Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Adventures In EstateSaleLand

My Love Affair with Old Stuff
I can only hope that 80 years from now, when my own descendants are overwhelmed by a lifetime of my collections, some unknowing kid will walk in off the street and be amazed at everything I've hoarded and love it dearly too. It's all just stuff, after all, but some of us really love it beyond its intrinsic value.

I can't think of anything that gives me a thrill like digging through boxes and piles of old stuff. Vintage wearing and decorating is a dream for people who hope to never be wearing the same outfit as someone else at a party. I know that sounds so pompous and there are merits to conformity. Some things are treasures no matter how many people like them, but I find immense satisfaction in having genuinely unique collections and ensembles.

I'm sure there's a special term for the economic concept of rarity being associated with value (beyond supply and demand, because the demand is limited in this case), but suffice to say that the more difficult to find something is or the more in demand, the more I am elated to find it "in the wild", as vintage-lovers say. That is, in a thrift store or at an estate sale rather than bought from a vintage shop or online. Oh, there is such pleasure in a bargain or finding something of value that no one else recognizes as rare!

It's also an interesting and rewarding process (and it is a process, sometimes a long one) of retroactively learning the value of old things. For example, sometimes I will find a dress and later find the original ad or editorial in a vintage magazine! Or, since I'm relatively young to this planet and this country, there are many vintage toys or dishware or brands that I do not recognize from having had them as a kid, but I recognize them now because I pay attention to what other people get nostalgic for.

Beyond the personal excitement of all the things I find and collect and resell, I find it very meaningful to be a historian, of kinds. I feel this pang of sadness sometimes when I'm in the home of someone who has passed away or can no longer live in their own house due to their age. I look at their jewelry and feel sad, knowing I'll never hear the stories of what special anniversary or trip they got it on or what special events they wore it to or which piece was their favorite. The boxes of photos and the handwritten recipes that no one else wants are what really kill me. I know that I won't be able to know the stories behind them and I wonder why their own grandchildren and greatgrandchildren don't cherish these things (maybe they don't have any family left?), but I'm grateful for the opportunity to do a bit of honoring and cherishing myself and then pass them on to other vintage-lovers who also have a deep appreciation for old photos, especially.

When I'm in someone else's home, I often try and discover what their name was from scraps of mail or the inside cover of books or magazine subscriptions. Then I can walk around their home with more of a human being in mind and contemplate what their lives must have been like. It feels like the smallest way in which I can show honor in a situation that basically boils down to jostling elbows with other shoppers to snatch up all these things which were precious to someone at some point for pennies.

I've been to several estate sales that have really stuck in my mind as having part of a life-story that go along with them that I get to carry on in some small way. I wanted to share them here so that they can live again, at least in part.

First of all, God bless the men and women of the Depression era. They just couldn't let go of anything, and I'm glad of it. When I was brand new to estate saling, I went to one that had an entire basement of vintage toys and as much as I look back with awe and delight, I kick myself for all the things I didn't scoop up because I didn't know any better yet. I don't know why people save entire basements full of toy plastic food from the 60s, but you won't hear me complaining about it.

The Mini Madonna Inn
One of my favorite estate sales of all time was in Cayucous, a little beach town here on the Central Coast of California. It's about an hour from where I live, and estate sales that require a hike are always kind of a gamble because often times whoever is running the estate sale doesn't take promo pictures of the kind of things I'm interested in. It could end up being a wasted drive or a treasure trove, you never know. On this particular day there was a big storm. It was hard to drive and several trees fell down while we were inside the house looking through things! Again, I kicked myself for not having been punctual to this particular sale, because as it turned out, I have never seen a wardrobe quite like this one! Every closet in that house was stuffed with incredible clothing (usually estate sale clothing is windbreakers from the 80s and velour track suits). The interior decorating of the house, which was right on the beach, was wild and wonderful too. So often, it seems like elderly people mellow out at the end of their lives and what's left of their things are plain white pillow cases, canned soup, and padded sneakers. But not this house, ohhh no! Let me just show you some pictures.... (sorry, they were not taken with the intent of being shared so they hardly showcase the full glory!).

