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A Life

It was one of those fabulous old antebellum homes for which Madison is so well known. Off the main street, a couple of blocks back into the residential area. Academy Street.

In obvious need of exterior painting, and some roof repairs, it was nonetheless a grand old house. Twelve foot ceilings. Large rooms. Beautiful hardwood floors. And lot’s of quirks. Like the staircase with only a six foot clearance for heads.

But it wasn’t the outside of the house which had drawn me here. Or the others standing in line waiting to go inside. For me it was the things inside, treasures amassed over a lifetime by the last resident of the house. Now all for sale.

My understanding was that the last resident had, at age 98, slipped this mortal coil. Her family had sold the house, and was now parting with everything inside. Strange things you might find. Someone pointed out that there were hundreds of family photos. And even the guest book from the funeral. Small things can sometimes make big statements.

What I noticed was that there was a relatively small turnout for this sale. There were several people in the line that I recognized. Other estate sale junkies. Or antique dealers.   There were plenty of treasures here indeed. The owner had obviously been a collector, on a small scale, all her life. And she had treasures from every time period, and from around the world. She seemed to like Asian items. I mention this only because that is something I always look for, and am excited to find.

Most of the crowd seemed to be local people. People who knew this woman. They wanted to see the inside of the house. And perhaps to claim something that would remind them of her. One woman wanted the handwritten recipe cards from the kitchen. Zero monetary value, but tremendous sentimental value of some sort.

There was also at least one family member there. She identified herself as such when told that the item she wanted was already sold to someone else.

Maybe she was family. Maybe not. That one thing that she had always wanted was somehow not willed to her, or passed along by closer family members. She found something else and was satisfied.

I have no ties to this person. Or to any of the people whose estate sales I go. I’m a collector and reseller and that is my purpose and interest in these items from someone’s life. I do often wonder what kind of person this might have been, and usually end up creating my own story about them. Everyone is a hero.

One day my estate will be sold off. I’m glad I won’t be there for that. But I will at least know the story behind every single item sold.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Round and Round

Hi my name is Matt and I’m an antique dealer. Hi Matt! comes the chorus from the group assembled at the regular meeting of antiquers anonymous. That’s how my dream goes some nights.

Over the past four or five years I have been to countless yard sales and estate sales. So many that I can’t even remember the places I’ve gone. Neighborhoods yes, but specific houses? Pretty rarely. Would have been someplace that had something really incredible to offer.

On those same lines, I’ve moved so many items in and out of the house, and my antique shops, that I can’t even picture most of them. Hell, I can’t even look in the store and figure out what’s missing from week to week. Sometimes I’ll look at the list of things I’ve sold and wonder what this or that even was.

So you might imagine that it was quite a shock for me the other day when I walked into a house where the owners were having a sale and saw something hanging on the wall that I had once owned. A one of a kind hand made weaving that I had found at another yard sale, kept in my house for a while and sold. No doubt about it, it was the same one.

I told the girl who lived there that I had once owned the weaving depicting an ancient South American bird god. Her jaw dropped and she ran outside to tell her boyfriend. He remembered me. And where I lived and how on the day that he and his friend bought the piece they had come to my house in a blue pickup truck and strapped this huge masterpiece on the back of the truck. It was too big to fit inside the bed of the truck. And I remember that on the day that I bought it I had done the same thing.

The friend had moved away and left the weaving for his friend. And it was not for sale. I wouldn’t have bought it again, but I sure did like it hanging on their wall. Big, bold. Lots of wow factor. And I was glad to know that someone was enjoying it so much. After I had certainly saved it from the scrapheap of history.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

 

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Boat Parade

On the approach, the new Mercedes Benz stadium was clearly visible. Unlike the path that the crow flies, the road system I was travelling did not go straight to my destination. I could see a nearby landmark, but not the road I needed to take.

And so, as is common to my travels, I took a wrong turn. The GPS rerouted and sent me on a new path so it was no major disaster. But it threw off my concentration. And I missed another turn.

Ending up in a parking lot full of nothing but boat trailers, I knew I was in the right area. But I couldn’t park there. The blue lot was my destination. There was a gate guard at the main entrance to the trailer lot so I stopped to ask him where I needed to go to reach my goal. He seemed a bit surprised that I came from within the trailer lot, but very kindly gave me the directions. It was just a around the corner and I was there in no time. Pretty good for me!

