Thursday, April 28, 2016

History Lessons at an Antique Store

My family and I like to visit antique stores when we take road trips. They're a welcome rest stop along the road. Sometimes they're small little shops, and other times they are large emporiums filled with a gazillion booths. Large or small, they are always filled with unique treasures from the past. Yes, sometimes I do feel a little antique myself when toys from my childhood are among the shelves (Fisher Price A-Frame house, Donny and Marie dolls...), but most of the time I enjoy walking around. The owners are always friendly people, and it's a relaxing break from the highway to stretch your legs.  Once in awhile I pick up an item and say out loud to whoever is in earshot, "My mom still has this!" or "I totally forgot about this until right now, but I had this!" or "I remember that!" I am always fascinated by vintage clothes (ladies sure were petite back then!).

On our way back from Chicago a couple of weekends ago, we stopped at a nice antique store in Michigan City, IN.  My husband took off toward one end of the store (he collects old books), while my son and I poked around together looking at things from time gone by: old toys, Beatles posters, vinyl record albums, knick-knacks, books, and housewares. Religious items always catch my eye, and I've come home with several Catholic items from shops like these.

The things I am drawn to the most, however, are old photographs: people all dressed up at weddings, baby photos, and family photos. I always wonder who these people are, how they felt when their photos were taken, what kind of people they were, and of course, where they are now. The photos are usually so old that the people in them have likely gone into eternal life, and that always gives me pause. How did these family photos end up in an antique shop and in my hands? Didn't the family want them anymore, or are they long gone as well? Sometimes people purchase these photos because they like the frames, but when the photos don't come in frames, I wonder who buys these photos of other families, someone else's grandma or grandpa, or great uncle or cousin.

One photo I looked at was a photo of someone's parents, in front of their home on a summer's day, probably taken in the 1940s. The mother had a corsage pinned to her dress, and they both looked happy, grinning at the camera. Mother's Day, perhaps, or an anniversary? Easter Sunday?



I usually reflect for a bit on these photos of someone else's family and then move on, since there is so much to see and merchandise crammed everywhere. But the other week, buried in the back of a shelf of the antique shop in Michigan City, IN, a particular framed photo caught my eye. I don't know when the black-and-white photo was taken, but I am guessing sometime in the 1930s or 40s. I was drawn to it because it is a photograph of a Catholic priest. I dug it out of the shelf and stared at the 8x10 photo of a man in glasses looking back at me. Who was this priest, and where was he from? How did this photo come to be here in this antique shop? Most of these stores have booths they rent out to vendors, and this store was so large and had so many vendors that I knew the man at the front desk would most likely not know the back story of this particular photograph. Now I wish I would have at least tried to ask him.


I called my son over and showed him the photo of the priest. "I wonder who he is," I mused aloud. I wondered about his vocation and the parishes he served at.  I turned the frame over but there was no information on the back. Then it occurred to me that we should pray for this holy priest, for the repose of his soul, for he was most likely deceased. So right there in the middle of the antique store, a short prayer was said for this man of the cloth who we had never known. But I figured somebody, perhaps many, many people, loved this priest and he had most likely served hundreds and hundreds of God's people over the years of his priesthood, so he deserved a special prayer here in 2016.  After snapping a quick photo of it, I gently set the framed picture back where I had found it and wondered if anyone would buy it.

We walked back toward the front of the store and saw a large display case of jewelry. So many colors and styles of necklaces, earrings, and rings that ladies of days gone by wore and enjoyed.  I wondered who gave these ladies their treasures, and if they were birthday, anniversary, or Christmas gifts. Each piece, I realized, was treasured by someone, was loved and kept in a special place on their dressers or in jewelry boxes.



Meandering through the rest of the store, I came upon many other photos of people enjoying special times in their lives, and I was a bit in awe of all of these people and their photos. I happened upon a photo of a little girl's First Holy Communion, seated with her mother for a formal portrait, and I wondered who she was as well.


Walking through these antique stores is a real, living history lesson. I love history, so perhaps that's why I enjoy it so much. Sometimes it makes me a little sad, but mostly it makes me appreciate that I am still here, still alive and able to enjoy living in the here and now, and am able to learn from looking at and appreciating belongings that others cherished so much in the past. Somehow I think the owners of these treasures would like knowing that someone still appreciates them now in 2016.






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