A black obsidian arrowhead on a mound in West Virginia. An old flag some bootlegger may have left in a rusting safe in a ramshackle house near a motel off the interstate in Ohio. A pink crystal rosary. A shiny green rubber frog. I have found so many things in my life. Not alone when I found these objects, looking back, there was a loved one, a family member by my side, when the museum-worthy (in my young and old eyes) treasure was unearthed. Each of these is a story unto itself. Poignant or funny, some kept some not, I could weave those tales.
Finding something is not always beneficial to a person such as me who has a tendency to hang on to it, long after the hold should be released. Finding and letting go. It is the two-step that provides the harmony of much of my life. You could say that I have spent many of my waking moments looking for the "find." Similarly, I realize more and more how I must shoulder the responsibility to pass the joy of the find on to others -- as if that bonding or unbonding of my hand on that strangely wonderful bit of a serendipitous something, coming or going, will have the capacity to change me or the recipient forever.
Over the decades, I've known well how to hoard and hone, and finally unhoard knowledge and news, a certain kind of find. That, though not an easy task, was done with empathy and perseverance because in this find I had unimpeachable purpose. There is a satisfying beauty in being a good reporter or photojournalist, when the "find" is often the singular story or profile of an individual who causes you to catch your breath because you must celebrate in words and images, that most precious of all, a human life. I have had that drug of journalistic euphoria vibrant in my system for so long that it often interjects itself in the most unlikely of ways. Compounded by a thirst for understanding, a love of history and a fascination with the art of life, what we hold and use each day, it is odd that the older I get, the more I want to connect the dots of our consuming creativity.
Lately, when an unusally harsh day sends its larger than life lemons catapulting in my direction, I feel myself pulling off the road and into the parking lot of the local Salvation Army thrift store. It is always crowded. Some come to gather items they can remarket on eBay or other sites. Others are honestly green in their outlook. Families trying to clothe their children during uncertain times are steady customers. In the faces of still others I see many like myself, persons wanting to recapture the past by confronting it. Row upon row of recycled clothing. Color-sorted dishes and pottery and plastic frou-frou, the jetsam of so many cultural whims and wishes. Broken furniture and hand-crocheted doilies. Stalwart books and steadily obsolete VHS tapes. Cameras that define a film world forsaken and televisions and computers that look too ancient to be in any way a part of our modern history.
Occasionally, a stack of 45 rpm records will make its way out onto the sales floor and I am doomed to spend an hour meticulously wafting past a Sinatra or a Crosby or Elvis, an interlude that someone, once shut their eyes to, and cherished. In these, I am not overly concerned about hunting down the dollar-generating find. No, just a song that jogs a happy memory or a sad memory is a sweet lemonade maker. Both deserve the exercise.
Recently, I happened upon a lovely blue plaid coat of fine Irish wool made in Dublin that I knew was the perfect choice for my daughter. Once home and with more than a modicum of motherly convincing, she tried it on. No tailor could have made it fit her any better. And in the men's aisle, hung a Hong Kong-crafted men's sports jacket that once belonged to a doctor. I knew that because his name was embroidered on the inside above a well-crafted pocket. Son-sensible, I bought it. Together they cost me $3 because blue-ticked items that day were 50 percent off. The adrenalin that powered me home came from envisioning how an elegant past exemplified by two graceful and vintage articles of clothing might empower those I love who are still learning about who they are in this world.
On another citrus-blasted day, I could not resist a yellowed lace creation, a wedding dress that best guess is from the '50s. The day I married, I wore no such dress. The woman checking me out asked me what I was planning to do with it. A seamstress in my mind's eye and occasionally in my fingertips, I said to her I will remake it. She commented that she thought that was what I was planning. Others buy dresses like this for that same reason she told me. That find was before the holidays and I still cannot bring myself to take it apart. Ripping and rebuilding will come perhaps but not yet. Not until I can do the fabric and that memory justice. Here is a case where I know far too little. No name embroidered here.
On a particularly difficult afternoon, I pushed a cart down the white china hopefuls, all waiting for cupboard adoptions. Stacked in rows, incomplete though the settings, were dainty old French porcelain pieces. I ached just looking at them, thinking if these can survive, then surely so can I. There were chips, too numerous to fret about, and because of that, they were all the more priceless to me. These had lived and for fifty cents a piece, they could live again. My skeleton no doubt has much in concert with these dishes. I need to embrace my chips and that day, by tucking these into the trunk of the car, I think I did. They will make a fine gift for nieces and my daughter and I am sure some of the eloquence of the lovely ivory with the gold band will strike a special chord for each when they think of me later. Mom. Aunt Barbara. French with a few well-positioned chips.
In good conscience, I make it a point to bring more to the store to give away then I allow myself to take away. All right, I try. That is therapy. That is acknowledging that to give is good -- something that I can quietly accomplish and know that maybe some mother will walk down an aisle and find something of mine that is perfect for her son or perfect for her daughter. What is so ironic is on the days I make the effort to give more, heading to the back of the store where the dropoff is located first, that my gesture is never unnoticed in that ethereal manner we call fate or heavenly intervention. On these days, the little find is all the more intriguing in that it touches a special compartment in my heart and the find seems to thank me for being thus connected to the needs of others.
A quietly pretty, very dark navy blue Prada bag for $1. He must have seen me and said, no lemons today.