Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Lost Planet Of Thrift Stores

Dropped off Lily after we did a little shopping, had lunch, exchanged my CD player. I decided to go to Goodwill when I left her house because there's something so soothing about Goodwill when it's raining. It's never very light in there and when I walked in, that strange, musty, sweet-sour smell of the thrift store enveloped me and I pushed my cart along and listened to stories and browsed the beautiful, the insanely hideous. Goodwill can make you despair for the human race, all the inane crap manufactured and shipped and sold and then given away because it is not only ugly but useless as well. Who needs, who wants, a clock which also dispenses scents from smelly crystals?
Someone, at one point, thought they did.
The quesadilla-maker, the coffee pots, the insanely ugly lamps, the crocheted afghans in shades of fluorescent oranges, greens, and yellows, the heavy, chunky plates with ugly patterns on them, the shot glasses from Bourbon Street, the framed pictures of children and angels and horses and Nascar heroes. The lurid comforters, fit for a whorehouse in pinks and in purples, their faux satin covers shining and thread-strung.

I looked at a scarf I wish I'd bought. It had a pattern of leaves, colors printed on silken air. I didn't. Why? I love things like that and also the homemade, hand-embroidered Indian dress I saw. No one I know could have worn that dress it was so tiny, but I could have hung it on the wall. I do that sometimes. Buy things of beauty and hang them up. I actually put a pillow in my cart. It was the kind I like, tropical bark cloth with a cotton fringe. By the time I'd crawled through the whole store and hadn't found another thing I really wanted, I decided to take it back and put it up on the shelf. I found a cashmere sweater that I didn't like particularly despite its softness and I left it for another person, shoved between all the acrylics and polys and nylons arranged by color and size.

I did not buy these lovely ladies either, one smudge-cheeked, whether from time or play, no way to tell. Dolls can be creepy and beautiful at the same time and thrift stores are full of them. My heart sometimes goes out to them, just as it does to the homemade dresses, the old Corning Ware which someone's mama cooked a thousand tuna casseroles in, the little black stone statue of Chac Mool which I was almost fool enough to buy, the straw bags from exotic Caribbean ports saying Nassau, the Bahamas, Mexico in colorful raffia, purchased by someone on a cruise. 
It seemed like a good idea at the time, I'm sure. 

But I guess I wasn't really shopping, was I? Just spending an hour in a dimly lit Goodwill store, listening to the employees chatter as they put things on racks, sorted and dusted, the hits of the seventies, eighties and nineties, piped in through the speakers. 

I walked back out through the rain, no bag in my hand, and got in my car and came home, slightly sad that I had not found a treasure, some tiny pretty gem to wear or put on a mantel, to put a camellia in, to look at and wonder, who made that? It's okay. For an hour my mind was free to roam as I touched this and picked up that, wandered about and was alone but not alone, surrounded by others who were in their own heads, all of us hoping to find some small thing, perhaps, to bring home, to feel as if it had brightened this gray, wet, chilly day a tiny bit. At least for a little while.
Hunting for rubies in red dirt, picking up old leather boots which someone wore a thousand times, noting a pair of red stilettos with heels at least six inches tall, not bigger than a size five, if that, wondering, always wondering at the stories behind them all. The who's and the why's, the where's and the what's? The when's?

Every object owned by a human who had a story as big and as important as anyone else's. In some way. Most people just don't have the ways or means to tell their stories and fewer still have someone else who are inspired to tell the stories for them. 
But at the Goodwill, you can find the objects they left behind or gave away, again- no way to tell. And the pieces of the puzzle can be picked up and considered, stories can be imagined and embroidered from them. Did someone conceive a baby, seduce a husband, sleep all alone wearing that pink negligee? Did a child love that doll to pieces or did some old woman put it on a shelf where it sat until she died? 

Did a lot of people just outgrow their jeans? Realize that a clock which dispenses artificial scents was completely useless and annoying? Actually learn something from that self-help book or set it down and get drunk? 

I do not know. But it is a fine thing on a rainy afternoon to wander and wonder. 

To come home and write about it all, to ask the questions and then forget about it all. The Goodwill is always there. So are the stories which we can never really know. 
A sort of living museum of human behavior and activity. A midden mound of fresh archaeological and anthropological data. A place where you can actually buy what someone else cherished or hated, outgrew, fell out of love with, deemed nothing but clutter, replaced with something they liked more. 

"You want Mama's casserole dish?"
"Nah. I got all that Le Crueset. That Corning Ware is ugly."
"Okay. Put it in the donate pile."
"What about Daddy's ties?"
"No one wears ties anymore. Donate."
"That picture of the clowns?"
Oh GOD no. Please."

And so it goes and so it will always go and I look at the things in my cabinets and closets and sigh, knowing that someday my children too will have these conversations. 

"Lord. How old IS this cookie sheet?"

Older than you can imagine. Still works just fine. 

"Don't you DARE take all Mama's iron skillets."
"I'll trade you the skillets for her diamond necklace."