The boat show promised to provide the mother lode of boats to examine. I would like to buy a boat, but it’s hard to go to every dealership to look around. And even worse to have to face the scrutiny of hungry salesmen on the small stage of a single dealership. This big show was sure to be somewhat more relaxed. And would allow me to look at vessels I would not normally see at my local showroom.

The exhibit hall at the World Congress Center did not disappoint. It was huge. And filled with hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes.  Long lines to get onto and explore the biggest and fancies yachts.

Actually buying a boat here was not in my mind at all. That would be way too impulsive. But as I walked around I did see signs on several boats indicating that they were indeed sold.

My goal was to clarify in my mind what type of boat I really wanted. Or more precisely, which type I should actually buy. I had three options in mind. In no particular order, they were sailboat, pontoon boat, and runabout boat.

Each type comes in many sizes and styles, but it wasn’t within these categories that I needed to decide, but rather between them.

I have had two sailboats and I enjoy drifting silently across the water powered by only a nice breeze. But there are places that sailboats can’t go, like close in to a shoreline. The pontoon will go anywhere I want it to go, carries a good number of people, and is easy to drive. But somehow it seems a tad boring. Now the runabout, a classic vintage one, is to me just the coolest thing ever. Lapstraked hull and curved windshield with that 35 horsepower engine. OMG! Not like the big offshore boat I saw with three 300 horsepower engines strapped on to is after end. But I didn’t expect to see an antique boat at this show. And quite honestly, I think I’d be afraid to drive it lest it get a scratch.

Row after row I looked, and climbed aboard several. The sales folks seemed to ignore you unless you sat on their boat for more than ten minutes. And very strangely, I noticed that every one of the people I spoke with had their hands and mouths full of food. Boring show?

There were several food and beverage options available at the show. Including beer and wine. Oh lord, a drunken sailor! And it wasn’t just boats on display. There were people selling lakefront real estate. And patio furniture. Skin lotions and clothing. Anything and everything that had even the slightest connection to outdoor and water oriented recreation. That part of the show I breezed through.

In all of my researching here I did discover one thing. While I love all three types of boats that I’ve mentioned, the pontoon is most practical for my desires.

It took a while, but I finally found an example of a pontoon boat that fit my needs. Especially in the price category. I don’t have six figures for a boat. Basic is what I want. Low budget. Not too big. Plenty of seating. And enough of a go fast device to go just fast enough.

But I won’t be buying one of these fancy new boats. Still out of my budget. I should say out of my will to pay. Instead, I’ll find an experienced boat, one well travelled and a little broken down. Just like me.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Suburban Archaeology

The phone rang and with some urgency the voice on the other end asked, “where are you?” It was my daughter and at this time of day her call could mean only one thing. She had a problem. And needed me to fix it.

The city water department had called her at work. One of her neighbors had called to report that my daughter’s yard was flooding. As well as her street. The city had sent someone to shut off the water. And they wanted her to fix the leak before turning the water on again.

No. I am not a plumber. But I’ve learned a few tings over the years and my kids have come to rely on me to know what to do. I told her that as soon as I finished dropping off my stuff at the recycling center I would come over to look. The water was off. Any damage that was done was already done.

As I turned into her neighborhood I noticed water in the street. I’m still a block and a half from her house, and not even on her street. Can’t be from her leak. I was still hoping that the water department had called the wrong homeowner.

Rounding the corner I could see more water. But indeed it seemed to begin at my daughter’s house. Damn. Parking in the driveway I got out of my truck to take in the situation. Puddles in yard. Water running across the sidewalk that goes from the driveway to the front door. The garage door was open. My daughter was there. Nothing wet in the garage. Or in the house.

Seeing the dry indoors I was able to breath again. I had been through a flooded house of my own. Not a pretty sight. Years ago we were selling our house and had gone out of town for Christmas. Coldest day of the year. And a pipe in an outside wall burst. Flooding the living room, the bathroom and the garage. And no one knew. Until the skating rink appeared in my yard. But we got it all fixed.

Tapping my feet at the soggy ground and digging around the foundation a little with my fingers I decided that the pipe between the water meter and the house must have broken. In one spot or several I didn’t know. And where was the pipe? Gonna need a shovel.

