George H. Smith

A Visit to the Thrift Shop

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Walked to a nearby church thrift shop earlier today to look around....a very large place with lots of interesting stuff....enjoyed the mix of gospel music and 1960s bubble gum tunes...decided I didn't need yet another wooden box to put small items in....looked at some of those pictures with homely sayings....wondered what had to happen for a person to take a "God Bless Our Happy Home" sign off the wall and donate it to charity....decided to risk a dollar on an unopened "EZ Tube Squeezer: The Ultimate Tooth Paste Dispenser"....headed for the book section....admired the good sense of all those people who gave away their self-help books....remembered Sabine's excellent book on the history of political thought that I found two years ago....remembered the collection of writings by D.H. Lawrence that I bought a month ago, fully convinced that I would read it....tried to recall what happened to the Lawrence book....looked at an old book that had a note written by a young girl on the flyleaf...remembered a book that I had gotten from an LA thrift shop over thirty years ago....remembered the four inscriptions on the flyleaf....the first note, dated in 1911, read, I am 16 today. Father gave me this book for my present....directly below was another note, I am 36 today, and I read this book again....then another note, I am 56 today. I enjoyed reading this book again....then a final note, dated in 1971 and written in an unstable hand, I am 76 today and very ill. I could not finish the book.... I remembered the chills that ran down my spine, as I stood in that store with nearly the entire span of a woman's life in my hands.... remembered thinking what a remarkable person she must have been and how I wish I had known her....remembered how I purchased the book for a dime and treasured it for years....remembered showing the inscriptions to various friends....remembered how disappointed I was when most of them did not understand why I liked the book so much....it was just an old obscure novel with loose hinges, so what was the big deal?....no one actually said this but I could see it in their eyes....I remembered never showing the book to anyone again....

Ghs

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It seems she re-read the book every twenty years in remembrance of her father and his gift giving--and that 16th birthday.

--Brant

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The inscriptions are poignant. The arc of a life. But it takes time to sink in, so sharing it in writing like this is better. Allows time to absorb and to seek its own level among some readers.

> wondered what had to happen for a person to take a "God Bless Our Happy Home" sign off the wall and donate it to charity.

Guy ended up in the penitentiary and the other inmates didn't appreciate seeing it on the wall every day.

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I don’t think your friends’ “in person” reactions are meaningful. When you are being watched and on the spot you are defensive. I think everyone who contemplates your sentiment in the safety of their own home will give it the correct consideration and interpretation.

The ladies in my family have begun going to yard sales and thrift shops to buy toys for my two year granddaughter. She outgrows them so quickly it is more cost effective to sell the old ones for pennies and then buy used, but new to Elizabeth, toys.

Your story is worthy of “The Readers Digest.”

Semper cogitans fidele,

Peter Taylor

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Lovely, George.

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. . .remembered thinking what a remarkable person she must have been and how I wish I had known her....remembered how I purchased the book for a dime and treasured it for years....remembered showing the inscriptions to various friends....remembered how disappointed I was when most of them did not understand why I liked the book so much....it was just an old obscure novel with loose hinges, so what was the big deal?....no one actually said this but I could see it in their eyes....I remembered never showing the book to anyone again....

Ghs

Seems very sad that such a book would wind up on the shelves of a thrift store. One can only think that when she died, there was no friend or relative left to care about such a priceless memento of a human life. One can only hope that the person who donated it and the clerk who put it up for sale never bothered to look at it closely. Imagine the mentality of someone who would grasp what it was and then treat it like any other book.

She is very fortunate that it eventually found its’ way into your hands.

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The first Rand I ever read was a copy of The Fountainhead that my mother had inscribed to my father, then at war in the Pacific: "After twenty pages of this you'll want to throw it over the side. What ever happened to Marquand?" I don't know if he read it, but he didn't throw it over the side.

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George:

Excellent. A beautiful melancholy. Brought tears to my eyes.

Thank you.

