Junk Shops

Dammit. I can’t find that post. I searched the blog for flea market, junk and vendor. No luck. No patience either. I want to write, not browse someone else’s blog looking for a post I might never find. I read it during my transition phase, shortly after I attended the West Virginia writer’s workshop. I received unexpectedly harsh criticism. Use action verbs! Show, don’t tell! We read our pieces in order, worst to best. I went second.

My writing improved. My reading improved. I became more observant of how others told their tales. I found Nick’s blog. That day he wrote a list, the things he saw at the flea market. He painted a picture, snapped a photo. He showed me the tattered edge of a tapestry, the rust on a knife handle, a stained Persian rug.

I left him a comment. “How do you do that? I want to do that.” I doubt he knew what I meant. Do you? I want the superpower to observe everyday objects and tell stories about them everyone can understand. I want to point out the obvious—so obvious, no one even notices… until you write about them.

Nick’s flea market trick struck me as clever. I could browse a junk shop, camera in hand, and later scan the photos to illustrate my stories. I made a resolution to make this a habit, to improve my writing with images. I, like Nick, could set heads nodding. Readers thinking I’ve seen that, I know that. I made a resolution and then I promptly forgot it. Years later, I read Gwen’s post.

Gwen does this. She visit’s the Auction Barn, to actually shop, not steal photos. But she makes note of what’s there. … pickling crocks, a wool carpet, Dutch clogs. Yesterday’s items, familiar but outside the mainstream, to enrich her scenes. She reminded me of my vow.

I don’t write about things. I write about feelings, sometimes action, occasionally dialogue, but my scenes could take place on a barren stage. Show, don’t tell—how do you show what’s going on in someone’s head. I need stuff.

My in-laws bought a recliner at T.J. Maxx. They asked Susan if we would deliver it to them with our pickup truck. On the way to get it, Sophie sat shotgun, I sat in the backseat like a kid—along for the ride, the hired help, maybe the muscle. Halfway there, Susan asked if we could stop at a junk shop. It seemed like a set-up. Like something Susan and Sophie already planned. Like they expected me to protest.  “Sure, I’ve been wanting to go to a junk shop.” Sophie thought this was sarcasm.

As we pulled into the parking spot, I found what I wanted all these years. Boxes and bowls trying to look haphazard, the kind Susan and I bought for our first house, shabby-chic; mailboxes, mouths gaped like baby birds begging for worms; a ladder, handmade, stolen from a bunkbed; skis from the seventies, when I first learned to ski; one of those nylon chairs I sat in while surf-fishing with my dad; an OPEN sign like the one at the Silver Bullet, the joint we stopped at for beers after soccer. Each item triggered a memory, each memory, a story.

I snapped a dozen photos, most at the junk shop, a few more at the Rescue Mission thrift shop. Fertile ground for growing stories. Weeks of writing lined up. No more staring at a blank page. “So you wanted to go to a junk shop for writing prompts?” Susan asked, “that’s a great idea.”

Thank you Nick, thank you Gwen.

31 thoughts on “Junk Shops

  1. I spent my childhood in thrift stores. I grew up very poor with a single mother and a 3yrs younger brother. We were on welfare and food stamps and got government food. All of our clothes except shoes and underwear came from thrift stores.

    I hated that I never got anything new or trendy, but I loved exploring the bric-a-brac and dishes. I loved looking at the “ball gowns”/prom dresses and imagine myself wearing them.

    I still love thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales. Things like dishes, cookwear, even little bric-a-brac were chosen and used by people. It’s interesting to imagine their lives and why they chose those items.

