Why I Feel At Home in Thrift Stores
Every article of clothing, every tchotchke, conjures a memory, a story.
I feel the scratch of worsted wool in my hands. The sweater smells of mothballs and wooden chests in attics. I’m back in the basement of a cafeteria in the Bronx, where the mailroom holds compact discs from Columbia House for a penny, glossy catalogs of preened college students in cabins and on lakes, swaddled in their rollneck sweaters and goose jackets. Handwritten letters from home when stamps were 29 cents.
It is 1995.
I slip my hands through the sleeves and there I am, 19, a Snapple-drinking college sophomore thumbing through a J. Crew catalog. Ordering a wool sweater in charcoal grey. And when it arrived wrapped in plastic, I pulled it over my head and felt its warmth. It smelled of full-body hugs, autumn in New England, apples and cider, crackling fires and scorched marshmallows.
In a Salvation Army in Bakersfield, California, I’m reminded of a brief moment when life was filled with so much possibility. A moment before cell phones and the internet, before planes crashed into buildings. Before electronic bill pay, student loan debt, and ten vacation days a year. Before we circled back on that email and touched base on that conference call. Before you voted for who? created a fissure in the fault that became a ground that opened up and swallowed twenty years of a friendship whole.
A brief time when possibility had not yet succumbed to reality.
The sweater is $4.99, but it’s blue tag week where all items are half off. So, here I am, holding a $2.50 piece of fabric in my hands, which rewinds the tape twenty-five years.
In a Los Angeles Goodwill, I crouch down and thumb through the CDs. Not because I plan to buy any, but to remember a time when music was a weight you held in your hands. There goes Kenny Loggins, Amy Grant, Whitesnake, New Kids on The Block, and Eddie Rabbit. Always with the Enya. The Commodores and Christian rock bands I’ve never heard of. So many compilations of soul sounds from the 70s. Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” which once had me believing the ocean was a deep, unrelenting blue with caps glinting white. Feet dangling out of car window when it played that summer when my…