Adam

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...remembered a book that I had gotten from an LA thrift shop over thirty years ago....remembered the four inscriptions on the flyleaf....the first note, dated in 1911, read, I am 16 today. Father gave me this book for my present....directly below was another note, I am 36 today, and I read this book again....then another note, I am 56 today. I enjoyed reading this book again....then a final note, dated in 1971 and written in an unstable hand, I am 76 today and very ill. I could not finish the book.... I remembered the chills that ran down my spine, as I stood in that store with nearly the entire span of a woman's life in my hands.... remembered thinking what a remarkable person she must have been and how I wish I had known her....remembered how I purchased the book for a dime and treasured it for years....remembered showing the inscriptions to various friends....remembered how disappointed I was when most of them did not understand why I liked the book so much....it was just an old obscure novel with loose hinges, so what was the big deal?....no one actually said this but I could see it in their eyes....I remembered never showing the book to anyone again....

Ghs

Beautiful and very moving. I ask myself how it is it possible for anyone (especially one's friends) not to grasp the deep feelings that these inscriptions evoke?

It would interest me what the tilte of the novel was that meant so much to this woman.

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Walked to a nearby church thrift shop earlier today to look around....a very large place with lots of interesting stuff....enjoyed the mix of gospel music and 1960s bubble gum tunes...decided I didn't need yet another wooden box to put small items in....looked at some of those pictures with homely sayings....wondered what had to happen for a person to take a "God Bless Our Happy Home" sign off the wall and donate it to charity....decided to risk a dollar on an unopened "EZ Tube Squeezer: The Ultimate Tooth Paste Dispenser"....headed for the book section....admired the good sense of all those people who gave away their self-help books....remembered Sabine's excellent book on the history of political thought that I found two years ago....remembered the collection of writings by D.H. Lawrence that I bought a month ago, fully convinced that I would read it....tried to recall what happened to the Lawrence book....looked at an old book that had a note written by a young girl on the flyleaf...remembered a book that I had gotten from an LA thrift shop over thirty years ago....remembered the four inscriptions on the flyleaf....the first note, dated in 1911, read, I am 16 today. Father gave me this book for my present....directly below was another note, I am 36 today, and I read this book again....then another note, I am 56 today. I enjoyed reading this book again....then a final note, dated in 1971 and written in an unstable hand, I am 76 today and very ill. I could not finish the book.... I remembered the chills that ran down my spine, as I stood in that store with nearly the entire span of a woman's life in my hands.... remembered thinking what a remarkable person she must have been and how I wish I had known her....remembered how I purchased the book for a dime and treasured it for years....remembered showing the inscriptions to various friends....remembered how disappointed I was when most of them did not understand why I liked the book so much....it was just an old obscure novel with loose hinges, so what was the big deal?....no one actually said this but I could see it in their eyes....I remembered never showing the book to anyone again....

Ghs

Other people might not be as sentimental as you appear to be.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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It would interest me what the tilte of the novel was that meant so much to this woman.

I posted this on my Face Book Wall yesterday:

Unfortunately, I lost the book in storage, along with thousands of other books, during the black hole in my life known as 1994. The book itself was of no particular interest -- it was one of those stories written for young women in the early 20th century -- so I suspect the woman (I think her name was Clara) valued it so highly because of the connection to her father. This is pure speculation, but given that the first entry was made in 1911, I sometimes wondered if her father might have been killed in WWI. There was no hint of anything like this, however. All the entries were short and straightforward, as I reported them in my piece. So why did she keep this record? For whom was it written? These are among the mysteries that make this story so fascinating to me. I have some plausible hunches, but that is all they are. There were no other notations or marks of any kind elsewhere else in the book.

Ghs

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It would interest me what the tilte of the novel was that meant so much to this woman.

I posted this on my Face Book Wall yesterday:

Unfortunately, I lost the book in storage, along with thousands of other books, during the black hole in my life known as 1994. The book itself was of no particular interest -- it was one of those stories written for young women in the early 20th century -- so I suspect the woman (I think her name was Clara) valued it so highly because of the connection to her father. This is pure speculation, but given that the first entry was made in 1911, I sometimes wondered if her father might have been killed in WWI. There was no hint of anything like this, however. All the entries were short and straightforward, as I reported them in my piece. So why did she keep this record? For whom was it written? These are among the mysteries that make this story so fascinating to me. I have some plausible hunches, but that is all they are. There were no other notations or marks of any kind elsewhere else in the book.