Before doing any more research I called a plumber. He said it wasn’t worth digging until the water was back on. We also called the insurance company. They told us not to let anyone do any repairs that involved tearing into walls, or jackhammering the concrete slab that the house sits on until they approved.

Now there’s a nightmare scenario. Hopefully the break was not too close to the house and none of that would be necessary. Might have to tear the whole house down to fix the leak. Damn again.

The plumber came out and I told him what I knew. Not much. He turned on the water and said we would just have to wait to see where it appeared. Then dig.

He left me watching the ground while he ran off to do some errands. Call me when you see some thing he had said. It took about thirty minutes, but there it was. Making a puddle. I moved a little dirt around with my fingers to try pinpointing the leak. Shortly after I called, he reappeared. And started to dig.

An hour or so later I heard him working in the garage. Bang, clunk. What the hell? He was turning on the water heater. The job was done.

Going outside I saw the plumber’s apprentice filling up a big hole with the wet muck they had dug out. There were piles of tree roots. Big chunks of plastic that seemed to be the potting containers from the original tree that had stood there. And small pieces of PVC pipe.

The news was that the pipe was broken at an elbow. One piece of pipe had slid out of the elbow. Not a frozen pipe as I had thought. The plumber then produced another artifact that he had uncovered. An empty beer bottle.

The evidence suggests that the plumber who had worked on the house during its original construction had downed the beer, and forgotten to glue the pipe sections together. For twenty years they had been held together just by the dirt surrounding them.

I can conjure up many thoughts and images as to the situation on the fateful day so many years ago. But I won’t because that will lead me to ask what other disasters are waiting to happen here. Isolated incident. Won’t happen again.

Archaeologists sometimes classify items as religious artifacts when they are not sure of their actual use. I’m going to put the empty beer bottle into that category. For peace of mind. Further exploration may reveal a more accurate picture. But there is no digging planned on this site.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Gingko Tree

Everything had to be perfect. The shape. The size. And most especially the location. Visible from any angle. This was no ordinary tree!

Moving from my old house meant that I would have to leave all of my landscaping handiwork behind. Over the years I had touched every bush and shrub, and seemingly every blade of grass on the property. Much of the greenery I had planted. All of it I had nurtured. Redbuds, dogwoods and peach trees. Lenten roses in the shade. Flowering forsythia and camellia. Maple trees and two giant river birches. I loved them all.

The hardscaping was mine too. Railroad ties to create terraced steps in front and back. A slate paver patio. Brick retaining walls. And the koi pond. That was a real masterpiece.

But the greatest thing in the whole landscape, my very favorite item, was the gingko tree. With it’s green fan shaped leaves in the summer and the rich gold and yellow it transforms to in the fall, this most ancient of trees is simply spectacular. There are several majestic specimens in my town. They always catch my eye, and I have to stop dead in my tracks to stare and admire them. Even when the leaves fall off late in the season, the mound of golden leaves on the ground is worthy of tribute.

And so, I decided that the landscape at my home could not be complete without one of these trees. It wasn’t easy to find. And because of its combined rarity and popularity, it wasn’t cheap. Worth every penny.

The most magnificent specimen I had seen in town was fifty feet tall. With a trunk more than a foot across. My new acquisition, of which I was very proud, was four feet tall. And not quite an inch in diameter. Gingko are slow growers, so I knew I was in for a long haul with this tree.

I planted it where it would have good sun. In decent soil. And where it could be seen from the street and from every room in the back of my house. One day it would be spectacular.

The first couple of years were trying. I had to water it a lot. And indeed it grew slowly. But it sprouted leaves every spring. And they turned yellow every fall. But they didn’t hang on to the branches very long. That’s ok, the golden mound of leaves on the ground was still beautiful.

At some point something clicked with this tree. I guess the roots got happy and it took off. It grew, and thrived, and produced more and more of the golden leaves. The whole family loved it. But the leaves never did hang on very long.

When we moved, there was no gingko at the new house. I would have to plant one.   Even as a priority it took me nearly a year to find the tree, and the perfect spot. The tree was actually easier to find than the spot. Several times I passed on getting the tree because I hadn’t decided on the spot.

