This is a document that Beverly wrote at an uncertain date. It was when her
father, Joy Holiday, was living with us in Scarsdale in the 1970s.
The Thing Collector
“Why has Beverly brought all this stuff home?” queries Grandpa. Because she
is a “thing collector,” responds my husband amiably. Why, why, I ask
myself, feeling sordid, smirched, crass, and apologetic, do I respond to a
garage sale ad or flea market like an old fire horse, rarin’ to go?
I have enough dishes, art objects, flower arrangement containers. Indeed, the
house is spilling over with them. But the unusual contours of the latest find
seduce me into yet another purchase. A bargain, my inner self exhorts!
This I must have. This Saturday’s yield reveals a motley assortment: two
Victorian wall candelabra sconces in the shape of armless, bare-breasted Venuses
or Minervas with wings (they were only two dollars each), a card table of
beautiful wood with 4 chairs, two purple, two shocking pink – soiled, of course,
but it was the shocking pink that “got” me! I hope I can clean them. But the
table alone was worth the $45 I paid. It’s more interesting than a new table one
could buy in the stores. Maybe that’s the secret of my fascination with these
“finds.” They are not mass-produced. They are unique, the survivors of broken
households, attics, mildewy basements, but fraught with nostalgia.
I remember neighbors from my childhood whose houses were crammed with
memorabilia, walls burdened with pictures and old valentines, corners stuffed
with knickknacks and plants. Never, I trow, would I be a part of such clutter.
But, dear dead friends, I beg your pardon. I understand. I have become one of
you. With age, one accumulates, not only the ordinary accumulations of ordinary
buying, but the eager, fanatic accumulation of all the impediments to cushion
life’s bleak corners. I never feel better than when I have made a PURCHASE.
Money in the bank gives me no thrill. But an addition to my cat
collection of figurines, or something with birds on it, or butterflies,
or something pink, or sky blue, of teapots, I find I do go weak over
teapots. Not consciously have I set to build a collection, but over the
inscrutable years of Saturday garage sales, layered upon layer of musty
assortments of Junque, I find I do have certain motifs that take
precedence. Also, I find there is a secret price-limit in my mind for certain
objects. The depression-formed estimate of how much something is worth, chastens
my purchases. We tried to be somebody. And we ended up nobody. Started poor,
ended poor. Thought we were going to achieve something. Nothing.
Going to a lower-class party yesterday started me reminiscing. Poor-poor.
Inarticulate. Plain. No style. No panache. Not good-looking. No class. Do you
remember? Working for the paycheck. Another payment on the washing machine. Big
deal. Saving for a dishwasher. Now we have it made? No. The car breaks down.
Gotta spend money for a new car. Wishing I could take advantage of the month-end
Sales at the department stores. Never any money left to buy things at a
discount. Oh, how great that would be, I thought, to buy next winter’s things at
a bargain price now. But no cash to take advantage of the sales. That must be
how the rich people do it; buy when the prices are low. But even before that …
Don’t you remember how it was to be poor?
Afraid to go into Wahl’s. The clerks were too snooty. The perfume at
astronomical prices at the ritzy counter; plush carpeting. I wasn’t dressed well
enough to go to town. Mend my stockings with a nylon-stocking mender, which was
sort of a tiny knitting device to sew up the runs. That’s how poor. Put on the
best, ironed dress, never mind the underwear. Just be embarrassed at the raggedy
condition of my slip if I try on a dress in the store dressing-room.
Afraid of the clerks. I am TOO POOR TO GO INTO THIS STORE. I AM EMBARRASSED.
My mother always walked looking down at the sidewalk or grass. Looking for a
coin someone might have dropped. She found a penny, dime or nickel once in a
while, too. Amazingly.
We never bought what we wanted, only enough to eke by.
When I got my first paycheck for teaching, I went to the Five-and-Dime store
and bought lots of pretty little things. My very own money. A pillow, cover for
the top of the woodstove, little throw rug -- bright throw rugs over the worn
places of the carpet do wonders. A new pillow on the old sofa couch detracts the
eye from the frayed places. A shiny painted metal stovetop cover made the
kitchen look more modern.
Now Mama is no longer poor. She is in Heaven.