One of the questions that writers are always asked is "Where do you get your ideas?" For the TNHG, this is easy to answer. Where history lies, so do our ideas, scattered so thick that sometimes we have to watch where we walk.
Which is not to say that our inspiration comes only from the mustiest of tomes, or even in museums or via the internet. Sometimes it appears in far more humble places, like a flea market.
Last month at the weekly flea market in Sandwich, MA, I was poking about the boxes on the grass, hunting through the cheapie jewelery. I have a weakness for gaudy Bakelite bangles, and One never knows what One might find. As I looked, a vendor dropped another box beside the cartons of jools, a large flat box filled with...feathers.
It was a sales rep's sample box from the first decade or so of the 20th century. I suppose it was meant to entice milliners, for the feathers had all been fashioned into little cockades and curled bunches and pretend roses. Sadly, most had disintegrated over time, rootless quills and barbs and drifting scraps of down. But what amazed me was how, a hundred years later, the ones that survived still wore their original tags, pinked edges and gold borders pinned in place and waiting to be filled out with a customer's order.
I looked, and touched, and thought of who might have sold them, who might have bought them, and what circuitous circumstances had brought them to my feet in the grass. Why hadn't the samples ever been used? What had become of the rep? Had he (or she) quit the business, eloped, won the Irish Sweepstakes, or been run over by a horse-drawn streetcar? Or had the box been bought by a single milliner who intended them for hats she'd never made? Oh, Dear Readers, the melancholy shades of doomed Lilly Bart!
"I'll make a deal for the whole box, if you want it," the vendor said. "End of summer, y'know."
The whole box was somehow too much. I took only one, this beautiful curling black feather, with two more at the base. Cost me a dollar.
But you can't put a price on what I got with it.
1610 "Newes from Virginia" by Richard Rich
2 years ago