Good soil. Perfect sunlight. In a place where it could be seen from every room in the back of the house. But not too close to the house. And not in a place where it would block the view of the pond in the back.

Finally I bought the tree knowing that having it in hand would force me to find the right spot. Straight and well branched, it stands four feet tall. And measures about an inch in diameter. It had golden leaves clinging tightly to the branches.

The potted tree was placed in the yard. How did it look here? Or there? Move it a few feet this way, and back. Now six inches left and two inches forward. That was it. All of the siting requirements were met. Where is that shovel?

Having positioned the tree with laser precision, I knew that digging a hole would not be quite as accurate. Close enough. It was in the right place, and it was standing straight. I backfilled the hole with dirt, mulch and special planting soil. This tree will lead a pampered life.

My youngest daughter went by the old house to get a look at the gingko. It was now nearly twenty feet tall, and about four inches in diameter. The leaves had already fallen off. The new owners no nothing of the history of that tree. And might not even like yellow. Now my new homestead has a gingko to call its own. Or more likely, a gingko has this new homestead to claim for itself.

I’ll make sure that it is happy, as it makes me happy. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Blue Paint Spot

Selling my house meant that the basement would have to be cleaned. I remember thinking to myself at the time that such an accomplishment would be equivalent to Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.

For nineteen years the basement had been the repository for a million and one items to be stored. Some of which I never looked at during those nineteen years. And then there was my tool bench. Covered with tools and bits of metal and jars full of nails and tacks and innumerable goodies that I knew I would need at some point in the future. Even if I had to view the future in the way that the universe sees progress. Then there were the treasures, memories and other “junk.”

I could put it all on one thirty yard dumpster. But I need all of it. Orr most of it. Some anyway. So I got to work packing boxes and crates and whatever I could use to hold these testaments to my past, present and future.

Sweeping the floor I noticed a spot of blue. Kind of a dark royal. It was paint. Marine paint that I had spilled while I was restoring a sailboat in the basement. I didn’t build it in there so in spite of the images that floated in my head of having to cut either the boat or the house in half to get the thing out, it fit nicely through the double door.

It was an older, classic style Moth racer. Designed for one person, it had a main and a jib and was sixteen feet long. My neighbor had recently moved from California and brought the boat with him. He hadn’t sailed it in years, and no intention of starting now. I think his wife talked him into getting rid of it. And lucky me, I got it. No cost, but I had to promise to restore it. Gladly!

The hull was intact, but had a lot of spidering cracks. The boom, tiller and part of the dagger board were teak. All in need of refinishing. The standing rigging was missing and the running rigging was rotten. It needed new pulleys. And paint.

Kind of a mess I realized when I got into it. What had I signed up for?! A deal is a seal and I knew it would be a lot of work, and fun. I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

The mast could stay outdoors, but everything else needed to come inside to be worked on. The basement. I brought in the boom, the rudder and tiller, and the dagger board. And then I set up a pair of sawhorses to rest the hull on. And then I headed to West Marine to shop for supplies. What’s on the list? Bondo, sandpaper, steel wool, metal polish, teak stain, lines for the running rigging, cable for het standing rigging, three colors of marine paint, and a special tool designed to crimp the cable to assure that it held the mast up properly. And a pirate pennant.

Six hours and three hundred dollars later I was back in the basement. Ready to restore. The teak was easy to sand down and refinish. I polished the brass bolts and wing nuts on the tiller. Stainless steel screw heads along the top of the hull were all polished up to a bright shine. And I polished up the thirty pound steel dagger board. Check. Check. Check. Now for the hull and standing rigging.

Classic car enthusiasts prefer original parts. And real metal. I was working with a fiberglass hull so I decided Bondo would be OK to fill cracks and scratches and dent and dings. It was all getting painted anyway.

Bondo. Sand. Bondo. Sand. When I was satisfied that the entire hull was as smooth as glass I was ready to paint. The hull would be royal blue. The deck a cream color. And the splash rail a bright red. And inside the cockpit I was planning on some sort of arrow design.

Since the hull was resting upright on the sawhorses I painted that first. Three coats. With a brush. And not a single brushstroke showing. Took a week.   Then I hit the splash rail with a couple of coats of red. Just a splash of color! Ha-ha.

