Shuffling from one table to another, it is difficult to keep focused on any one item. There are vendors selling expired vitamins, partially used perfume bottles, rusting rifles, old farm implements and a disproportionate number of books about the Third Reich. In another row of tables, a mess of shiny objects from keys to belt buckles grabs my attention and I begin to peck through the flotsam that was surely destined for the dump.
“I’ll take two dollars for that,” one vendor offers a hesitant shopper. That, along with the indignant “I’ve got twenty bucks in that,” are favorite refrains around the Pickens Flea Market.
I look up to find my friend Malia negotiating for an old metal lunchbox. Malia, who curates an online vintage store Maliasmark visits the market most Wednesday mornings. The no-frills market attracts vendors and buyers as varied as the assortment of goods available for sale – mostly kitsch and things found on the side of the road. Who knew there was a market for expired cans of pineapple juice?
With a trained eye for vintage, Malia picks through items that instantly have a nostalgic cachet: an assortment of wooden crates, trinket boxes and a familiar blue Holly Hobbie lunch box and thermos set – identical to the one I had as a kid. As we meander down the rows of tables, a disquieting realization hits me. When did my generation become vintage? And is it wrong to buy up all the things I tossed away when I moved away from home?
“Ooooo, I love that!” Says Malia, betraying the cool, detached demeanor of a skilled buyer. It’s a music box, not the gilded, precious kind, but the cardboard and vinyl clad kind with a windup plastic twirling ballerina – Identical to the one I had as a kid! Shit.
One of the sellers, in his mid 70s, is there to clear out his garage and share a few stories. He’s selling a collection of trays he’s fashioned into planters from aluminum used in a now defunct paper mill. Another woman shares her love of travel to Italy, selling some of her accumulated trinkets. Another vendor selling a retro wedding cake topper, boasts about her own garden wedding set in an idyllic 60s timeframe.
As the morning progresses, glimpses of personal stories, a peek into a private past, snippets from a school journal reveal themselves. After several trips to unload armfuls of stuff, we head back along the country roads and wind our way past rolling farmland and vestiges of old homesteads.
We pull over to take a closer look at a barn covered with old industrial signs. As we walk along the edge of the property, keeping an eye for guard dogs, Wayne, the owner, happens to come out to check his empty mailbox and graciously offers to give us a tour of his property. He constructs fantastic stories of imagined past, building on the lore of the South, complete with practiced tales about using corn cobs as toilet paper and showing us the bedpan, complete with plastic poop prop, stowed under the bed of his little cabin in the woods [I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture].
Wayne sits of the rocking chair outside his fabricated cabin filled with historic memorabilia cobbled as a tribute to the past and offers us tea and cookies. He spends the next hour talking about the various visitors he’s had on his property, the curiosity seekers, photographers and occasional derelicts that show up on his doorstep – we fall into the first two categories, hopefully!
When I get home, I’m excited to play the 78 records on the newly purchased WWII US Army issued phonograph while I flip through advertisements for learning to play an accordion and the surprising number of promotions on how to ‘build yourself a “He-Man” body’ from a 1957 copy of Popular Mechanics. I have no personal history with that past, but enjoy listening to Glen Miller and his Orchestra perform American Patrol as the dull needle narrows in on the grooves of the heavy shellac records.
The phonograph will most likely collect dust and end up with someone else in the future. In the meantime, the novelty of the object puts a smile on my face.