Dishing …

After decades of fighting it, I somehow and suddenly have fallen in love with dishes. I blame friends who I’ll call — for no reason whatsoever because these random names just came to me — “Susan” and “Sherry.” Others, including my mother and grandmother, are un-indicted co-conspirators, but “Susan” and “Sherry” are the main perpetrators. (And now I’ll drop the quotation marks as long as you remember that “Susan” and “Sherry” are my very good friends who constantly lead me unwillingly astray into shopping adventures completely made-up names with no resemblance at all to any real persons.) I trace my initial dislike of dishes to visiting my grandparents every summer. My grandmother was a dish-obsessive of the highest order. She adored her Haviland china and delighted in her lead crystal. Many summer afternoons she and 61JVul8FYvS._SL1200_my mother would sit in my grandmother’s dining room, reverently lifting plates, bowls and vases out of the corner cabinets and talking about the beloved friends and family members who previously had owned the pieces — or the sales and auctions where they’d blown the grocery budget scored a bargain. I just wanted to go to the pool. Of course, my mother was an early adopter of dish love. How could she not be? Many of my childhood memories revolve around being dragged to accompanying her to estate sales where she spent HOURS poking through boxes. I always took a book. As I grew up, you’d think I’d come to appreciate my maternal lineage. But, no. After all, this was the 60s and the 70s and the times they were ‘a-changing. I was too timid to rebel by doing anything actually, you know, illegal. Or even against house rules. So my rebellion took the form of rejecting my mother’s preferences of collecting dishes, playing bridge and wearing slips. Boy, that sure showed her, huh??? As I married and had children, my grandmother and mother continued to hope I’d come to my senses, They tried to turn me with gifts of their duplicate finds and delicate treasures. But … nothing. And recently, as my friends and I have arrived at the empty-nest point where we pretty much can do whatever the heck we want to do whenever the heck we want to, I still resisted. I still tagged along to auctions and sales — with the promises of margaritas after — but I brought my tablet. But all of this came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago, when Susan and Sherry were visiting me in Corinth, Miss., and they spotted Waits’ Jewelry and Fine Gifts. Opened in 1865, this downtown-Corinth tradition was going out of business and offering major discounts on everything — jewelry, china, crystal, flatware, etc. Susan and Sherry soon had piles of potential purchases while I wandered around aimlessly — until I spied this dish set. My heart started pounding. I got goose bumps. It was love at first sight. I don’t know what it is about Lenox’s Chirp — the delicate flowers, the retro colors, the oh-so-cool bird — but in one instant my dish-defenses crumbled and I HAD TO HAVE IT. And now, unaccountably, I HAVE TO HAVE MORE. I’ve already scoured the Interwebs looking for Chirp bargains and scoped out area department stores. I cannot get enough of Chirp. I smile everytime I look it. I’m officially a lover of dishes. And I went back to wearing slips years ago. But I still refuse to learn how to play bridge. The rebellion lives!!!

Endless Antiquing, or Can’t We Stop at a TJ Maxx for Just One Minute? Please?

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.

John Deere and Fish

My dad — my parents live in Manchester, Tennessee — is retired from John Deere, but that’s only given him more time with tractors, not less. He and my mom are serious antiques collectors, and while she heads for the linens and Depression glass, he can spot a rare tractor part or tool from a mile away. Also: Actual tractors. At least the wrenches and oil cans and other portable items he collects are easier to store and organize.  He does a great job of documentation and has an impressive library of tractor advertisements, manuals, giveaways and other tractor-related paper goods. He even led a workshop on “Industrial John Deere: In the Beginning” at the recent Gathering of the Green conference in Davenport, Iowa. My dad also likes fish. Not to catch or to eat, but to stock the pond at his tree farm/nursery. The fish eat the algae and pretty much keep the ecological system going strong, although I think my dad likes to talk to them them while he’s mowing. Just as long as they don’t talk back …

Shopping

If a store can have a personality, then What’s on Second? in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, is geeky with a strong dash of uber-cool chic. It’s an antiques shop and a vintage boutique and a collectors’ paradise all in one … and the place where you’re going to come face to face with your childhood. After “Oh, wow, look at this!” the most commonly heard phrase among browsers  is “Oh, wow, I remember having one of those!” What’s on Second? is at 2306 Second Avenue North just a couple doors down from the Urban Standard coffee shop — the two must-go destinations are part of a downtown growth in art, music, food and style. The wooden floors and tin ceilings of the store’s two floors are as much a part of What’s On Second? as the somehow carefully arranged piles and stacks of … well, anything you can think of. There are postcards, books, posters, china, toys, clothes, lamps, household goods, tools, furniture, art work, jewelry, glassware, local history items — and that’s just your first few steps inside the front door. I asked the person behind the cash register once where all this came from — did the owners go to auctions and estate sales all the time? Turns out that most of the inventory comes from people bringing treasures in to sell. Prices seemed a bit high to me, but then I still can’t get used to spending $3.95 for a non-fat dry cappuccino so what do I know? At least it’s free — and fun — to browse and explore and maybe stumble across your own treasure. There’s no Web site, but you can call What’s On Second? at (205) 322-2688 for details.

