Vickie Fee

Priceless Junk

It’s that time of year when “yard sale” and “garage sale” signs are a common sight. One man’s junk is another’s treasure, and I’ve bought my share of both junk and treasure over the years. We all have knickknacks and odd items scattered in our homes, neither beautiful nor particularly useful, which guests could never guess the true value of.

BowlMy brother bought this cut-glass bowl on a pedestal at a neighbor’s garage sale when he was five or six years old. He bought, with his own money, some little trinket for each of us—Mama, Daddy, my sister, and me—even though no one told him he had to. There were many days growing up when I would have gladly sold my younger brother and sister to gypsies for a nickel. But this memento of my (sometimes) sweet baby brother currently sits on my dresser.

Ship

This tattered ship’s model of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria sits on the front edge of a bookshelf crammed full of books. My grandma Josie won it for having the biggest catch of the day on a deep-sea fishing excursion in Florida. I remember it holding pride of place on a shelf in her living room. As far as I know it was the only prize she ever won. She was a kind, but quiet woman, who taught me how to float on my back in the swimming pool and to plunge my face underwater without being afraid of drowning. She and her sister, my Aunt Della Mae, taught me how to play gin rummy—and let me win. There’s a scene in Death Crashes the Party where a little girl races ahead to the duck pond in Liv’s trailer park as a grandmotherly figure trails behind her, carrying a Wonder Bread bag with stale bread bits to feed the ducks. That little girl was me!

PipeThis pipe, cracked and held together with tape, belonged to my father. He gave up smoking, thankfully, many years before he passed away. But as a child, I remember him standing on our porch in the evenings, smoke rising in puffs from his pipe. The aroma of some of the tobacco varieties he smoked were intoxicating to me, with woodsy scents and notes of cherry. Someday, I plan to encase the pipe and other small mementoes of my dad’s in a shadow box for display. It’s eleven years since he died, and I still can’t bring out these items without breaking down sobbing. So, they reside in a box on a closet shelf. But whenever I need to feel close to Daddy, I tightly clutch this pipe through which his breath has passed.

At a yard sale, these family artifacts would probably fetch less than a dollar. But for me, they’re priceless.

Do you have any items in your home that are not necessarily expensive, but of great sentimental value to you?  Or have you bought something at a garage sale that you’ve always wondered about the story behind it?

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30 thoughts on “Priceless Junk

  1. I am probably the least sentimental person in the world, but I do have a small ceramic painted vase/jug. The handle is glued together, and the bottom says “Made in Japan” in a handwritten script. According to my mom, the vase/jug was left behind in the first house her and my father bought in the 1950s. When my mom was ready to give it to the thrift shop, I begged her for it! I still have it in my dining room, one of the few things I have kept over my many moves. And yes, it is probably worth less than $10.

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    • It’s worth much more than $10, Judy — other people just don’t know it! When I see a glued-together item on display at a friend’s house, I know it must be special to them and wonder about its story. 🙂

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  2. I have a very distinct memory of my mother running a garage sale and trying to sell my battered “Henry” dog for a quarter. I saw a little kid with it and traded for a different stuffed animal. Then I took Henry to my room. “His nose is off and you’re too old for him. I can’t believe you did that,” my mother said. She just didn’t get it.

    Henry now occupies a seat in our den. I still can’t part with him.

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    • Liz, I’m so glad you rescued Henry — no one could have loved him as much as you! I’m still sad that my Chatty Cathy disappeared at some point, even if she was missing a big plug of hair at that point!

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  3. Love these stories! Your dad’s pipe reminded me of my dad’s. At one point he was missing a tooth and until it was replaced, when he shift the pipe in his mouth, it would hit that empty spot and fall into his lap. There’d be much cursing and extinguishing of embers.