Ghs

Her father would have likely been in his forties during WWI and not a combatant or direct participant. Can't be said of any brothers she might have had. If these people had been French though . . .

Your story is better without the title for the title would weaken the universality of it by the detraction, especially for the literalists who would go to Amazon and order copies even trying to find your lost one. (Okay, that last was too much.)

--Brant

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It would interest me what the tilte of the novel was that meant so much to this woman.
I posted this on my Face Book Wall yesterday: Unfortunately, I lost the book in storage, along with thousands of other books, during the black hole in my life known as 1994. The book itself was of no particular interest -- it was one of those stories written for young women in the early 20th century -- so I suspect the woman (I think her name was Clara) valued it so highly because of the connection to her father. This is pure speculation, but given that the first entry was made in 1911, I sometimes wondered if her father might have been killed in WWI. There was no hint of anything like this, however. All the entries were short and straightforward, as I reported them in my piece. So why did she keep this record? For whom was it written? These are among the mysteries that make this story so fascinating to me. I have some plausible hunches, but that is all they are. There were no other notations or marks of any kind elsewhere else in the book. Ghs
Her father would have likely been in his forties during WWI and not a combatant or direct participant. Can't be said of any brothers she might have had. If these people had been French though . . . Your story is better without the title for the title would weaken the universality of it by the detraction, especially for the literalists who would go to Amazon and order copies even trying to find your lost one. (Okay, that last was too much.) --Brant

You are probably right about the age thing. That occurred to me as well.

I read the book shortly after I got it -- "skimmed" might be a better word -- because I wanted to know why the woman was so attached to it. This was around 1977, however, so I remember almost nothing about the book, not even the title or author. It's quite possible that the story connected with a girl of 16 in such a way that she returned to it every 20 years, on her birthday. Many of us probably can think of a book that we read while we were young and never forgot.

What especially struck me was the the simplicity of the notes. There was nothing maudlin or sentimental about them, and, oddly enough, that is what made their collective effect so dramatic. If she had gushed over the book, I doubt if the effect would have been nearly as strong.

Also interesting was the fact that she did not appear to be writing for her children or anyone else, except herself. It seemed as if she were marking time, in effect, by punctuating the passage of her life at 20 year intervals. But then there was the final entry, written while she was apparently dying at age 76, which indicated that she tried to read the book again but could not, and she noted this as well. So who was that written for?

Even after all these years I find this story chilling, party because there are so many unexplained gaps that could be explained in various ways by different people. If I were a fiction writer, I would long ago have used the premise for a short story or novel. In fact, I typed the inscriptions into a computer file (c. 1988) with this idea in mind, though I never followed up on the plan.

As for your latter remarks, I don't plan on doing anything else with the piece. I took yesterday off, and on the 10-minute walk back from the thrift shop it occurred to me that the stuff I was thinking about in the thrift shop would make an interesting little piece. I also decided on the stream-of-consciousness style. I started writing immediately after I got home. I wrote the initial draft in around 20 minutes, and I probably spent another 30 minutes revising it. The revisions mainly consisted of cutting some things out and trimming some of the things I left in. Less was more in this piece, as in many other cases of writing.

Ghs

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Other people might not be as sentimental as you appear to be.

I am not an especially sentimental person, and it's difficult to get sentimental about a person you have never met, because there are no memories to be conjured up. I think it is safe to say that people who respond to the story do so for other reasons.

Ghs

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. . .remembered thinking what a remarkable person she must have been and how I wish I had known her....remembered how I purchased the book for a dime and treasured it for years....remembered showing the inscriptions to various friends....remembered how disappointed I was when most of them did not understand why I liked the book so much....it was just an old obscure novel with loose hinges, so what was the big deal?....no one actually said this but I could see it in their eyes....I remembered never showing the book to anyone again.... Ghs
Seems very sad that such a book would wind up on the shelves of a thrift store. One can only think that when she died, there was no friend or relative left to care about such a priceless memento of a human life. One can only hope that the person who donated it and the clerk who put it up for sale never bothered to look at it closely. Imagine the mentality of someone who would grasp what it was and then treat it like any other book. She is very fortunate that it eventually found its’ way into your hands.

