Story Collecting

Collecting stories is second nature for writers. We like to make up our own, but when we hear interesting tidbits from other people, it’s very difficult to not stop and ask them to divulge the whole story to us. At least, that’s the way it is for me.

Today, my beloved and I went on a lovely excursion we fondly refer to as “yard (or garage) sale-ing.” That’s where we hop into the car and drive around looking for signs telling us that some folks are divesting themselves of some unwanted junk and we should go check it out.

Because we don’t have enough crap underfoot at home, right?

Actually, this particular Saturday we were looking for specific items. We’re planning on planting a vegetable garden this year, but she wants to do it in containers. I’m not exactly sure why, or how, we’re going to do it, but she is determined that’s what we’ll be doing this summer.

The first place we found was a treasure trove, but not of stuff, of memories and stories. We walked into the house (the owner had died and her children were selling off the items no one wanted) and I could sense the memories. It was a classic 1960’s house in pristine condition. My first stop was at the tiny table in the kitchen where carefully pressed linen handkerchiefs had been set out. After examining them carefully, I picked out my favorites and left the rest. I also managed to score a cookbook that is a favorite of mine. The new ones don’t have all the good old recipes in them, so finding a vintage copy is like finding gold.

We wandered through the rest of the house, awestruck by the emptiness that the remaining items could not fill. When it was time to pay for our selections, the lady was pleased that someone liked the linen kerchiefs. “I chose my favorites before I set these out,” she said. “My mother never used them, in fact, I don’t think she ever took them out of the drawer. She preferred kleenex because she didn’t want to ruin her ‘good’ ones.”

I nodded. “My grandmother would often bring out her favorite ‘hankies,’ showing them to my cousins and I and telling us all about when she got them or who stitched the design on them. When she died, my cousins took them all. I’m buying these because they remind me of those times.” I think the lady was happy that they were going to someone who understood the importance of such things. It was the same with the cookbook. It turned out her mother had the same one my mother gave me. We talked about notes in the margins and how reading them made us feel closer to our loved ones again.

When I left, I felt… filled. Sharing stories is like that, filling, and not just of the mind, but of the heart as well. As we continued our journey, I found myself drawn to items that may have had a story connected to it. We really hit the jackpot at one of the last places we went. The lovely lady running it was… lonely, at least it seemed that way. She chatted with her customers (though there weren’t that many, unfortunately) but she had some marvelous items for sale.

And every item had a story.

My beloved purchased a Thailand parasol that the lady had purchased in the Golden Triangle from one of the hill tribes. I found two beautiful bead necklaces from Mexico that she had purchased many years ago. She had worked for a local sporting goods company, traveling the world, finding suppliers of fine outdoor gear. She stomped through jungles, talked to locals, and toured places that are no longer accessible to many non-military personnel. Every item had a story. Even the mundane dishes that her son took with him to college had a story. I thought about buying them for when my own son moves into his own place, but I decided to wait. She was disappointed but understanding.

I wanted to take her home with me so she could tell me stories all the time. But I have another idea. I remember where she lives (even though I don’t have her address). She said we were her favorite customers of the day and she would love to go sale-ing with us.

I just may take her up on that. I’ll provide the transportation if she’ll provide the stories.


About Ms. Karen

This is what happens when you live with a writer: there are pens everywhere, except by the phone; many notebooks with strange scribblings that make no sense but must never be thrown away; and long rambling monologues about what certain characters would, or would not do in a given situation. It's almost as difficult as living with an artist. Man, THOSE people are bizarre...
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3 Responses to Story Collecting

  1. daoine says:

    Oh how awesome! I need to get out and meet some interesting people…


  2. Selma says:

    The story of the handkerchiefs really got to me because my Aunt always carried the most beautiful linen handkerchiefs with her wherever she went. I associated those hankies with the things an elegant lady did, but as well as that every one of them had a story attached to it. When my Aunt died I asked my cousin if I could have one of the hankies, but sadly, they had been thrown away. I was so upset. I will never forget those handkerchiefs. Thank you for reviving my memories, Karen!


  3. Patti says:

    While there are wonderful stories to be found in every writer’s life, there’s that whole ” familiarity breeds contempt” thing. For me, the greatest inspiration comes from other people’s strories. It never occurred to that yard/garage sales could be such a wonderful source. This is the season. I’m anxious to get out there now. Thanks for the idea!


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