MANtiquing: I Get It From My Mother

Last weekend I took my wife and stepdaughters antiquing at a festival not far from the city. Yes, I know. Guy + antiques = "mantiquing." Well, I'm not ashamed to admit to my love of rummaging through over-crowded shelves of knicknacks or browsing through row after row of dusty furniture. However, before you unleash a barrage of taunts asailing my masculinity, know first, where these tendencies come from--my mother. 

Growing up, I watched my mother salvage many a worn out, weathered, or discarded something or another only to restore it to life and find a new purpose for it around the house. I think part of her motivation for this, other than die-hard thriftiness, stemmed from an a special fondness for the past that went beyond novel fascination. This fondness was never clearer than when it came to the heirlooms that she associated with her grandmother--a set of dishes edged with tea roses, the walnut stained china cabinet that dominated our dining room, the chipped set of chalk figurines that one of us kids took upon ourself to liven up with colored markers.

Beer anyone?

I can remember many times my mother eying over some mysterious relic before prefacing her interests in it with, "When I was a little girl, Grandma Briggs used to..." When my mom was a little girl, a trip next door to her grandma's served as a haven of respite from the understandable chaos that comes from having to contend with six other siblings at home. Escaping the insanity for a game of cards or a quiet tea party alone with her grandma represented the rare moments when my mother was free to feel special and unique, not like just another mouth to feed. Thus, for my mother, such mementos represented some of the best memories of her childhood.

For my three sisters and I, witnessing the way our mother cherished these and other antique items, subconsciously imbued us with the same inclinations. All of us talk of the unexplained force that demands we pull over at the sight of driveway lined with junk-laden fold-up tables, or better still an unappreciated colonial-style chair sitting at curb's edge on trash day. I dare you to visit any of our homes and not find a room bereft of at least one object made in the USA three or more decades earlier. It can't be done.

My Great-Grandma Briggs had a bunch of toy trucks like this one that I got to play with as a boy.

The oldest of my sisters, in fact, has turned antiquing into both a profitable venture and a form of artistic expression. I've mentioned more than once how her keen eye and obvious talent in this department makes me sick (with envy). The situation is made all the more worse in that, by knowing she sells such good stuff, I am dependent upon her for all my antiquing needs ...okay, cravings. Clicking through her store pages, I am a crack addict, and she is my dealer.

My own interest in this racket was inspired by the many groupings of bottles Mom used as accent pieces on shelves and in naked corners. The bug finally bit me around the fifth or sixth grade after I unearthed a perfectly  intact milk bottle from an odd patch of dirt in the wooded area behind our house. It's because of this bottle that we learned this out-of-place mound and pile of large square sandstones was the location of a maple sugar shack built sometime in the early 1900's, and today, my own kids are still digging glass shards and rusty tools from under last falls layer of decaying leaves.

From one pint-sized milk bottle came a life-long interest in almost any trinket linking the past and present. During middle school and junior high my treasure hunts conducted in the neighbor burn piles were usually met with the none-too discreet grumblings of my father who was more than a little annoyed about his garage being cluttered up by another batch of glass, mud-filled, 7 Up and Coke bottles barely worth the refund printed on the label only a year earlier.

By senior high, though, I gained enough picking savvy to elicit a few excited wows from my mom as I held up a blue tinted medicine bottle--the same excited wows she had responded with on the day when I handed her that dirt-caked milk bottle. And so, while most kids my age were hanging at the mall, I spent my afternoons exploring abandoned farm houses and rooting through backwoods trash heaps. As an added touch, I sported an authentic replica of the fedora hat worn by Indiana Jones himself, which evoked a sense of adventure that made ignoring "no trespassing" signs and wiping away sheets of cobwebs all the more thrilling.

I have a thing for typewriters. My sister supplied me one that I type most of my writing on. 

My children howl with uncontrolable laughter every time I oblige their requests for me to retell the story of coming face to face with a raccoon while feeling my way through a two-foot high crawlspace below the floorboards of one hundred-plus year-old warehouse once used by the railroad. For those of you who think it crazy for me to engage in such a stunt, know that my hunch about hard-drinking men working the loading docks eons ago proved true as I made one of my biggest discoveries ever--a green, blown-glass beer bottle with the original cork common used during the 1880's.

"Wow! That's pretty neat, son," I think is what Mom said inspecting the air bubbles in the glass and that deep dimple in the bottom which proved its period of origin.

I never thought I'd ever say, "when I was a boy" but when I was a boy I had this very lunch box.

My idols from TV's American Pickers

Since then my tastes have expanded to include electric fans, Victrolas, cathedral radios, toys, typewriters, and just about anything from the Jazz Age. Today, however, save for the occasional antiquing festival, I don't have the time or resources to dedicate toward pursing things seriously. Instead I am relegated to indulging my interests in vestiges of bygone eras via reruns of The Antique Road Show on PBS and the antics of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz on The History Channel's American Pickers. (If I'm to be teased for anything it should be for outwardly confessing that I fantasize about stowing away in Mike and Frank's van as they "travel the back-roads of America telling the history of this country one pick at a time.")

One of the many objects that hold my affections

My mother on the other hand is still going strong and I get a kick out of her showing off the three-drawer dresser  she picked up at an estate sale or the claw feet lamp table that was waiting for her at the thrift store. It's also equally amusing listening to my father's same grumblings over having to haul these items homes so they can lay about his garage like loafing hobos left over from the Great Depression.

As a seamstress, my mother would appreciate these sewing machines

Even so, Dad recognizes as our entire family does, that these antiques are not the hallmark signs of some form of hoarding, but rather a form of connection not only with the past and all of its memories, but also with each other. Holidays and special occasions in our family seem to pass us by, but nothing gets us on the horn quicker than porcelain chamber pot or pair of vintage opera gloves. And when the women folk wanted to welcome my wife into our clan, the initiation consisted of a girls-only trip to the mother of all antique shops, Buttons and Bows. Although, I was bummed about being discriminated against, my wife passed the test with flying colors, and return visits to the store are now a matter of tradition.

My mother spent many years sewing dresses for customers with antique dolls like these.

And we think Bratz Dolls were bad. Check out this harlot doll.

Now that I've come out of the closet with the story of my love for mantiquing, you are free to raise your eyebrows however you may choose. If such an admission adds a dent to my manhood, I sir or madam, am not concerned in the least for it was my mother who passed this trait on to me. Furthermore, I say this, not as an accusation, but out of gratitude--gratitude for not only endowing me with a sense of appreciation for the past, but also for the many ways my mother has managed to keep our family connected despite time and distance.

Bottles: My first love

A cast iron toy horse and carriage 

Caste iron toy circus clown.

Lithographed tin toy train 

My wife found something at the festival that reminded her of her Grampsy--these printing blocks.

You can check out more of  my photos at Flickr

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Ads Section

Ads Section

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP