February 05, 2007

I am a collector. A crazed obsessed collector. I cannot pass up an estate sale sign. I actually feel high when I’m shopping an antique show. I get the same feeling looking through a pile of old photos as a junkie does when the needle hits the vein. The happiness cannot be registered.
It’s who I am.

I got it from my grandmother. Her name was Dorothy but everyone called her Dot. She ran snack shops in bowling alleys. I remember going to visit grandma and watching her sling hamburgers and hot dogs to hungry bowlers. We would sit there on the counter stools... sipping our Green River (with crushed bowling alley ice)... watching our grandma do her thing. She was an artist. Grandma would move behind the counter like a dancer. Every customer got a smile and most left laughing from something she said to them. She’d always catch our eye and give us a wink. She loved us.

Grandma drove a big blue station wagon. It was her flea market mobile. The car was constantly full of all kinds of crapola that she had found in her travels around Chicago. Grandma would be driving all us kids to Zayre and she’d see something in an alley. She would jam on the brakes and pop it in reverse to see what it was. Grandmas eyes would squint as she peered down the alley. It was like watching those appraisers on The Antiques Roadshow. She could tell if there was “good stuff” down there. There usually was. She had the eye.

“Ronny, go get me that lamp” she would say. Your heart would sink. You were only a block from your house and god help you if any of your friends saw you garbage picking. You’d never hear the end of it.

“Aww gram do I have to? We’re right by the house”.

“I’ll go get it” That was my cousin Kathy. She always wanted to be the one to go get the stuff. I gave her a ‘thank you, thank you” look and Kathy went out to get the lamp.

She brought the lamp back to the car. It was a huge 1930s floor lamp with an oversized shade. Kathy also ran back and got some other boxes of miscellaneous stuff. It was quite the haul. We all got out of the station wagon to see what Kathy brought back. Grandma came over to help load everything. She spent the next ten minutes rearranging the crapola that was already inside station wagon. Pots, pans, antiques, mystery boxes full of costume jewelry... all got crammed into newfound nooks and crannies of the station wagon. Then she loaded her brand new “finds” on top of the old crapola. Grandma was really really good at this. I think she would have been an excellent Tetris player.

Finally she was done. Grandma looked at us and said “Get in”. We all looked at each other and finally I said to her “Where?’”. The inside of the wagon had just enough room left for her to drive and none left for us to sit anywhere.

“Just get in” she said.

Ah, how many times in my childhood did I hear those words. Usually they were associated with going to the dentist or going to the shoe store. Bad things. This was much much worse. There were things in the back of that station wagon that could seriously hurt you if the load shifted. I didn’t want to be the kid who got killed by a box of flea market crap crushing him to death.

Grandma gave us “The Look”. Things were about to get serious if we didn’t do as she said. We started getting in the station wagon.

It was right about then that a group of the neighborhood kids walked by. They were watching the whole exchange. You could see the smirks on their faces as they watched us try to climb up into the station wagon full of crapola. There was all kinds of stuff clanging around and cardboard boxes crushing. My grandmother was yelling at us to “be careful with the stuff” “don’t break anything”. It was right about then that I figured out how they got all those clowns into the little cars at the circus. My grandma went there and told them all to “Just get in”

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