    As to a special garage sale items, my parents had a house near Litchfield, CT for 36 years. Litchfield is a gorgeous town famous for its colonial homes. One summer, my mom and I went to a garage sale at one of the houses and I bought a colonial style wooden measuring up holder, the kind where metal cups and spoons dangle from hooks. That thing has traveled with me from college apartments to NY and LA apartments, and now holds a place of honor on our house counter. I’ve lost a couple of spoons along the way, but still have all the measuring cups. I used one this morning to measure out cereal!

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  4. I have used one particular bookmark for years. Not sure why I was so attached to it, but I gave it up in March. My niece gave me a piece of construction paper with a bit of curling ribbon in it as a homemade bookmark for no other reason than she wanted to do something for me for my birthday. I know it won’t last long, but I love it!

    (Sadly, I won’t be able to go back to my other bookmark when this one gives out. I lost it somehow about a month after I started using this one.)

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  5. My house is filled with stuff like that. I have art made by my grown daughters when they were in elementary school professionally framed and hanging visibly in the house. They say they’re embarrassed but I think not.

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  6. I think you’re right, Keenan. They may feign embarrassment about their early art, but we all love it when our mama’s proud of us no matter how old we are! And that’s always my favorite kind of art to see on display in a friend’s home — art of the heart!

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  7. Love all these sweet stories. Vickie, one of my chores as a kid was to dust my dad’s considerable pipe collection. One was a rearing stallion and one was a carved head with a flowing beard I thought might be God. My dad called him Old Charlie. I was brokenhearted when my mom sold them to some collector the minute my dad quit his pipe habit.

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    • Thanks, Lisa! I love the “God” pipe! I missed out on the dusting-the-pipe-collection chore! (My sister dusted and I vacuumed). My dad had some cool looking pipes, though I doubt collector worthy, which he got rid of when he quit smoking. The only reason I have this one is that it had been mixed in with a box of other stuff and forgotten!

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  8. I still have the baby doll my grandmother gave me for Christmas even though one leg melted off when it was stored in the attic. It was like a Betsy Wetsy doll. It was the last gift I received from her before she died. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken in out of the box it’s stored in and started to throw it away and just couldn’t do it. I think I was about 7 when she died. Many decades later I still have it. I also have the doll bunk beds my dad made for me about that same time.

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    • Oh, Diana, your one-legged baby doll and the tiny bunk beds your dad made are true treasures! Don’t ever let them go — and thank you for sharing!

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  9. I still have a computer printed card my daughter made for my birthday years ago, proudly displayed on the fridge.
    But my best stuff is hand me downs or flea market items I make up stories about and post on my blog when I fix them up.
    Like the burn on the credenza that had been covered by contact paper for decades. Think the 70s. I tell people it was a drug party gone bad. Fits the 70s, right?
    Or this thing I bought that the antique dealers had no clue what it was. With the notches and design, it looks like it was built as a liquor cabinet you could hide in a wall cavity during prohibition. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
    Or the book signed to George by Julia and Paul Child I got at an estate sale. I do have an uncle George….
    Still trying to figure out about the metal egg mailing box.

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    • Hestia, I love your stories about flea market finds! (We’re writers, making up stuff is what we do best, right?) And your daughter’s card is a true treasure! ❤

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      • And you know what else I like about those flea market/antique finds, Vickie? Seeing if I can find anything out about it.
        I have a metal pie storage box from the 40s. I found an ad for when it came out. It cost as much to ship it as it did to buy it!
        The poker table I have was made by the company who holds the patent for folding chairs.
        And the tube radio the antique dealer said was a working 50s radio? So wrong! It works, but it was made in two years, 1938 and 1939! How is that a 1950s radio? The paperwork for it is inhe radio.
        Detective work at its best.

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  10. For me, it’s more photos than anything else. Despite (or maybe b/c of) this digital age, I really cherish holding a photo in my hand. I also miss the excitement of not knowing how the pictures will turn out. Picking the developed film up from the store and reliving that time as you looked at them.

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  11. Vickie! Since I’ve been traveling I’m just now seeing this post, but what a great story! I love finding used treasures, from my vintage cowboy curtains to the hand painted motel sign in my living room. Thanks for sharing!

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