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Roadside finds: more than just junk
March 26, 2023
There is very little in the world that sparks such joy in me as the sight of a sign with the words “free” written across it, sitting amongst a pile of junk on the curb. That is a good way to cause me to hit my brakes, pull out the gloves I keep hidden in my car for these emergencies and get to pickin’. There is very little shame in me, as I have sat legs spread with gobs of what one person might think of as trash, but to me is treasure, because if there is one thing that is certain, I will find the gold amongst the rubble.
Last year, on a seemingly normal day, driving home with the top of my little red convertible down, I decided to take a route home that isn’t my usual. While thinking and filling my ears with groovy music, I spied out of the corner of my eye a pile of goodies on the curb. Jackpot.
I slammed on my brakes and turned on my hazards. With pure adrenaline pumping through my veins, I politely started rummaging through this mound of fun that was towering before me.
Sitting beneath the old cat box and the broken storage totes sat a Victorian wicker back rocking chair. The bottom had large sleigh-like legs, and there was a huge hole in the seat where you could see the love that was put upon this rocker. I gasped in shock and thought to myself “Oh what a good trash day!” After skimming through the rest of the pile and debating whether the heart cutout red bench was worth a second trip, I chucked the chair into the back of my open topped car and drove away into the sunset.
When I got home, I had to choreograph how to get the chair into my home without my father noticing. Yes, that sounds terrible; No, he wouldn’t be mad. I just get embarrassed bringing more things home, as there is already a lot. To go unnoticed while moving a piece of furniture into the house, I had to think smart. I placed the rocking chair on the front porch and walked through the house, directly past my father, to the front door to pull the beast into my front parlor.
Finally, after all the work that had gone into getting the chair home and figuring out what quilt could hide the hole, I sat back to wonder at my new find. Not even 30 seconds into it being put together all nice, my father comes in and I step in front of the chair. As he came into the room, he very blatantly asked me, “Did you steal an old woman’s chair?” Eyes wide, I stepped aside to reveal the chair I had thought I got for free.
Apparently, in the most small town fashion, someone had rung up my father’s barbershop uptown and said that I had stolen a chair from an old woman’s yard, and that they had watched me. Chills ran down my spine, as I am a bit of a rule follower and get nervous when I’m doing wrong. Anyway, I had to take the chair back to the elderly woman and apologize for being an accidental thief. All I know is that if there is furniture next to the curb, it better be free, or it might get taken home. I’ll always look for a free sign now, but seriously don’t get my hopes up.
There are only so many things that came out of the early 2010s, but one thing that I am almost always okay with is the great movement of upcycling old furniture. Remember when everyone was bringing home antique furniture that had a little wear and tear on it, but with a little elbow grease looks amazing? I definitely do, as I was up in that movement hard. I might have been in elementary school, but my interests started developing early on. I would watch videos on my tablet of women with massive hair stripping down buffetS, painting them “Buttery Yella” and distressing the sides with a little bit of chalk paint and a sander.
I am all for trying out new methods of painting and decorating, but really only on furniture that is in a state of disrepair, but for some dumb reason a whole lot of folks would rather go out searching for a piece of furniture to strip and repaint. Pump the brakes lady, you’re gonna take the original varnish off of this gorgeous antique piece of furniture and replace it with a white wash? I don’t think so.
I feel like this trend of upcycling was all hearts and rainbows in 2014 when it was popular, but as time has gone on and too many gaudy women have junked up all the old vanities and nightstands that were left, they have come for the good pieces. Yes, at least they are just upcycling and not destroying it to nothing, but I would argue with that. You see, something that I would consider as destruction would be taking away the original character of the piece.
Last night, while sitting and watching Little House on the Prairie, the episode that happened to be on was called “The Legacy.” The episode follows the story of Charles Ingalls and his friend Jack taking a handcrafted table to Minneapolis to sell. On the way home, they get into an accident and Jack passes away. Charles, stricken with grief, decides he wants to be remembered for something. So he strikes a deal with a store owner and starts manufacturing tables to sell, all with the stamp of his initial “C I” on the bottom. At the end of the episode, the business deal becomes a flop, and Charles gives up trying to be remembered by many, but rather by his children. Before the credits roll, you see a couple in 1982 at an auction, buying his table and wondering about its maker and its history.
I thought long and hard about this episode and why it touched my heart so much. Everytime I buy something or take home something from the side of the road, I try to respect and honor its past as much as possible. I think about that time I accidentally stole from the old woman, and when returning it, she told me its story. She remembered buying the chair, and she told me about rocking her many babies and grandbabies to sleep in that chair.
So in this spring cleanup season, when you are snatching up goodies on the side of the road, remember to always look for a free sign, and like us, furniture has a story too.
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