    I might need to go shopping for some forks, spoons, and coffee mugs😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a tragic story about your childhood. I grew up pretty comfortably although given my knowledge of my parent’s ‘station in life’ I’d say that they struggled to afford some of the luxuries I took for granted, like an annual trip to the beach. As we poked around the rescue mission, Susan and I noted all the funky plates and bowls and glass cooking dishes available for 50 cents a piece and both agreed in the future the mission would be our first stop for replacements. Lots of cool stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I had a very strange upbringing! From birth til about age 11-12 we were very poor. Then my mother met and married my step-dad. She started working, and we were like the Jeffersons… Movin On Up.
        From age 12-18 we lived upper middle class. New Volvo Station Wagon, 4 bedroom house in a hoity toity area where I went to school with the kids of Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, etc… my best friend’s dad was a VP for Merrill Lynch and her mom was an architect.
        Very interesting life I’ve led…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When you mentioned a handmade ladder from a bunkbed, my first thought was that I hope it does not end up being used as a towel rail at the next Airbnb place that I stay at.
    Yes, I know that wasn’t the point, but you pulled a misplaced lever in my mind somewhere.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ha, a likely use. Eliciting those thoughts was sort of the exact point of the post. Everything that wound up in that one photo I posted serves as a writers prompt for me. I’d love to read your post ranting about the ‘quaint’ decorations in B&Bs. I think it would be fun and relatable (although I try really hard to avoid B&Bs… I lose my anonymity when I stay in those).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Covid focused our travel on places like a small house in a regional centre. I bring along things lke a substantial internet radio/ audio streamer and a moka pot and that helps me feel more at home.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Historically, I avoid stuff like this because I don’t like buying random things. But ya gotta look to find those treasures. We decorate our back porch with metal bric-a-brac. I found a “Penny Lane” road sign that would look great on the wall. $4 — stoked.


  3. This is a rich treasure of images, Jeff. I love a good junk shop field trip, the stories behind things, and I especially love the image of mailboxes with “mouths gaped like baby birds begging for worms.” It’s going to be hard not to see them that way now.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I am canceling all of the programs associated with you. The reason is due to my age and onset of dementia. It is better that I do it now rather than my son who will be taking over as of today and he has the authority to cancel anything that I have entered into online.

    Thanks for understanding, Joseph


    Liked by 2 people

  5. I never went back home after graduating college. I spent time convincing landlords that I would pay my rent on time and would not need a cosigner. I also spent a lot of spare time at thrift stores putting pieces together to get the things I needed and sifting through stuff I would like on my walls or on my shelves. I still have a lot of those same apartment pieces hanging up today. These days, I found out that they put their new used books up on Monday, so if I am looking for a new $1.00 read, I make sure to check out the new inventory by Tuesday. I’ve got quite a pile of good reads these days!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not sure if you’re aware, but the gettysburg library has a used book store on the first floor. It’s open until 5 on weekends.The thrift items I bought when single are long gone. Susan and I bought some pretty cool stuff in Frederick MD super cheap when we started dating. That stuff is still our primary artwork. My dad kicked me out of the house pretty quickly after college. My mother had just died and he was traveling a ton. He (accurately) decided if I stuck around, I’d probably never leave.


  6. In shops like that I never know how to browse because of the disorganization, my eyes scan and don’t know where to land. And the stale-ish smell of old books can make my throat dry just thinking about it. That said, my heart feels good about the history and I appreciate that the items made it to the save pile as opposed to the toss pile when someone was cleaning out. However, I rarely buy anything.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have that exact same problem in stores. I stare at the items on the shelves and see nothing. It’s interesting because when I looked at the grouping in the photo, all I saw was the open sign. But when I looked closely on my phone, so much more jumped out at me. You’re right. thrift shopping is the ultimate recycling.


  7. As someone with a keen fondness for the past, I enjoy thrift shops. Don’t often buy stuff (books, mostly), but it’s just beautiful being surrounded by living history. Treasures of a bygone era that most don’t value. Thank you for this wonderful post, and I hope you find that draft.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi Jeff.

    Better late than never – me, that is. I must have read this post a dozen times, but my brain hasn’t been capable of functioning a sensible comment; don’t hold your breath! I have an infection following my op and am on antibiotics. It’s not getting much better, so I imagine another lot will be in order. Hopefully, I’ll begin to feel better soon. I’m fed up being poorly.

    Junk shops and flea markets are just up my street – not literally – they fascinate me with their collection of odd and interesting curios, often full of character, as are the owners of these shops quite often. I used to go to the flea market in Brick Lane, London, and another at Camden Passage, also in London. I’m not even sure whether they’re still there anymore as it was many years ago. Secondhand books fascinate me. I’d like to know more about the person who first purchased or read the book – a whole history waiting to be told on every page. I love your descriptions of the things that you found in the shop you stopped at – ‘mailboxes, mouths gaped like baby birds begging for worms; a ladder, handmade, stolen from a bunk bed.’ Brilliant!

