There is a type of person who aspires to live in weird places.
Like, a lighthouse, say.
Or, a converted barn.
Yes me, but not just me. There are other weirdos about.
Behold the Tiny House movement.
Naturally, I would love a Tiny House.
Of course, a vintage Boler is really a kind of Tiny House.
Arlo Guthrie memorialized the cool, weird house back in the 1960s with his song, “Alice’s Restaurant” in which Alice, Ray, and Potcho the Dog lived in an old church.
My dad introduced me to the song when I was about 12. As an adult, my friend and fellow Alice’s Restaurant fan, Bamboo Guy, even owned a church that was very swoon-y. Bruce Cockburn lives there now and how cool is that?
I’ve wanted to live in a church ever since.
And, even before.
In fact, my fascination with weird houses manifested itself as a child when, with every snowstorm, I attempted to build a house made from snow.
Unfortunately, I never learned the Inuit tradition of igloos (although I tried to build one many times!)
Usually, it was just me and my sister with shovels and soggy mittens, making a hole in the snow bank at the end of our driveway and trying to pretend that the result was a cozy as a Hobbit house.
In a melty, collapse-on-your-head kind of way.
My mother was concerned (as all Canadian mothers were) that the snowplow driver would kill us, by accident, with all that gallivanting at the street side.
That meant, my other option was an old margarine container in the back yard.
I would pack the snow in the container tightly, then tip it out carefully on the ground.
Sometimes, it was that dumb sugary snow that wouldn’t hold together.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
Other times, it was close to Spring and my “bricks” had a lot of leaves and twigs in the mix.
It marred the pristine, crystalline, margarine beauty I was going for, but I tried to just pretended it was mortar.
I wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright ever had these kinds of issues?
I’d lay out the floor plan: kitchen here, library here, secret passageways there.
My projects always seemed to cover the whole back yard.
Not one able to keep to minimalism even then, no siree.
Which meant that either I got discouraged, or the snow melted before my margarine-tub-formed walls were more than about ankle height.
As an adult, I drag Practical Man around to look at every weird building I can find.
Yesterday’s schoolhouse was very fun.
Built in 1847, it counts as “very old” among buildings in Canada.
It was kind of in the boonies, of course, since that’s where country schoolhouses tend to spring up.
It still had slate chalkboards.
Be still my heart.
There were tin ceilings in what used to be the girl’s and boy’s entrance foyers. Oh yes, they were of a time:
And the original schoolhouse lights (SIX!):
Swoon-y swoon, swoon.
As you may have observed, it even had a bell tower.
Ding, ding, ding!
Minus the bell, but I’m sure we could remedy that.
Alas, it had a bidding war planned for Monday and about 10 years of hard labour involved after purchase.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
One of the things stopping me from buying some of these weird buildings (besides a usefully-practical Practical Man) is their one-room schoolhouse size.
Since we can’t usually afford the life-size ones that don’t have 10 years of hard labour, I’ve been collecting small buildings.
Fisher Price vintage ones.
I’m sure you guessed that’s what I meant, since I have no children and I’m pushing 50.
They do take up a bit of space, as you can imagine.
So far, I have a castle:
an A-frame Cottage:
and perhaps best of all,
the School house:
This Schoolhouse was the perfect price and size.
It even has a bell in the bell tower.
Everyone knows that collecting books isn’t the same as hoarding, right?
Collecting books is literary. It’s a luxury (after all, how many mansions and castles didn’t have a library room?) It’s professorial.
And, even though I’m a professor’s daughter and not a professor myself–not to mention a library user and advocate–I do love to keep me some books.
Especially vintage books.
Just a few.
Before you start picturing the worst-case scenario, let me clarify that we only have four bookshelves in our home.
Okay, fine. We have books in nearly every room (on tables, in magazine racks, in cabinets,) but only four official bookshelves. That’s what counts.
Four bookshelves is nothing for a bookworm/vintage lover/pack rat, all rolled into one.
Really, I’m small potatoes in the world of book hoarding–I mean–collecting.
