Seniors Speak: Antiques mean memories
March 25, 2016
The day I turned 17, I went to Broad Street Antiques and told the cashier that it was my birthday. Her response: “You wanted to come here?”
It’s true. I love antiquing more than almost any other activity. I love the Campbell’s soup ads, the 65-year-old dresses, the glass medicine bottles. Visiting a flea market? I’m there. Headed to an estate sale? Count me in. Sifting through ancient knick-knacks can entertain me for hours.
Is this because I’m nostalgic for the good ol’ days, back when America was in its prime? Definitely not. In fact, I’m pretty sure those days never existed. Behind colorful vintage decór is a faded KKK hood. Beneath cheery LIFE magazines are decades of sexism. I once read an article from the ‘70s titled, “Why do black people talk the way they do?” Antique stores are a timeline of prejudice – that’s what makes them interesting.
With that said, I would never own certain antiques (see: Swastika armbands and racist, watermelon-themed ceramics). They do have a ghoulish appeal, though. They show the nastier side of history. It’s like visiting ten free museums at once. Where else can I browse some old Playboys, walk five feet, and see mourning brooches from the Civil War?
Each antique has a unique personality. I have some pictures from the early ‘50s, mostly photos that a husband took of his wife. In one of them, she’s standing on a beach in a black bikini. On the back of the photo, he wrote, “I left this snapshot in because of the pretty sand dunes.” Uh…right, pal. You left that snapshot in because of your wife’s great legs.
That’s what I see, anyway. In reality, it’s just a little book of snapshots that nobody wanted around. The photos don’t actually say who took them, and there’s no telling who wrote the captions on the back. To me, though, that’s the best part: looking at an antique and making up a story to go with it. The unknown enhances the experience.
I’m sure some people find it creepy, but not me. Antiques make me feel comfortably insignificant. They’re proof that time keeps trucking along even in the midst of catastrophe. There’s a morbid comfort in looking at furniture and dishes from the 1800s, knowing that someone slept in that bed, ate off of those plates. Even if they were all racists.
Who knows? Maybe 70 years from now, a kindred spirit will find this article in a heap of vintage magazines. And her parents will tap their feet, saying, “Aren’t you done looking yet?”