MyStoryYourStory: Thrift store: Stories don’t begin here

You might think thrift stores are a final resting place – a "this and that" graveyard where intriguing histories colorfully intertwine.

They're not.

Amid the clutter are remnants of lives that once stepped and strutted proudly in percale shirtwaist dresses or plaid polyester suits, catalogued by gender, size and use.

Like that wedding dress.

When I survey its tiny waistline, I wonder if everyone marveled at how she squeezed her well-endowed frame into it. And her father? Did his lips quiver and eyes water, telegraphing his grief over the beginning of an end?

Ever noticed how thrift stores are stocked mostly with what women leave behind?

There's an aggregate of kitchen utensils, dinnerware, pots, pans, cookbooks, dresses, skirts, shoes, more shoes, vases, teapots, planters, picture frames, knitting needles, yarn, blouses, baby clothes, purses, wallets, greeting cards, sewing patterns, holiday decorations and more.

Of course, there's men's stuff, too, just not as much. In a small section quarantined in the back corner, you will find neckties, a pair of shiny black wingtips, a camouflage hunting vest, steel-toed work boots, some indigo bib overalls, a bunch of worn-out t-shirts and a set of antiquated golf clubs.

Not sure what this says about the differences between men and women.

No other place tells as many unsung stories. Like a second-hand tower of babble, the ever so many tales, divisive and peaceable alike, crowd on warping pine shelves, drooping metal hangers and pegboards galore.

No matter whom she was – I can't imagine what story started with this maroon Western shirt with polka-dot sequins and a scalloped yoke. Maybe it began on the day of her first pony ride. Or perhaps at age 13, when her career as a trick pony rider got off to a galloping start.

As sure as I'm standing here thumbing through a stack of dingy white crocheted doilies, I know most young people would be hard pressed to define what a doily is, let alone pronounce it. Few use doilies these days.

I do crochet and know the time it takes looping and lacing just one row. Fingering this handiwork, I relate to the hours of wielding short metal crochet hooks, like batons with an umbilical connection to a ball of string. When I try picturing her, all I see is an image of me.

I suppose she didn't have to look down, as hands gave sight to lacy table cloths, skirt trims, bedspreads and pillow covers.

I'll bet the crocheted mittens and hat piled onto of a stack of children's winter wear was her handiwork, too.

This isn't where his story begins, but it's where his life is petrified in that lone pair of timeworn cowboy boots. Formerly pointed toes are now curled and dried from disuse. I imagine the leather folds in these old boots matched creases carved in his hands, neck and forehead from decades of wrestling cattle, operating combines and repairing windrowers.

My imagination quickens among all the clutter.

Was this set of Franciscan Ware from her first marriage? I suppose the Melmac set was be from her second. And the crusty electric can opener from a third and final one? Was she an eternal optimist, thinking, this time will be different? Never was.

Second-hand stores are not where untold tales are birthed but where they are organized.

Inside, you'll find volumes, not of historical facts, but anthologies of family feuds won and lost, parties planned and crashed, wedding and baby showers, births and deaths.

A vast tapestry heralding an iconic patriotic glamour of the very ordinary: plastic kitchen curtains still in their original packaging, leftover swatches from reupholstering living room furniture, quilting squares, salt and pepper shakers from Niagara Falls, an ashtray from Pike's Peak, tattered luggage, dog-eared school books and gently used bridesmaid's pumps.

Yes, thrift stores are like libraries of our bland and uninteresting ways.

Catalogued and bound by fully lived lives.

Some stand at attention.

Others slouch.

All waiting to be checked out.

And, at some later time and place down the road, to be returned.

2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email  boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

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