I don't know if this was the lady of the house (I think it is, after finding a recent picture), but it sums up the style pretty well.

Now for the house...

Everything was gaudy and dramatic, in gold, turquoise, and pink. 

The sign about the door says "Casa Costalot"! 

I loved this wallpaper.

You walked through this side garage from the street, then the courtyard, then the main house.

I know plenty of people will probably think this is the tackiest house they have ever seen, but that's why I make money off vintage stuff and you don't. ;) But seriously, there's nothing more fun to walk through than elaborate kitsch. How can you say no to metallic wallpapers, beaded lights, gilded beds, and resin toilet seats?! BUT WAIT, this story gets even better...

The last photo was the main closet. As always, I wish I'd been less frenzied (one of the boys had to poop, of course, so we got to test out those funky toilets) and had more time to go through each box and piece of clothing, but as things were, I basically just shoved everything in arm's reach that looked promising into a garment box that I pulled off a top shelf and emptied onto the floor. Sometimes my concept of respect is blinded by the goods, not gonna lie.

Anyway, I got to look at everything more carefully when I got home, and I found an itemized list of clothes on the side of the box. I was so excited and enthralled by this unusual house and its contents that I actually got online and tried to track down some information about the couple that had lived there. I bet you'd never have believed me that it was the HUSBAND who decorated the house and HANDMADE many of these incredible clothes for his wife!!!

Here is the list of clothes: it breaks my heart that I only have two of these items, the pants front the first line, and the red jumpsuit! This was not all in the box when I got to it.

The couple who lived in this house were named Arthur and MaryLee Fenderson. Arthur passed away on April 5, 2016, and as far as I can tell, MaryLee is still living, possibly in Canada. I actually found her on Facebook and reached out to her daughter, to see if I can pass along any photos of myself and others dressed in some of her clothes! I hope she enjoys it, she seems like quite a character. Here's one of two pictures of her I found on Facebook. There are several more of her and her husband's heads pasted on to various character's bodies, which are pretty hilarious. I wish I'd known them and been invited to their parties!

Arthur was born in 1923 and moved to California as a baby with his family, escaping the Dust Bowl. He served in the US Navy medical corps during WWII, spending his final year in the service in the Aleutian Islands, then became a dentist upon his return to the US. He and his wife moved to Cayucous in 1971 (I think the box with the itemized clothing list was from that move!) where he continued to practice dentistry until retiring in the early 80s. Apparently he was quite a jokester and a "natty" dresser (had to look that up, it means "stylish and tidy in every detail"). Art and MaryLee were members of several dance clubs, and Art was "an artist and a craftsman. He was Mr. Fix-it around the house and office, and often took on large construction projects at home, even building a sports car! He was an interior decorator with pizzazz. He was equally as creative with fabric, designing and tailoring beautiful 'Fashions by Darvin,' made exclusively for his beautiful wife, Mary Lee." (Here is the full obituary)

Are you crying yet, because I almost am. I feel so honored to make new memories in their special clothing. I hope Jonas and I are still that exciting when we're in our 90s. Thanks for being awesome, Art and MaryLee, your style lives on! 

The Brocade Artist
Santa Maria has an old airport and back in the day, we also had a flight school where WWII pilots trained. There are a lot of old airplane hangers on the north side of town near where the flight school (now Allan Hancock College) used to be. I recently discovered that one of these hangers is a thrift store of sorts, and of course I went swimming in the piles and piles of stuff.

The most interesting thing I found was boxes and boxes and boxes of files. I had stumbled across years worth of notes made by an artist as she conceptualized paintings. Her name was Gloria J. Robertson, but I have not been able to find anything about her online except that she died at the age of 89 on July 14, 2016.

What first excited me about this unusual collection of files was that is was accompanied by decades of back issues of magazines, which are one of my favorite things to collect. Vintage fashion magazines are hard to find, but so they're wonderful because they're such a perfect snapshot of time. Gloria had hundreds of file folders, each with scrawled notes about which painting the enclosed magazine clippings were inspiration for, and which other files to refer to for more clippings of monkeys, for example. Her collection was basically several decades worth of analog Pinterest. Here's a picture of one of the many boxes/stacks of her files.

