Every year since my now thirty-something daughter was about twelve years old, she and I and an assortment of friends have spent the Friday before Father’s Day in Walnut, Iowa, at the annual flea market there. We do our best to get there as soon as vendors are open to do business, and we stay until they begin to fold up their tents (almost literally, sometimes). I’ve never worn a pedometer, but my aching knees and feet are testimony to the fact that the day includes a few miles of walking, punctuated by a pause to eat lunch at the Methodist Church lunch tent—and pie. Gooseberry, if I’m lucky.
Then, on the drive home, we stop for a meal and share “war stories” from the day of haggling and treasure-hunting. And of course we have a grown-up version of “show and tell.” Over the years, I’ve brought home quilts, quilt blocks, feed sacks, silver charms, stereoscope cards (I love to find ones of places in Europe I’ve visited), and my personal favorite—characters for my novels in the guise of those old sepia toned photographs.
The silver charms were a passion of my daughter’s childhood. Other phases have included windows from old houses, architectural finials and corbels, and … vintage suit cases. Books are a perennial favorite. This year I changed my mind on a beautiful volume titled The Life and Times of D.L. Moody. The reason I didn’t buy it was that it was $2 until I handed over the money … and then the dealer showed me the “real” price … $50. I don’t mind a mark-up, but that seemed a bit much. And I gotta admit I was disappointed that the dealer hadn’t bothered to erase her purchase price before indicating her own price on another page. Sigh. I’ll read about Moody another way.
I think that one of the reasons I love “old stuff,” though, is the connection it provides to women from the past. And this year I made a connection that I’ll treasure for many years to come. I bought a weed. Sewing machine. I was attracted to the machine—at the back of a vendor’s spot on the street—because of the simplicity of the design. When I got closer, I realized that once it was “put away,” the machine would look like an end table. The cabinet is lovely, the foot pedals intricately formed. And it works.
But the best thing about the machine was the fragments of 19th century calico in the tool bin … the attachments … the “1871” pressed into the cabinet … and the fact that the dealer had the original manual. It’s a “Family Favorite” model. The manual was copyrighted in 1875, and some of the parts have patent dates as early as 1856. I’m fascinated. I’ve already ‘sprung’ for a page from an 1868 NY City Directory advertising this machine. And a trade card. Both for sale on ebay. I’ve talked to treadle machine enthusiasts and learned that my “weed” was made in Hartford, Connecticut.
The machine works. And now it’s sitting to the left of my desk where I can wonder about all the women who’ve made work shirts and dresses and aprons and … maybe … quilts seated at this machine. And I’m already looking forward to next year’s caravan to 2013 edition of the Walnut, Iowa, flea market.
Memories for sale … and memories made. Fun time with my girls. Priceless.