I once knew a couple who brought back over 250 books from their honeymoon. He was doing his PhD (What did I tell you? Book collections are professorial.) and she just loved books. Their Victorian house was a maze of floor-to-nearly-ceiling shelves, lining the walls in every room, the hallways and even up the stairs. The top floor used to be fiction and the bottom floor was non-fiction. Even if I hadn’t been living in a village with a teeny, tiny library at the time, I would have loved their house. It came up for sale recently and I was tempted to buy it even though they and their books are long gone.
Their collection made that house a home.
It was a swoon-y, book lover’s house of the best kind.
Like that couple, our measly four bookshelves are also floor-to-ceiling and chock-a-block with books of all kinds. Mildly organized, as I like to be once or twice a year and clustered among other vintage objects that need a home. I also (ahem) collect a few vintage toys, which fit very well in my children’s book section.
I believe the staging experts calls this “giving the eye a place to land.”
Anyhoo, the annual book sale for the local symphony orchestra started this weekend and I have never been. I can’t imagine why, especially after all the fun I had there on Friday evening.
It was in a warehouse, which made it even more fun because of the whole forsaken, industrial vibe. Plus, there is bound to be tonnage of books in a WAREHOUSE!
When we got inside, there was a map which showed what types of books were in each section.
Maps = tonnage!
Sections = tonnage!
I consulted the map and tried not to squeal. There was a children’s section and music A, B, and C sections!
Three sub-sections = tonnage!
Practical Man and I mused about the definition of “Ephemera”.
Such a fun word, don’t you think?
Can’t remember what it means, of course. This is why I don’t do crossword puzzles, like my sister and Grandma Helen. I could Google the word, but I like to give my brain a chance to percolate for a few days.
It’s cheaper than Lumosity.com.
I hot-footed it to the music section, leaving a Practical Man in my book-hoarding dust. There were books about genres of music and books about the people who make music. But, I’m not as keen on reading about music as I am about playing it. So, I searched through lots of classical piano books–even a couple that looked just like the ones I scored in East Berlin back in 1985, before the Berlin Wall came down. (You had to spend all your money before you came back to the West and I spent it, even then, on super-economical, communist music books.)
On Friday evening, I looked for guitar books to help me with my new-ish relationship with Alice, my guitar.
It was a fun search but, yielded nothing interesting.
Then, I saw them: piles of vintage sheet music. There were boxes full of music with retro graphics and songs from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Swoon-y swoon, swoon!
There was music featuring my friend (well, in my imagination anyway), Julie Andrews. I’ll frame this score by my piano.
Some of the books just SMELLED vintage and special and the pages and illustrations dated them instantly to a by-gone era. Like, this Fireside Book of Folk Songs that is a large, hardcover book from 1947. There are songs to sing and play from South America and Scotland, Cowboy songs and Railroad songs, Hebrew songs and Chinese songs. There is even a part for spirituals and hymns. The arranger notes in the preface that “To avoid the monotony and vulgarity, no attempt has been made to persuade one style of accompaniment to suit varying styles of melody, and the square-toed “oom-pah” bass had been studiously avoided.”
Now, who wouldn’t want to take that book home with them for the bargain price of $1?
I found a couple of gifts for people who appreciate this kind of dusty treasure just as much as I do (I wish I could show them to you!) and Practical Man popped by every once in a while to carry my growing pile, because opening my car door and carrying my books is the kind of vintage gallantry that oozes out of his pores every old day of the week. He paid my $12 total at the end of our book sale, Friday night date, too.
He’s a keeper, that man.
As I rifled through the sheet music, I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Judging from the era of most of the music, I wondered if it had come from one person’s collection. And, I suddenly realized that something really special might be found within the stack. Something that was worth far more than the 10 cent price tag that was listed on the sign.
And then, I found it.
The song that would bring tears to my eyes in a warehouse full of bargain book tonnage:
It was sung in an episode of Downton Abbey in recent years, but, that’s not why I know the chorus by heart:
I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper
that you love me too…”
Originally a hit in 1911, it became the biggest selling popular song on the market again, in the run up to WWII.
But more than this, it’s the song my grandparents played in their “cellar” rec room, amongst the ’50s furniture, when I was growing up.
It was the first song that they danced to at their 40th wedding anniversary, when I was 13 years old, my grandfather with tears brimming in his eyes.
It was my grandparents’ love song.
And, in part because of the symphony book sale, its ours too.
Family legend has it that I conned my Grandpa Lou when I was eight years old.