Enlisting some help from my daughter, we very carefully flipped the hull over and set the deck side down on now padded sawhorses. No scratching!!!

And then the blue. Five coats of it. With a brush. Long strokes. And nary a brush mark. It looked brand new. Fabulous.

Flipped over again I taped of an arrow on the floor of the cockpit and painted it blue. Pointing forward. Thataway to the finish line!

It was ready to go back outside to have the mast set. New halyards port and starboard. And then a new forestay. That one had to be custom measured. Add the rudder, tiller, dagger board, and boom and viola!, we have a sailboat.

I had the sails. Once the battens were slipped into their pockets I could hoist the sails. And the pirate pennant. All in my backyard. I took lots of pictures. And then I sold it.

I had sanded, bonded, sanded more, stained and painted. And on the floor of the basement was that blob of blue paint I had spilled. It would stay there forever as a reminder to me of the sailboat I had reborn.

Of course the new owners of the house would have no idea what it was. And would probably never guess that a boat had been there. But I know. And now I’m looking for another boat to restore.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Museum

My father and I have always been on separate pages. His was math and science, mine was history and art. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a brilliant man. A real rocket scientist who is responsible for a great deal of the technology that we take for granted today. And I , well, I’m different from all that.

He had great plans for me. And spent a great deal of time telling me what they were and how I could achieve them. What a letdown I was. At one point he was convinced that I was, in his words in the 1970’s, retarded. Until he had me take an IQ test. Same as his.

I tried. Really I did. A doctor. Sure, I can do it. Not. Lawyer, scientist, architect, same thing.   Even the business world was a little challenging with micro and macro economics, statistics and accounting. Yes, it makes sense, but only if you don’t ask questions. And I’m full of questions.

So, with great trepidation I entered the field of anthropology. Trepidation because as a college student I was certain that my financial stream would be dammed up. But he allowed it, only because my mother was an artist. She convinced him that anthropology was not totally worthless.

It’s always been like that between he and I. I’m a disappointment and have never lived up to his dreams. For the longest time I busted my ass to either satisfy, or surpass him. But somehow he was always better.

I published a book. But he had always written a journal and poetry and if only I did this like him I would be a better writer. I ran marathons. He ran to work as a young man and if only I would extend my legs a little further I could be an Olympian. Never. It even went so far as I had debilitating back pain caused by structural damage (too much damn running). Surgically repaired twice, but not corrected. But at age 93 he had back pain too. Much worse than mine. Give me a break!!!

So it was with extreme nervousness that I prepared myself for a visit from him. I go north to see him probably twice a year. I combine this visit with an antique shopping adventure through the Carolinas and Virginia. But he hasn’t come to see me since, well, I don’t remember.

He was coming to see my new home. My new home in the country. Would it match up to the place he had lived in for thirty eight years? I didn’t care. This was my house and I like it.

What did make me nervous though was my man-cave. I call it infinity. It’s full of the things that I love. Like mid century modern furniture. Asian art. Nautical artifacts. And no TV. It’s a real fantasy land.

I decided I would just show it to him and hope for the best.   I was surprised.

In this space he found things that he recognized from his own past. Sculptures he had created. Items that he and my mother had collected. Things he had never seen before that the thought were his. Some things never change.

But the thing was that he was very impressed. He loved it and spent quite a while in there looking at everything.

The biggest surprise was yet to come. He called me up one day and asked if I had any pictures from my infinity. I said no, but I could take some. What came next blew my mind.

He wanted the pictures. He said that the items housed in my man cave were museum quality. Wow!! Museum quality.

My mother worked in an art museum. I had studied at the Smithsonian. Surely my little stuff was not equal to that. But he’s a smart guy. And had learned a lot from my mother. And the stuff I have collected is good stuff. Ok. My man-cave is a museum – the Alexander museum of decorative arts.

I thought about this for a few moments and decided that if he wanted a few pictures, I would do him one better. Not just a few pictures, but a museum exhibit catalog. With me as curator. Dream come true!!!

Thus, the book was born. Thirty six pages with over one hundred photos of the items I keep at Infinity. The collection is ever changing but as of today, this is a sample. And I’ll give it to him so that he can remember history as he does.

It’s my museum. I love it. And it changes as I see fit. Museum quality. You said it dude, and you know you are always right!!!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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