    I do love a good potter. I always see something that I think I will really use but do I ever? Rarely. It’ll sit at the back of the cupboard under the stairs for the next few decades and will undoubtedly be left for my children to sort out and dispose of after my demise. No, I’m not planning to go anywhere quite yet. I’m feeling poorly, yes, but not THAT poorly!

    Good catching up with you, at last, Jeff. Ellie x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I hope you beat your infection quickly. Regarding “often full of character, as are the owners of these shops quite often” unfortunately, the owner of this place is a MAGA American. He had a handmade sign out throughout the last election (and probably will again). Since I do all of my reading in library books, I wish there was a way for people to leave their name and a comment. I’d like to know which neighbors read the book before me and what they thought. This is probably ingrained by blog commenting. Feel better soon. Summer is upon us, and everyone needs to be outdoors.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Jeff. What a shame about the shopkeeper. I completely agree with you about books. Not all my books are from the library but I always have a few out although I tend to get out more than I actually have time to read! I do also buy books if there’s something really special that I want to keep and read again in the future. I love the smell of old and new books alike, but especially the old ones. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know something about the people who had read it before us, as you say. I’m one of those people who does leave notes in library books saying, Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. Wishing you all the best for a wonderful day,’ or ‘A warm hug from me to you. Take care.’ You never know who might need to read that message, perhaps, if they’re having a bad day etc.

        I can’t wait for the summer to come. Everyone feels so much better for bright days and the warmth of the sun on our skin. I’ll also be very glad when the fledgeling season is over for a start as Peanut is not in my good books at the moment! She’s been catching baby birds and it’s breaking my heart. One of two have sadly died, another one was injured and the one this morning, was alive and kicking, thank goodness. I think it was just in shock and needing antibiotics as a cat’s saliva is toxic to birds. I’m very lucky, though, as I have a wildlife rescue centre near me and they’ve given me a little bird carrier with heat pads, and woolly nests to put the birds that survive in and they then come and collect the birds and nurse them back to fitness; then release them into the wild when they’re old and independent enough. I know it’s natural for a cat to hunt but it makes me so, so sad. Anyway, Peanut is grounded for today; not as a punishment, of course, but just to give the other babies a chance for a day at least. I’ve lost count of how many baby birds she’s had in the last couple of weeks 😥. Don’t know why I’m telling you all this – it’s not relevant to your post at all! x

        Liked by 2 people

        • I wonder if your notes to future readers make it through the check-in process at your library. Our employees are supposed to flip through the books and take out any extraneous papers. My wife once took out a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and found her own receipt from years and years before. When I first published my first book, I had ‘marketing bookmarks’ made up. I used to stick one in every book I returned to the library. Now that I work here, I worry that one of our employees remembers my self-aggrandizing efforts to market my book. How embarrassing.

          Really, feel better.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. HI Jeff! I’m delighted to read about your experience of the “junk shop”. It’s always a balancing act for writers. We need time to be alone and collect our thoughts and creatively express them, but we also need to be of the world so we can experiences can spark our creativity. Your writing came alive when you described what objects meant to you. As they triggered nostalgia in you (and rich descriptions), so they did for your readers. The evidence is in the comments you’ve received. It was nice to hear the pleasure you experienced in the outting. Not such a chore after all:) Before I wrap up, I am compelled to add that the writing instructor’s strategy was harsh and archaic. We’re all so glad your passion for writing wasn’t extinguished by that experience. You’re a fine writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. It is a superpower in a sense, I think! And it can be learned (I think!), and I’m glad you made this discovery and wrote about it Jeff, thanks. Seems like a good technique so run with it right?! Show don’t tell! And cut the fucking gerunds right 🤓

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Yes, it a superpower, but I believe it can be developed with practice and effort (at least for me). Some people seem to just naturally see under the surface of everything around them (Matt Haig). I’m clearly improving on the action words/no gerunds but, but show don’t tell is really hard for me, I think at least a little bit because of my subject matter (but that’s probably a cop out). You read Nick’s blog, right?


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