How the book ended up in a thrift shop is another layer to the story that interested me. Again, all this is obviously conjecture, but it made me think that the woman did not make a point of giving the book to her children (if she had any) or to any other relative. If she had, it is reasonable to suppose they would have kept it. I therefore concluded that the book probably ended up with other books that her heirs did not want, and that no one thought to go through the books to check for personal notations.

Ghs

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How the book ended up in a thrift shop is another layer to the story that interested me.

Maybe the two of you were "meant to be". Like in that old Christopher Reeve movie where he goes back in time. This all calls to mind a sweet little love song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAzBa3QSpUY

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How the book ended up in a thrift shop is another layer to the story that interested me.

Maybe the two of you were "meant to be". Like in that old Christopher Reeve movie where he goes back in time.

I was in my late twenties at the time, whereas the woman had presumably been dead for years -- so, without a time machine, the romance part would have been a little awkward. Granted, I've dated a few corpses in my life, but at least they were still breathing and had all their skin attached.

But, yes, any woman who would think to read the same book every twenty years and note each reading on the flyleaf is definitely my kind of gal.

Ghs

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George,

I recently started to read a book called A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett that opens with the same feeling as what you describe (albeit with only one dry meaning-packed inscription). I like the Prologue so much I am putting it here. But with the observation that this is an extension, merely another example, of what you tapped into.

I did a lot of gardening when I first moved into High Glen House, and that's how I found the iron collar.

The house was falling down and the garden was overgrown. A crazy old lady had lived here for twenty years and never given it a lick of paint. She died and I bought it from her son, who owns the Toyota dealership in Kirkbum, the nearest town, fifty miles away. You might wonder why a person would buy a dilapidated house fifty miles from nowhere. But I just love this valley. There are shy deer in the woods and an eagles' nest right at the top of the ridge. Out in the garden I would spend half the time leaning on my spade and staring at the blue-green mountainsides.

But I did some digging too. I decided to plant some shrubs around the outhouse. It's not a handsome building--clapboard walls with no windows--and I wanted to screen it with bushes. While I was digging the trench, I found a box.

It wasn't very big, about the size of those cases that contain twelve bottles of good wine. It wasn't fancy either: just plain unvarnished wood held together with rusty nails. I broke it open with the blade of my spade.

There were two things inside.

One was a big old book. I got quite excited at that: perhaps it was a family Bible, with an intriguing history written on the flyleaf--the births, marriages and deaths of people who had lived in my house a hundred years ago. But I was disappointed. When I opened it I found that the pages had turned to pulp. Not a word could be read.

The other item was an oilcloth bag. That, too, was rotten, and when I touched it with my gardening gloves it disintegrated. Inside was an iron ring about six inches across. It was tarnished, but the oilcloth bag had prevented it from rusting away.

It looked crudely made, probably by a village blacksmith, and at first I thought it might have been part of a cart or a plow. But why had someone wrapped it carefully in oilcloth to preserve it? There was a break in the ring and it had been bent. I began to think of it as a collar that some prisoner had been forced to wear. When the prisoner escaped the ring had been broken with a heavy blacksmith's tool, then bent to get it off.

I took it in the house and started to clean it up. It was slow work, so I steeped it in RustAway overnight then tried again in the morning. As I polished it with a rag, an inscription became visible.

It was engraved in old-fashioned curly writing, and it took me a while to figure it out, but this is what it said:

This man is the property of

Sir George Jamisson of Fife.

A.D. 1767

It's here on my desk, beside the computer. I use it as a paperweight. I often pick it up and turn it in my hands, rereading that inscription. If the iron collar could talk, I think to myself. what kind of story would it tell?

In the same vein, I had this same thought with your post. If that book of yours could talk, what kind of story would it tell about the woman?

Michael

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It would interest me what the tilte of the novel was that meant so much to this woman.

