom just isn’t cool. And so it was my turn, again. And occasionally still is, although my brother still is a willing partner now that he’s progressed to the narrow collecting niche of hotel and train espresso cups. Now, just so you understand, I love spending time with my mom. I admire her depth of knowledge and her skill at negotiating as well as her physical toughness. (Standing at auctions in 95-degree heat and lugging around heavy boxes of fragile treasures is not, literally, for the faint of heart.) I love shopping (I’m known by name in every TJ Maxx in a three-state area). I even really do like antique shops. I really do. But here’s the thing: I go in, I look around and then I leave. Total time spent never is more than a half-hour. In that half-hour, my mother barely has progressed beyond the front door. It’s not just her, either. I have friends who go to auctions and antique shops and do the exact same thing. In my head I’m saying “People! Must we spend 20 minutes examining one hand-painted footed china meat platter? There’s probably one just like it next door. Besides, Belk is having a 50-percent-off shoe sale. So why are we standing here breathing dust??? Let’s move!” But in real life, I smile and nod and say, “Oh, yes. I believe $75 for a Limoges platter is a fair price.” Because I’m a wimp and I love my mother and my friends and if they want to spend ALL DAY in search of a pink American Sweetheart pitcher, then I’m all in. At least, with my iPad along, I’m still never without a book.
Next post: More from the antiques trail.