Needful Things

Needful Things by Mary Anne Worrell

Antique shops are the storehouses of discovery. Stuffed into corners, cupboards and racks, the discards of others become the intrigues of the plunderers. Such is the attraction and exchange of what is commonly known as “antique shops”. They offer the curious a chance to remember a childhood toy or Grandma’s corn bread baked in her cast iron skillet. For others, it’s a chance to discover there was a thing called a record player or a man named Elvis that rocked and rolled the world of music.

Every shop is different. Some, like those on King Street in Charleston, SC, are high brow. Fine mahogany dining tables with embroidered chairs fill the showroom. Silver tea sets, bone china and crystal vases cover the lace draped dark wood. Each piece has a story to tell, a life flavored with elegance, wealth and perhaps even celebrity. These things do not require tweaking, touch up or paint. These are estate pieces. They are pristine in their own right, and priced to validate their history.

But there is another breed of “antique shop” such as the one I found in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC that holds a more blue collar flair. Here, in the old warehouse, are the things of my grandmother’s kitchen and the gadgets and gizmo’s of my childhood. The search among the clutter often yields a gem, a nugget of yesteryear and I’m six again, sitting in my Nana’s kitchen as she tells me how to make the best cake in the world, dropping a fistful of this and a pinch of that into a camel colored clay bowl nestled on her lap.

Sometimes, things remind you of things learned. Like the rack of cast iron skillets. You never wash them Nana would say, and Grandpa just wiped them clean with a page from the Boston Herald. If you plunder long enough, you’re bound to stumble on a pleasant flashback. I found a Dutch girl sugar bowl and creamer that matched a salt and pepper shaker set my Mom has – there was a tiny chip in the creamer – but I bought the set because it brought back a warm and fuzzy feel good moment. The set cost $56. It was money well spent despite the chip.

Plundering makes me creative. Who owned the old brown suitcase with the broken lock? Where had it been? What did those amber bottles hold? Elixirs? Moonshine? Who would buy a large bust of Elvis in the first place? All kinds of great stories are tucked away in antique shops and I found myself attaching people to the things that were strewn throughout the warehouse. It was hard not too.

Antique shops always vary. Some, like those in historic cities like Charleston, smell good, have suggestive presentation, associate assistance, shipping and financing to help you get what someone else didn’t want. Others, like those housed in converted warehouses, boast what has been stashed away in attics, garages and basements. They need tweaking, a sanding down or a new coat of paint. These shops smell musty, are overstuffed and unorganized, make you sneeze, are self service and you carry it out the door.

Regardless of your preference, antique shops are the keepers of used things, the collectors of memories and the stewards of the past. They are places of exchange. They sell what others are done with. And you buy what you wish you had back.