Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Upwoods, On the Road to Norway, Maine
January 2013

Long before there was an antiques roadshow or the Picker Sisters or any of those ridiculous pawn store shows, New Englanders would hit the country highways and biways to go antiquing. Antiquing is pretty simple in theory, and there in lies the rub. Basically you pack up the family into the wagon, hitch up old Bess, and mosey on down the lane til you saw a barn full of junk with a sign outside saying something simple, usually "Junk" or "4 Sale". 

En mass everyone bails out and starts picking through the rust, holding odds and ends up to the light, rubbing and polishing like an alchemist working his quicksilver and hoping there be gold under all that oxidation. Finding something you like you slowly meander over to the proprietor, real slow like so as not disguise your Yankee excitement. The proprietor is usually a fella with an unkept beard (white or well on its way to being white), wearing paint-stained holey overalls and usually a felt hat in better shape then the barn you're standing in, and chewing an unlit pipe. He usually can be found to have a pocket full of old thymey anecdotes going back to when the pilgrims first stopped in to say hello and bring him the leftovers from their first thanksgiving. 

Each antiquing stop usually has one of those old men, friendly enough until it comes to price, who will fight you tooth and nail over every plugged or unplugged nickel in the price of a bent and broken rusted out piece of junk. These old men have the mysterious mystical power to turn any raw and ruined tarnished beyond belief piece of junk into a priceless family heirloom with a storied history to rival the House of Hannover. $200 for that rusted bent twisted and completely ruined nail you have in your hand? Well sure! 

Hands in his pockets, pipe tucked firmly into his cheek, the old fella would begin, "Lemme tell yah 'bout that'un, you see back in '45, thats 1745 you know..." and off he'd be. He would lean in close like he was about to tell you a state secret and go on to tell you a tale so livacious and believable about that half penny nail you are breathing heavy, blushing, and more then willing to pay $200 wildly exclaiming to everyone in earshot what an astronomical deal you just received. Yup every barn has on of these fellas. 

The art of course is discerning what is really rust and what is rusted gold. Then once having made the determination, convincing the old fella in the overalls with the pipe in his cheek that your rusted gold is really just rust but you feel bad and would take it off his hands for a good enough price is a whole other story. Half the fun is in the bickering I bet. And bickering will you have. Some old fellas will yell and scream and plead poverty and curse you til you turn red and he is blue. Some simply shrug and mumble about you putting them in the poor house and retiring to Florida and leaving the whole pile of junk to the natives. Some will simply say "nope" at any price offered without explanation or excuse. just a simple nope until you name a price they like. Then they will great you with a sheepish "I 'spose." and look rather offended that they are taking your hard earned money. Then of course are the old fellas that employ many of these different attemtps in quick succession, keep you off balance, until you are so befuddled you have willed away half your 401K for a rusty nail and have offered him an invite to Sunday dinner. Lot of these old fellas wouldn't eat if it weren't for those Sunday dinner invitations I suspect.

Once you have sufficiently picked over, through, around, under everything in the antique barn (and done it twice) you pack up the whole family, your findings for the day and head over the hill to the next barn to do it all over again. So that there is antiquing in a more-or-less nutshell.

Anyhow spent the day with the folks antiquing. Went upwoods so to speak, all the way up towards Norway- South Paris, just outside of Oxford. While pouring over my 417th pile of junk, an Edward Abbey anthology caught my eye. While in California and the American West, Abbey is a revered figure, he is barely known up here in the frozen northern New England woods. Color me surprised. I picked it up to have a look and was surprised all over again. I love antiquing. Those goofy American Pickers have nothing on this.       

"Laugh & yell..."

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