Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flea Market Find

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
IMG_3700 Susan reports:

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.


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thanks for taking us along on your adventure, Susan. Maybe it's not so for everyone, but it is the same for me: looking at bits and pieces of ephemera and 'leftovers' from time past does invite melancholy. But it's the good kind, ya know?

Well. Of course you do.

Vanessa Kelly said...

That feather is so pretty, and so sad all by its lonesome! I love hearing how other authors get their ideas. It encourages me to expand my own horizons and try to think outside the box.

Joanna Waugh said...

That's what I love most about "junking." The smallest treasures can tell us unimagined stories.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

You never do know what you'll find at the fleas. For us obsessed with the past, it's about as much fun as you can have for under $10.

And by "the past", I include the mirrored disco balls, Power Ranger lunch boxes, and eight-track tapes as well as milliner's samples. You know, the flea-market-past. Love it all.

Deb Marlowe said...

Don't you just love it when something rich and unexpected like that comes along and starts the synapses firing?

Feathers in a box=instant mental vacation and all the excitement that that implies! Awesome!

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