I wish that I was able to find out more about her life or see some of her finished paintings. Many of the folders included sheets of paper with rough sketches of forms and placements for her ideas, but it's almost impossible to tell from that sort of sketch what style of painting she did - most artists make extremely crude (that is, rudimentary) drawings to start conceptualizing their projects. She seemed to be very interested in fantasy and mashing up animals heads with animal bodies that they didn't originally match with. She was also either very into brocade fabrics or else I just happened to look through all the files in which she was drawing inspiration from brocade.

It was so strange and interesting to see a lifetime worth of thought collected in one place - it could almost certainly never make sense to anyone but her, and as much as I admired the feat she had achieved in its sheer scale, all I could think of while trying to sift through her files was that only someone as obsessive as she was would try and delve into her boxes of scribbled notes and scraps (that'd be me...).

I probably would not have worried about the file folders at all (and just gone for the whole magazines), except that after my first trip to the warehouse in which I bought most of the magazine collection, I realized that she'd ripped out pages from many of the vintage Vogues from the 60s (cue my cry of anguish) and made notes in the magazines too. After two or three weeks, I couldn't help but go back and spelunk for some of the lost pages inside all those folders. I did find a few of them, but if I never see another picture of a brocade couch for the rest of my life. I think I'll be just fine.

I also found a photo of good ol' Gloria. From the bits I could piece together from her artist's brain and this photo, I'd say she was a pretty interesting little lady. Thanks for the treasure hunt, Gloria.

A Personal Connection
As much as I love imagining what the lives of strangers must have been like and what untold stories go along with things that are now part of my collections, there's something extra special about wearing and cherishing pieces from people that I knew, even a little bit.

I have many things that belonged to my Great Grandma Peggy, which I wrote a bit about after her memorial in 2014. One particular necklace she had is now one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. She's been gone for several years now, and though she doesn't come up in conversation all that often anymore, I love having small things in my life to remember her by. Here is a picture of me wearing one of the more dramatic pieces I inherited from her (why, oh why were clothes ever designed with a seam running down the front?!). I have a picture of her wearing it, back in the day (70s, I'm guessing), but it's buried somewhere in my piles of stuff and didn't turn up quickly went I went looking for it.... Hopefully I can update this post with the photos side by side whenever I find it!

Since my parents have lived on Coventry Ct. here in Santa Maria, the residents of two of the six houses on this cul de sac have passed away. I wish I had gotten to know them better. I don't think I ever met the woman who lived on the corner, but my brothers pulled weeds in her yard a few times. When she died, another of our neighbors and his brother ran the estate sale, and I bought some embroidered napkins from Southeast Asia, some handwritten recipes, a pair of shiny black T-strap shoes, and a necklace of carved wooden parrots. There may have been some other things, but those are the things that stick in my mind. It was especially exciting to be in her house because I see it every day, but I'd never been inside. There was a fantastic sun room, I wish I could have bought that house. Her house and its contents signaled that she had traveled to many places, and it felt like a missed opportunity to never have gotten to know her.

A few years ago, our family friends had their parents (my age-mates' grandparents) move in with them, and in the process of that move, I ended up with several bags worth of incredible clothing. Earlier this year, my friend's grandmother passed away. Mrs. Toevs was a very small woman and I can only fit into her items on a good day, and in the case of the most incredible pair of Wranglers with giant green poppies all over them, not at all. If anything could motivate me to diet, it would be those pants. I'm thankful to have had a few opportunities to talk with her before she died and know a bit about her story (to my unending amusement, she completely earnestly referred to me as a housewife once). I feel as honored as I am lucky that people know that I would love nothing more than to have bags of older clothing that no one else will wear. Not only will I wear them, but I will love them, and as with all the others, I hope that my love for the clothes is a small token of remembrance for our loved ones who are gone, and for the ones that loved them. 

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