Last week I sat down to write my weekly column about a visit to a thrift store and wondered if describing it as ‘an upscale thrift store’ would be considered oxymoronic. I never came to any conclusion but decided to use it anyway, figuring that this would not be the first time I had offended someone’s grammar sensibilities.
Susie and I went to the store looking for bargains and I did find one; a leather jacket that makes me look a little bit like an elderly Alan Ladd.
At the store, I was also fascinated by the wide array of baubles which puzzled me since I have never had even the slightest interest in any of that stuff. I took a lot of pictures, deciding then that i would use my column to reflect on what a life devoid of knick-knacks is like but then I got side-tracked as I often do anymore.
I had no more than gotten into the piece and was searching for the right word to describe this stuff when I found myself reflecting on what the differences might be in knick-knacks and Bric-a-brac. After consulting my internet sources which described both as useless objects, I came to the conclusion that there is no difference other than the fact that knick-knacks are featured in a children’s nursery rhyme that contains several verses beginning with this one:
This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.
As a child, I used to wonder if there was any connection to the afore-mentioned old man who came rolling home and the little pig who went ‘we-we-we-we- all the way home. If there is, I never came across it although I was intrigued by nursery rhyme writers who were interested in ways of arriving at home. None of this speculation made it into my column -I didn’t want my readers to think me weird.
I have been spending a lot of time recently reflecting on the life I have led thus far. I suppose it’s because I have a birthday coming up shortly, one that will mark my 75th year on this planet. All that reflecting has left me with the conclusion that, aside from meeting Susie, growing up in a small town in Southern Indiana was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Oh, I know there were times when I was dissatisfied with my laid back life in Loogootee, Indiana where time seemed to move at about a quarter of the speed that it does now. Sometimes, in the evenings, sitting on the porch of our home on Dewey Street studying the stars, I dreamed of having been born the son of a St Louis Cardinal baseball player or a Chicago railroad engineer or a fishing boat captain who plied his trade in the Gulf of Mexico waters around Apalachicola, Florida. I even wished that I could have been a close relative of a bar and grill owner in some Polish or Hungarian Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania neighborhood. Also, even though I now wonder why I would have ever wanted this, I have to confess that at one time I was jealous of some cousins of mine who lived in the hustle and bustle of Gary, Indiana with its plethora of pawn shops, stop lights and interesting characters leaning against the corners of downtown buildings.
By and large however, I was happy as a child even though I grew up in less than stellar surroundings. I won’t say I didn’t know we were of modest means; other than ours, very few homes in our neighborhood had outhouses in the back yard or coal piles outside the back door to ward off the winter cold. I suppose that today, folks who live in circumstances such as what we grew up in are considered underprivileged but I would never describe my early life using a word such as that. Even had I wanted too, I doubt that the word had even been invented in 1946.
I cannot envision having a better childhood anywhere although it is correct to say that I wasn’t always crazy about the times when we chose up sides for our baseball games on the field behind John Graves’ house and my name was called after Mary Beth’s, the girl across the street. I will say that can finally admit that she had a better arm than I did. I tell you these things not because of some recently discovered sense of ‘woe is me’. Instead, what I set out to tell you today is this; I made a startling discovery while going through the ‘lot of time reflecting on my life’ I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
It all came about a few days ago when my wife Susie and I were patrolling the numerous upscale Thrift shops in the area of Southwest Florida where we are waiting out the cold weather in Indiana. I watched as Susie paraded through the aisles, picking up objects and examining them with all the thoroughness of a Los Angeles Coroner performing a post-mortem autopsy on an unfortunate murder victim.
Susie could do this all day if we had the time. I used to pester her about ‘hurrying up a little’ but I am growing to learn that I am better off just keeping my mouth shut while she goes through this exercise. I am learning the art of patience while also trying to figure out what exactly is so interesting in these hundreds of used items lining the shelves of these places.
I stood in front of a brightly lighted glass cabinet studying the small curios, trinkets , baubles and other worthless objects lining the shelves within and that is when I made the aforementioned ‘startling discovery’.
“Good Lord, I am standing in the middle of knick-knack, bric-a-brac Heaven.” I mumbled to myself, looking around to see if anyone heard me. Decorated teacups, wax flowers, wind-up music boxes, glass bells, small vases, intricately carved salt and pepper shakers, rightly painted German beer steins, tiny elaborate jewelry boxes and even compositions of bird feathers clung to the glass shelves of the glass cabinets.
As I stood there staring, it hit me that these things were never a part of my life and I didn’t even know it. There’s no way my widowed mother , bless her heart, could never have afforded any of that fancy stuff. About the only things of this nature that we had was a framed picture of FDR and a bowl full of book matches bearing the logo of Nippie’s pool room, the Diamond Café, Burch’s Garage and the Southside tavern.
This realization has been traumatic for me. Even though I now consider myself a suave and debonair individual, I have come to understand that, among all these items, I have no idea what constitutes knick-knacks and what might be classified as Bric-a-Brac. And what’s even worse, by not having these things in my childhood, I have concluded that I may have led an underprivileged life after all.
Sweet mother of Pearl, Woe is me.