Flash Essay: Trash or Treasure

I am tired tonight. For good reason. I have, as my husband just said, “Been moving junk around from a life I haven’t participated in for twenty years,” aka “Moving my husband’s stuff around, yet again.”

The first time that I realized my husband had an inordinate relationship with “stuff” was several months after we were married. We were back in Texas and near his family home after having moved back from Arkansas. “I need to get a few things,” he said, and motioned for me to jump into the car. Off we drove to a corrugated tin building with a sign out front that read, “Boat Stalls.” We were five miles from Lake Texoma, right on the Texas/Oklahoma border. “Here we go,” Ray said as he unlocked the lock and raised the garage door on the stall.

It was bright outside – summertime in Texas – and dark inside. It took my eyes a few minutes to adjust and then I saw that this stall was filled to the brim with odd stuff: a telephone booth with a mannequin inside, an old jukebox, books, stereo equipment, old balance scales, an old goat skin, and lots of boxes. Ray dug around a few minutes, grabbed several boxes, and off we went. Little did I know that visit would prove prophetic – that I would spent the next fifteen years of my life helping my husband buy and sell his junk, or as some people prefer to call it: antiques and collectibles.

I had been a psychotherapist before meeting Ray. In fact, I met him on a psychiatric unit where we were both working: he, as an orderly so he could see if he wanted to go to medical school – he was 19,  and I, in my first job out of graduate school – I was 24. He was such a baby I didn’t even look at him as anything but a friend until after I broke up with my boyfriend at the time – 2 years later. But I digress.

Ray was 22 when we got married, I was 27. He came to where I was working as a mental health clinician for three counties in rural Arkansas and stayed just long enough for us to get married and determine there was no work for him there. So, here we were back in Texas with a need for money. Hence the trip to the boat stall. He suggested that we take the few boxes that he’d gathered up and we go to a small flea market in Whitewright to sell the contents. I had no idea what all of that meant, but why not? We went the next weekend and I was astonished that people actually would pay for an old coke bottle or some strange 50’s lamp. This was fun.

That was the beginning. Within a couple of weeks, we decided to drive down to the First Monday Trades Days at Canton and we went from a few hundred dollars to almost a thousand, all while we sat outside and chatted with people as they came around to look at our stuff. What could be more entertaining than that? We made the plan to return the next month, at which time we met an older man named Bud, with whom we became fast friends. That was it. From that moment on, we were happy antiquers, buying and selling our wares, and making lots of friends along the way. Then we landed a great job: buying for the Chili’s chain of restaurants, and for the next fifteen years, we were their primary vendor, supplying over 600 Chili’s internationally. So, that boat stall was a definite turning point in my life.

The next turning point came in 1994 when my brother offered me a job in Los Angeles helping run his medical practice. He was HIV positive and this was before the new medicines for AIDS. He knew he would be dying in the next 2 – 3 years. Our kids were older and weren’t as open to 3 buying trips a year to New England – they now had their own lives – and the Chili’s chain had expanded just about as much as they were going to expand. A natural turn in the road and off we went to LA for a new life.

That life didn’t work as we expected, but it did get us to LA. We fell in love with Southern CA and there we’ve stayed, though working in different capacities than we would have imagined. Ray has had his own landscape design company and I work as a private writing teacher. Who would have ever guessed that would happen? Alas, it did and we’ve been happy.

But remember all that stuff Ray had when we first married? Well, try multiplying that by a several thousand. As all junkers know, you can take the junk dealer away from the junk, but you can’t keep him/her from buying more no matter where they are. So, here we are, wrestling with all the stuff that Ray has bought over the years – great stuff – which is now cluttering up yet another building that we use for storage.

Today, we worked from 6:30 – 11 am, organizing boxes, books, light fixtures, vintage clothing and textiles, furniture and lots and lots of “smalls.” Tomorrow we aiming to get there at 6 am and work again until 11 or 12, before it gets too hot. Our goal is to organize so that we can sort and then advertise so we can eventually sell all of this stuff. Lots of stuff – cool stuff – and lots more to deal with.

I credit Ray with teaching me how to “see.” Before meeting him, I couldn’t discern one antique for another, had no real design sense, and spent most of my time inside my head rather than looking out at external things. I talked to people, but wasn’t attentive to the outside world. I had no clue how to actually focus and look around. That all has changed after these years. I have a good “eye” now, and can scout out antiques with the best of them. I also have an opinion on what I like and don’t like, what works and doesn’t, and why a house needs a particular piece or not. In short, my whole life is different because of Ray’s passion. I have learned to value the visual and to enjoy the various representations of art and design around us. That is a gift I am happy I have received.

So, do I mind all that hauling and organizing and shifting and moving? Not in the least. I use my body with all the hauling, I use my mind with all the looking and I use my heart because I have come to love this ‘stuff,’ too. In fact, Ray even complains I’m worse than he is about getting rid of something. I don’t know about that, but it is true I have a few favorites that I don’t want to see go…

6 thoughts on “Flash Essay: Trash or Treasure”

  1. This really drew me in…Your voice is very powerful, and your first paragraph made me chuckle, so much that I read it aloud to my hubby. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. What a fascinating tale. You continue to surprise me. First of all, I don’t remember there being six kids in your family. Some of them must have been much older and gone by the time I came on the scene. What a time your parents mut have had corraling you all.

    Secondly, I’ve always wondered who provided restaurants with all their kitschy “stuff.” Now I know. There’s an entire industry behind it. Do you know, we had an ancient barn out on our ranch outside Bonham, and one day my dad went out there to discover that it had been stripped clean of all it’s old “barnwood.” I like to think it’s ended up on the walls of a Chuy’s or some similar fun place. We never dreamed old wood was in such high demand, much less real money.

    Now. Do you have any popcycle stick lamps, one of my passions, or any tramp or prison art? In fact, I’m deeply fascinated by any form of outsider or primitive art. My country house is full of the stuff, but I have room for (just a few) more pieces..

    1. You’re a collector! No tramp or prison art at present, but I’ll keep my eyes open for some for you. All the wood gone from your barn? How awful. I promise we never stole old barn wood in the middle of the night. I love old barns.

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