Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Junkin' Memories: Family Ties

Finally, the long-awaited first segment in my Junkin' Memories series!

In some ways, it's my family's fault that I am a junker.  They weren't really junkers, but I gathered a lot of the ingredients that make a good junker from them.  And, while they didn't exactly encourage me to grow up and become a vendor in an indoor flea market set-up, they certainly provided me with more than enough inspiration.

To begin with, I was very close with both my grandparents and great-grandparents as a kid, so I saw and heard a lot about the ways things used to be done.  My grandmother would open up the attic sometimes and I would sit up there and look through the boxes of old stuff.  I remember reading some of the comics and kids' books that belong to my mother and uncles.  When I was taking Algebra in middle school, my grandmother brought down her Algebra textbook to show me.

One of the real treasures at my grandparents' house was the box of family photos that was kept in a closet in the bathroom.   Why the bathroom?  I have no idea, but that's where they were.  Every so often, the box would come out and we would look through them and listen to my mom and grandparents name off the people and share stories.  I've got a lot of those photos now.  When I look at them, I wish I had listened closer and tried to remember more.

My mom was the one who really taught me to respect what the older generations had to give, especially the stories.  A lot of the family mementos that are now in my possession came down through her.  She taught me to love and value things with history in them and save them to pass on.  When we bought our house, she gave me a few of the old Christmas decorations that used to be hers when she was a kid.  And every year after that, I got some kind of family item as a present:  an old spoon from one of my father's mess kits, two settings of my grandmother's china, my grandmother's tablecloth.

Interestingly enough, it was also my mother who traumatized me in a way by getting rid of a lot of my childhood stuff when I was younger.  As an Army family, we moved a lot and it seems like a lot of the stuff that we got rid of each move was mine and my brother's!  I know I rebuilt my comic book collection at least three times.  (Although, to her credit, when I went to college, she held on to the whole thing until I had a place of my own to put it in.  And that was through three or four more moves.)   The worst one, and one that she said she later regretted, was getting rid of Beartrack, my child hood Teddy.  I had loved all the fuzz and both eyes off him and my grandmother recovered him with washcloths and gave him new button eyes.  He didn't make it back from Germany.  Mom said I was going on fourth grade and too old for a Teddy Bear, so out he went.

I think somehow both sides of my mother imprinted on me and affect me as a junker.  I know the impact things can have on people and I also understand people who search and search for that lost childhood treasure.  My mother was also the one who introduced me to the local flea market.  (More on that in another post.)

It was my dad, however, who broadened my junking horizons without realizing it.  I had a really strained relationship with him after my parents split.  He had been stationed away from the family the last three years of his time in the Army, so when he retired and came home, he was a virtual stranger.  My folks divorced soon after, and he didn't handle it well.  Frankly, neither did I.  I was already 15 at the time, living in small town Kentucky, and feeling the urges of same-sex attraction beginning and unable to talk to anyone about it.  In short, I was isolated and confused.  My parents' divorce isolated me from my church group, which was my primary peer support at that time.  My own feelings cut me off from myself.  And I pretty much took it out on my dad.

Visiting Dad became about shopping.  He would take me anywhere and buy me just about anything in order to spend time with me and maybe get me to open up.  And I took advantage of that.  Yes, I was a brat.  Totally.  I didn't know how else to be.  I was young and hurting and totally unable to express it.  So on one visit, he said a fateful sentence to me, one that was to open me up to a whole avenue of shopping heretofore unknown to me:  thrifting!   "Ever been to the DAV?" he asked.  I'd never even heard of it.  And, wham!  My life changed!

Old books!  Old comics!  Dishes! Clothes! Furniture!  Strange items!  You could find it all in a thrift.  My wardrobe and library grew.  And my love for thrifting has never gone away.  It's amazing what a dollar or two will get you.

Perhaps the biggest family influence on me these days is my Uncle Mike.  He's Mom's youngest brother and was a teenager when I was born, so we share a lot of the same memories about things.  He's lived across the river in Indiana for years, but we didn't see each other much.  Until Mom got sick, that is.  One of the positive things to come out of her illness and death was reconnecting with Mike.  Mom had always intended for us to be close.  I'm named after him.  (My first name is Michael, if you did not know.)

He's been a serious junker for several years--eBay, live auctions, booths, and flea markets.  He's kind of my idol in that regard.  I'd love to be able to make a go of it like he's doing.  We get together and go junking at least once a week, and I learn so much about stuff from him.  He gives me the unvarnishd truth, rather than the BS you get from a lot of junkers.  He knows what I like to sell and keeps an eye out for stuff for me.  I do the same for him.  It's a lot of fun and I look forward to spending time with him.

I didn't start my booth because of him.  We weren't really spending time together then.  I did my first one on a lark.  Still, it was kind of a thrill when Mom told me he had checked my space out and thought I was doing okay there.  When the place he was in closed down, he moved over to the mall where I am.

Junking certainly isn't a family tradition, by any means.  My mother never even got to see either of my booth spaces.  But a whole bunch of other little influences and incidents added up to steer me on to the junking path, for sure.


Roger Owen Green said...

I was interested in your relationship with your father. Maybe you DID become a junkie, I mean junker, because of your dad, just like Obama took up basketball because of HIS mostly absent father.

EM said...

I think I can probably trace other things, like my reading and writing habits, especially comic books to that relationship, Roger. Junking really developed for me later in life.