I have a love of antique shops; their dusty windows and creaking doors beckon me from the roadside whenever I travel. I cannot resist their hand painted signs that call out ‘Come in, we’re open!’ as I drive along. I have to stop. I have to go in. They are calling to me. I can hear the tinkle of the tarnished brass bell hanging above the door even before I turn the knob-the sound is that familiar.
The signs outside say ‘antique shop’, as they always do, but they rarely offer real antiques. They are more like junk shops, and honestly more of a shed than an actual shop, but the lure is the same. Before I know it my hand is on the knob and I am calling out ‘hello’ to some shopkeeper hidden by dust and drapes.
I am comforted the instant I walk in. It is an odd aromatherapy for me inside these shops-the odors surround me and I cannot help but smile, relax and take it all in. Cedar and leather, stale paper, and old book bindings, ink and mothballs. The combination makes me dizzy with reflection.
It takes barely a moment before I am back at my grandparent’s house in CT. The setting sun across the street is stretching through the bay window, and it has lit the formal room on fire. The crystal on the hunt board, the one that now sits in my dining room, cracks and fractures the light and makes it dance on the keyboard of the piano against the wall. The dust is floating like glitter in the air, so slowly it almost looks still. I can see into the living room and my grandfather is there in his chair. It is plaid, the colors of fall-browns, red and gold; worn in the places his bony body sits most, where his elbows rest on the arms. His side table is heavy with his drink and his ashtray and a tendril of smoke carelessly makes its way to the window beside. I can smell the salt of the olives in his martini and the Sound in his clothes. His hands stink of tobacco and fish, of ink and paint. He has drawn all morning at his drafting table, and then fished all afternoon out on his beloved boat.
I can see her too, my grandmother, around the corner sitting on the long floral sofa. It’s garish colors-orange, green, day glow pink, make me wonder if long ago they had bright parties here, entertained their friends and filled the house with laughter. I can smell her perfume, delicate and soft, lightly floral, mixed with a fine dusting of baby powder. I can see her wild gray hair and bright red lipstick. She is doing the crossword, her glasses resting on the end of her nose, tall glass of seltzer on cobbler’s bench she uses as a coffee table. It is sweating on an aluminum coaster, like the very set I place my hand on just then in the junk shop.
I laugh out loud and startle myself, and the shop owner. He looks at me like I am a tad off, and maybe I am. I can’t help it. A set of aluminum coasters! An aluminum tray etched with a floral pattern barely worn! The floral pattern that matches the one on the bowl I have carried with me since she passed. How funny! My eyes start to scan the rest of the shelf and find it littered with memories that make me long for them, make me wish I could be with them both one more time. The Corningware casserole dish, the wooden level and planer, the aluminum percolator, all right here… just as they were there in their modest home and musky garage.
In the corner of the shop is a small cedar chest and I cannot stop myself from opening it. I am not at all curious what is in it-I don’t even care. I want to smell it. I want to take it in. Its contents are of no concern to me, for when I close my eyes and breathe in the richness of the wood, all I can see is corner of the living room where my grandmother kept the ‘toys’. Toys to us, though I am sure not what my children would consider entertaining now. No, these treasures, often scavenged from thrift shops themselves, were books and games, crayons and puzzles. Paper dolls and dress up clothes. And in a cedar chest, just like this, were old rubber stamps and inkpads from my grandfathers office-the most coveted ‘toys’ of all. Hours we spent with playing with them, until the light was too dim to see in that little corner of the house.
How strange I must seem to the man behind the counter. I have bought nothing. I have been in here for 15 minutes, or has it been more, and I have done nothing but laugh and smile, touch and smell the wares he has. I have been visiting with the past, spending time with my memories. The aromas that waft in and out of my mind rock me like the tide and have calmed me. I am leaving empty-handed, but full of gifts nonetheless.
I wonder where my children will go to remember me. What place will they wander when they want to be close to me? Will they too walk into a vintage store or antique shop and remember me, smell me and feel me in the air? I hope so. I remember for a time being saddened that I had no place to visit, no place to feel close to my grandparents. Both of them were cremated, their ashes scattered in the waters they worshiped, and when I moved away from the coast they felt lost to me. But they are not lost. I can find them anytime I want to-hidden in the least likely places. When I need to feel close to them I now know just where to go.