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I was at someone else's house the other day and they were watching a show that chronicles the travels of two guys who drive around the country in a van for the purpose of seeking out and buying other people's junk with the intention of taking it back to their place of business and selling it at a profit to other people who will then make it their junk. I should clarify that it seems obvious that what I consider junk and what they consider junk are frequently two different things. There are items that have all the qualities of junk in my eyes that these guys see as treasures of great value. To each his own, I guess.
What I got from watching this show was that there is a lot of money in nostalgia, even old, rusted out, grungy nostalgia that is falling apart. Personally, I have never been as nostalgic as many people I know. The things from the past that I like tend to be sentimental to me on a very personal level and reflect my love of history and the craftmanship that has pretty much disappeared now. Something has to be more than just old to make me filled with sentimental longing. I knew someone once who was a rabid antique seeker and she always had something old/new that she wanted to show me. Being a polite individual and sensitive to her feelings, I always expressed delight at her acquisitions, but some of them were really horrible. It is my theory that things that were dreadful when they were new only become even more dreadful as they age. She once bought a Victorian horse hair sofa that she thought was absolutely gorgeous that I considered to easily be the ugliest and most significantly uncomfortable piece of furniture I had ever seen. It was huge, heavy, had all the grace of a hippo, and attacked you when you sat down on it. She loved it because it was old; I thought it was probably just as frightening when it was brand new and someone had 12 body builders drag it into their house.
If I can use the TV show as any indicator, people love old metal signs of any kind. Whether it was a sign on a business or an advertising sign, people will pay enormous amounts of money for it. Don't get me wrong, some of the signs I saw were really kind of cool, but not thousands of dollars cool, at least, not in my world. I did some research later on the value of old metal signs and I was amazed at what people were willing to pay for them, even in less than sterling condition. They have a huge following and anyone in the business of selling them is sure to make a monumental profit. The same is apparently true for anything from an old gas station, any sign advertising a beverage, and anything with a picture of an old car on it. The car doesn't even have to be that old; it doesn't even have to be iconic. It just has to have been built back when they still used metal bumpers.
As I age I confess that I find myself more nostalgic than I used to be, which is natural, I suppose. I tend to get nostalgic for less material things, however. I sometimes long for the days when you could go to your local shoe store and actually be fitted for a pair of shoes, or when air for your car tires was free, or when there were only 4 television stations. There is one thing about which I feel nostalgic and it is the stuffed Cupie doll I had as a child, the adorable doll designed at the turn of the century by Rose O'neil that was based on cupid, had a little plastic knot of hair on top of its head and a mischievous smile. The one my heartless older brother took to the dump when I was away in the army. That one. I'm pretty sure I never forgave him for it either.
A short time after my mother passed away a friend of mine and I were talking about toys we had when we were young and I went on the computer to find a picture of a Cupie doll from the 1950's to show her and low and behold, there she was on ebay, my 1956 cupie. I was stunned. She looked exactly like mine, right down to the playful eyes and little smile, and someone was selling her, amazingly, at a price I could actually afford. I bought her on the spot.
My brother (the fiend who sent my cupie to the dump) maintains that my mother somehow manipulated events from the other side so that I could have my cupie back. I don't know about that, but I am willing to take whatever minor miracle I can get. Now my cupie sits on my dresser and smiles her Mona Lisa smile at me every time I look in the mirror or fetch a pair of socks. I find that having her there warms my heart. She obviously wasn't considered particularly valuable by anyone, but I'll take her over a metal sign any day.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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