Not too much today - wife & child come back tonight, and it’s a column night. So today we have leftovers, and . . . leftovers. Saturday night I wrote this:

Sometimes a trip to an antique store makes you feel like a vulture. Most items have been scrubbed of their previous owner’s identity. Oh, there might be a signature in a book, or an address label on the magazine, but those don’t count; the more explicit the proof of a previous owner, the less it seems to matter. It’s the items that give off a strange & potent aura that make you pause; you can almost feel someone’s Grandma reaching from beyond the grave, warding you off. I saw this stupid ugly ceramic wedge of cheese - I’ve no idea what purpose it served. Certainly not cheese-containment. It had a smiley face, garish colors, a bright glaze - 40s or 50s kitsch. Unremarkable. But it just looked so alone, so out of place, and you couldn’t help but reconstruct its uneventful life: woman buys object, puts it on shelf where it looks down on the family for 20 years. It’s as much a part of the domestic landscape as that picture in the parent’s bedroom or the books on the living room shelf. The kids grow up, move away; Mom dies, and the kids go through her stuff. No one wants the smiling ceramic cheese wedge. Frankly, it gave them the creeps.

So now it sits in the basement of the Antique Loft, grinning with idiot cheer at everyone who comes down the creaky steps. The carrion of a hundred sundered lives are heaped in these rooms! it says. Feast, you ghoul!

Maybe this is why I collect paper - money, postcards, magazines, newspapers. It’s mass-marketed, mass-produced; it has no specific history. Books are different - I see a stack of 50s or 60s children books and I get this twinge of regret. Each book is a remainder of a unremarkable moment now made precious by the passage of time. Kids are grown, parents are gone, house is sold, dog’s dead. All that’s left is this book. It was an ordinary part of a place stuffed with thousands of objects, all of which cohered to form a home, and the people who bound those objects together have abandoned them, snipped the strings and cast them adrift.

Oh great, say the clerks when I enter. It’s Mr. Weepy.

I don’t know why this stuff makes me sad, and I don’t proclaim that this makes me some Noble & Sensitive Soul - I think I’d be better off being moved by things that actually matter, as opposed to the half-life of ephemera. But:

I found a scrapbook made by a women in the 40s and 50s, a big crumbling book of cards. Every card that had ever been sent, she kept. Wedding congrats, birth congrats, all glued to the page with a notation - who sent it, what they gave. As a record of everyday commercial art, it was remarkable, but as a record of a life it was fascinating and sad. So much work; so many stories, so many people whose sole appearance in 2003 might just be this card buried in the middle of a book in an antique store basement. Who would sell such a thing? What happened with this family that someone looked at this volume and thought: trash. Junk. No - money!

I had to buy it - only $25. I’d plunder it for the clipart, if nothing else. But then I realized that it had to stay together - ripping out the pages would be wrong. It had to stay intact - and what’s more, it had to be preserved. It was almost falling apart; cracking the spine to put it on the scanner bed would ruin it. I put it back. This would be a wasted trip, it seemed -

And then. I saw it.

I’ve blathered now and then about the small details we lose, the flavors and hue and scents and tastes of daily life that rarely get recorded. There’s so much to remember, and so much of it seems so ordinary we don’t think to comment on it. Who thinks the change of font on a gum wrapper is crucial? T’ain’t. But it’s these innumerable eighth-notes that make up the melody of your time, and while you might recall the outlines of the tune after 20 years you’re hard-pressed to remember all the notes. So imagine my reaction when I saw, on the shelf a Montgomery Ward catalog. From 1935. Perfect condition - all the colors were vivid as the day they were printed, which means this thing will be an excellent guide to what things looked like. After all, the number of color photos from 1935 isn’t exactly in the millions.

Oh, yes, I bought it. Also a 1978 Ice Capades program, three fruit labels, two 1950s Women’s Day, a pack of 1964 World’s Fair flashcards, and some other stuff which will be appearing here in years to come. But today we have something submitted by a reader - the Family Circle collection, volume MEAT. It’s a Gallery addition, and brother: it’s almost viciously ugly. Enjoy!
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