I posted this on my Face Book Wall yesterday:

Unfortunately, I lost the book in storage, along with thousands of other books, during the black hole in my life known as 1994. The book itself was of no particular interest -- it was one of those stories written for young women in the early 20th century -- so I suspect the woman (I think her name was Clara) valued it so highly because of the connection to her father. This is pure speculation, but given that the first entry was made in 1911, I sometimes wondered if her father might have been killed in WWI. There was no hint of anything like this, however. All the entries were short and straightforward, as I reported them in my piece. So why did she keep this record? For whom was it written? These are among the mysteries that make this story so fascinating to me. I have some plausible hunches, but that is all they are. There were no other notations or marks of any kind elsewhere else in the book.

Ghs

Her father would have likely been in his forties during WWI and not a combatant or direct participant. Can't be said of any brothers she might have had. If these people had been French though . . .

Your story is better without the title for the title would weaken the universality of it by the detraction, especially for the literalists who would go to Amazon and order copies even trying to find your lost one. (Okay, that last was too much.)

--Brant

Maybe just a different title - say, Second Hand (george's being the second hand to open the book, the second hand on a clock etc)

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Even after all these years I find this story chilling, party because there are so many unexplained gaps that could be explained in various ways by different people. If I were a fiction writer, I would long ago have used the premise for a short story or novel. In fact, I typed the inscriptions into a computer file (c. 1988) with this idea in mind, though I never followed up on the plan.

Ghs

A writer is a writer. I am surprised that an anarchist would circumscribe himself in this way.

If you found the time or inclination to write a novel I think it would be a pleasure to read. The passage you posted would make a perfect opener.

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I just got back from another visit to the nearby Thrift Shop, so I want to correct an error in my original post.

A large sign on the building reads: "Mission Mart Resale Shoppe." So, you see, this is a Resale Shoppe, not a Thrift Shop.

The Resale Shoppe is run by a local ministry that also runs a homeless shelter. A revival meeting was being held in the parking lot, complete with two medium-size tents and one smaller tent for the minister. He was saving five souls at the time, as around forty onlookers waved their upheld arms back and forth, keeping time to some recorded gospel music that I couldn't quite make out, owing to crappy speakers.

I approached the meeting tentatively, fearing that I might set off something akin to a car alarm that says Stop, Thief! -- except this alarm would say Stop, Atheist! But nothing happened, so I stuck around for ten minutes. That seemed like a reasonable grace period, before lightning struck me.

Although I wasn't in the mood to get saved today, I closely observed those who were. The "born again" process has always fascinated me, and, despite my atheism, I can understand people who find value in it. It reminded me of a group therapy session, minus the outrageous bills -- a cathartic experience that made the participants, most of whom were probably homeless, feel better for a few days.

I only bought two items at the Resale Shoppe -- a copy of Francis Parkman's classic, The Oregon Trail, and a proper pan for cooking meat loaf. I tried cooking meat loaf a few days ago, but all I had was a pan that was at least four times too large. So I threw in several pounds of ground beef and other ingredients. I ended up with so much meat loaf that even my dog hasn't been able to finish it yet.

I am so thoroughly sick of meat loaf that I probably won't fix it for at least another year. But when I do fix it again, I will have a proper pan.

Ghs

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I am blessed with three thrift shops nearby, but being thrifty and disliking shopping most of the time, I do not visit them often. They are my favourite shops though. I wish the donors of books here were as cultured as those in Illinois - there are no Parkmans to be found at Valu Village, Goodwill or East York Cares. Since the library strike I have had to read thrillless thrillers, detestable "heartwarmers" and banal biographies, but at least it has not cost me much.

What I like is the oldness, the usedness of the stuff that is being reresold. The sadness of a dressing gown that is almost new , maybe worn by someone who never came out of hospital to wear it. The perkiness of the bridesmaid's dress that was probably thankfully jettisoned. The stern shoulders of the good quality business jacket, which I hope someone got to retire from wearing.

And the simple oddness, and sometimes beauty, of the objects people have liked to have in their houses and look at. I am a sucker for vases and can't resist some of those shapes. Result, I have more vases than I ever have flowers, and either I get creative with tree branches or I have a vase collection.

Recycling is the real revival.

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I take it back about East York Cares. Just got Barchester Towers for 99 cents and am wallowing in Victorian bliss. And the library strike is almost settled.

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