"Okay. If you throw in her grandmother's gold bracelet."

I can imagine both backwards and forewords on a rainy night in February. That's what it means to be human. We use stuff, we think stuff, we buy stuff, we discard stuff. We live and acquire, we die and leave every fucking bit of it. 

It's all right. 

Love...Ms. Moon


  1. If only there were space for us all to be buried in our own Goodwill pyramid full of our stuff.

  2. Stuff. There is so much of it. I have my grandmother's, my mother's and my china pattern. I don't want any of it because it is just more stuff that needs to be cared for. But I also don't want to give it to the Goodwill. So it sits.

  3. "Learn something from that self help book or set it down and get get drunk." (Ha, that last part self corrected a typo or something to read "drip ink."). There is something about this line that is brilliant to me. I read your whole post and kept going back to this one line. I am not an over drinker by any means but it resonates and I must ponder this... The whole post was brilliant really. You are brilliant my dear. I love your brain. Sweet Jo

  4. OMG, Mrs. Moon. If Goodwill was a country, you should be their poet laureate.

  5. I too love the way your brain works and the places it goes. Then you put it down in words and take us along too. Never has a real life Goodwill trip been so lovely or entertaining as reading this. I think on my next G.W. visit I will look at things in a little different light. Thank you for this.

  6. I remember when my mom died I wanted to keep everything because I pictured all her stuff sitting lonely on a Goodwill shelf. I guess that is silly. Eventually I let go of some of it although I still have too much. For a while any time I went to the Goodwill I was worried I'd see something of hers there. I never did. I do love how you can just look at stuff and think of the stories behind it all. I never thought of it that way.

  7. I love Denise's comment.

    There was a lyrical melancholy to this post -- a real beauty.

  8. When I first discovered thrift stores, I went a bit overboard because it was all so cheap. Now I rarely find anything I want or need, and in the meantime I've given away most of what I bought in the first place. At least it was a less expensive lesson than if I'd been buying at full price :)

    And I agree with the others who say your writing is like poetry.

  9. P.S. It was me that sent you a Facebook friend request. Sweet Jo (Joanne)

  10. I was in a thrift store yesterday too! I even said to my friend, "This is where your stuff goes when you die!" Because it's true. It's either there or the dumpster.

  11. I, too, went to Goodwill yesterday. I saw a t-shirt that read, "I wish my grass was Emo so it would cut itself." But strolling the book aisle, I found "Mystical Poetry of Rumi." Goodwill is where the beautiful and the absurd share the same roof, kinda like a circus.


  12. This is why I've only been to one estate sale. Ever.

  13. Poet Laureat of Goodwill... I love it.

  14. Poignant thoughtful post Mary. Absolutely lovely.

  15. Jo- That's a scary thought.

    ditchingthedog- In theory, I would love to die leaving everything either disposed of or already given away. It would save my children so much hassle and guilt and worry.

    Sweet Jo- Ah well. Thank you. So much.

    Denise- Put it on my headstone!

    Angie D- I think too much. I really do.

    Kelly- When we gave my mother's stuff to Goodwill, it just felt like a lightening of a horrible burden. But that was probably very different than the way you felt.

    Elizabeth- Thank you, sweet woman.

    jenny_o- I think in our younger years we are more wired to gather. To acquire. As we grow older, this need lessens. It's good to get those ya-ya's out at thrift stores.

    Sweet Jo- Done!

    heartinhand- 'Tis true, my love!

    Nancy- Exactly! And I sort of like that T-shirt even though that's sick and sad and wrong.
    But sort of funny.

    Marty Damon- Me too! One.

    Jo- Everyone has to be something, right?

    Rebecca- Thank you, dear woman!

  16. What a beautiful meditation on our humanness. I stopped at that "set it down and get drink" line too. And so many others. This post provokes so many memories and reflections; it so rich. What I recall is my favorite pair of boots in my 20s, a red cowboy thrift shop number that was soft as butter on my feet. I paid $6. And I also remember the man I was with and how he told me I looked so funky in them. Funky was a good word then, a cousin to hip or hipstery. I felt very cool in those butter soft red cowboy boots that somebody gave up. I'll never know why but we can devise stories even as we make our own.

  17. That should be "drunk" of course. Please forgive typos. I'm reading on my phone.

  18. I love this. You have perfectly articulated the appeal and mystery of a thrift store. And you know I love thrift stores. I am sometimes overcome by the sheer waste of it all -- the idea that factories in China are churning all this stuff out and despoiling our environment so it can be bought and thrown out, unused, and perhaps bought again, or perhaps not. It's really just insane.

  19. I could not go to the auction of Mom and Pop's things--all those collectibles that they thought were so wonderful. We had over 90 boxes of their china, figurines, etc. at auction. I saw it online but could not go to the actual auction. I felt as if I had desecrated them in some way. But we could not possibly have kept it nor did we want it all. The clothes we did take to Goodwill or to a consignment store. Your post brought these things to mind.


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.