Journalism — and Jewelry

Antique mallsYounger Daughter and I recently were browsing through an antiques mall in Florence, Alabama, when she called me over to where she was standing. “Isn’t this your story?” she asked, pointing to a framed story from the local newspaper — the TimesDaily — about pins that was next to a display of wonderful vintage pins. And YD was right — there was my byline from my former days as a staff writer for the TimesDaily life section, before I retired almost two years ago to become a financially challenged but incredibly happy columnist and freelance writer. I have to say that it was sort of a strange feeling to see such care taken with a story I didn’t even remember doing — one of several hundred, probably, I don’t remember doing throughout the 10 years I worked in the TimesDaily newsroom. Yet there was my story, years later still stuck in black and white (well, sort of faded beige) and still influencing folks to think about buying a vintage pin because “brooches update fall wardrobes.” I have to admit it was a strange sensation to see this — a kind of out-of-body, did-I-really-write-that experience. Sort of makes you think. Sort of makes you hope you did a good job. Sort of makes you wonder how many other things you wrote are floating around influencing people to do things. Sort of makes you promise yourself to Write Only Good Things From Now On … beginning, maybe … tomorrow.

Family

Ponderosa Tree Farm AntiquesHappy 75th birthday to my mom, Susan Wood, of Antiques Manchester, Tennessee, today! She is practically the most awesome person I know, and my goal is to grow up to be just like her. And since she hates having her picture taken, I’ve done the next best thing and put pictures here of just one of her claims to fame: her antique shop, Ponderosa Tree Farm Antiques. She is known far and wide as an antiques and auction expert and she’s gathered some of the results Tennessee antiquesof her sharp eyes and buying skills here in her antiques shop. She also has three booths at an antiques mall, but my favorite is her shop. I love wandering through and discovering new finds she’s rescued from folks Manchester, Tennesseewho don’t appreciate the value of a vintage flour-sack apron or a chunky retro beaded bracelet. She’s got dishes, books, kitchen ware, dolls, toys, clothes, linens and almost any other thing you might want to collect. And, listen, she does all this herself — and with help from my dad. She loads and totes and prices and organizes and cleans and presses — it’s exhausting just to think about, but she loves it. I cannot keep up with her. In fact, I can’t keep up with either of my parents — they pretty much put me to shame. Read more in my weekly newspaper column, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20091030/ARTICLES/910305000, and have a happy birthday, Mom! Love you!!!

Whaddyabid?

Chairs and other furniture at an auction in Tennessee

Chairs and other furniture at an auction in Tennessee

My mom tried to talk me out of going with her to an antiques auction this past weekend in Manchester, Tenn. “You’ll be bored,” she said. She knows I’m a one-and-done antiques-shopper: I take one turn around the antiques mall/estate sale/antiques shop and I’m done. But she takes her antiquing seriously —  and I’ve got a couple friends like that, too. They drive miles and miles out of their way to check a possibly interesting yard sale. Then they take hours and hours to examine Every Single Little Item at the possibly interesting sale. Of course, I come away empty-handed and they end up with bargain-priced treasures. That’s what happened Friday night at the Coffee County Fairgrounds when the contents of a going-out-of-business antiques mall were in the middle of a three-day sale. My mom had been Thursday and found some prizes, so I was intrigued with the chance to see her in action and pick up some secrets when she wanted to go back Friday. So, am I the only person who didn’t know how much fun auctions are? It was like a shopping trip, a history lesson and an evening of entertainment (how can auctioneers possibly talk that fast?) combined. I loved poking around the tables and shelves and boxes full of leftover antiques and junque. Then I sat, listened and learned: 1) Stay calm. 2) Set a bid limit and stick to it. 3) But don’t let anything you really want get away. I was awestruck by my mom’s smooth confidence and discerning eye. She would merely raise her hand a bit to bid. A horizontal slash of her hand meant a half-bid increase and a slight shake of her head meant she was done. But it wasn’t all sitting. My dad and I were the “toters,” grabbing paper and boxes to wrap up Mom’s successes — she likes glassware and linens (much easier to pack) — and then toting them out to the truck. Business as usual for my dad, but I was startled at how much physical labor antiquing demands. I got rewarded, though. My mom won this old McCoy pottery bowl I liked and then gave me one of three white-and-blue china demitasse cup-and-saucer sets she’d bought for my brother. Sold!