The scene of the crime was the grocery store near my grandparents cottage. It was in a tiny little town and maybe the owners were Dutch or liked Dutch stuff or something because they had a little room near the back with a whole bunch of Dutch-inspired chatchkas in it: Delft blue pottery replicas and such.
Of course, I was smitten. I was a mostly-useless-but-pretty-stuff hoarder even way back then. I mean, who doesn’t like a little chatchka shopping when they were only planning to buy two-year old cheddar and Mennonite summer sausage?
Naturally, after some browsing, I convinced my Grandpa Lou to buy me a decorative spoon “for my spoon collection.” It had a Delft blue pottery-looking wooden (well, ceramic) shoe on the end and it came all the way from the Netherlands–well, China, actually, via Drayton, Ontario.
Such a treasure. I loved it.
Don’t believe me? 38 years later, I still have that spoon.
So there. Here’s the evidence:
Please consider this when you’re judging my con artist ways.
Anyway, on the way back to the cottage all those years ago, my Grandpa Lou asked, “So, how many spoons does this make in your collection, now?”
He was apparently (hopefully?) quite amused when I replied, seemingly without guilt or guile: “This is my first!”
And that, dear friends, is how I became a decorative spoon collector. Relatives and friends would bring me specimens for the collection I didn’t really have, from their various worldly adventures which I stored and carted around through my 20s and various cross-country and out-of-country moves.
Yep, guilt over your con artist start in the spoon collecting industry will make you very loyal to your ill-begotten collection. And, suddenly, you realize that you actually do HAVE a collection.
In recent years, they were stored in the drawer of the china cabinet (donated by Grandma Verna), since the china cabinet is where I put all the grown-up things that I don’t actually use: “good” dishes, crystal salt and pepper shakers, pickle plates, and the china tea set from my childhood.
Out of sight, out of mind. That is, in the dining room (definitely a room for grown-ups).
There was a brief period of spoons on the wall, but (con artist guilt aside), decorative spoons really aren’t my thing. I’m more likely to have VW hubcaps and vintage printing press blocks festooning our house.
You know, things that kind of make Practical Man roll his eyes, but he still helps me festoon because he’s a very handy festooner.
Lately, though, I’ve been trying to purge items that I don’t truly love or make use of daily.
Have no fear. Practical Man is safe on both counts.
The spoons, however–even after all my years of guilt-fueled loyalty–were on shaky ground.
After getting sucked into the vortex that is Pinterest for a few hours, (after all, who doesn’t like a little chatchka oogling and Fiat drooling when they were only planning to search for upcycyling ideas for decorative spoons?) I came across the idea to transform the decorative spoons into a charm bracelet.
Presto-bongo. Practical Man to the rescue for the tedious (and slightly unsettling) spoon decapitation and hole drilling and jump-ring installation.
Then, I am back for the glory phase of attaching to the chain for the bracelet.
Memories of my and other people’s adventures in Miami Beach, Montreal, Detroit, Texas, New Orleans, St. Augustine, Rio de Janeiro, Quebec, Pheonix, Bahamas, Heidelberg, Ottawa, RCMP, Victoria, and England now tinkle and dance together, making a happy, loved, useful sound.
My spoons are re-born as kitschy, sentimental bracelets. Two of them!
My Grandpa Lou loved kitschy, sentimental stuff so I think he would approve.
When I was 5 or 6, I decided to run away.
I can’t recall what unspeakable childhood injustice led to the moment when I flounced into my room and started packing my suitcase, but I do remember the dilemma:
how to fit everything in?
The little blue suitcase that I kept my doll’s clothes in wasn’t nearly big enough to hold the non-negotiable running away necessities such as:
- a flashlight to guard against bogey man,
- books and books and books to read while “on the road”,
- clean underpants (in case I was in an accident),
- penny bank (a plaster, brown-and-white pig approximately the size of my entire torso),
- and red-and-white checkered umbrella and raincoat ensemble (one can never be too stylish while running away),
let alone my TREASURES.
Red cowboy hat:
Mickey mouse record player:
and my Elizabeth doll:
I should have known right then and there, that I was never going to be a footloose and fancy-free kind of gal.
Too. Much. Stuff.
My new vintage suitcase evokes a 1974, running away kind of vibe too.
As in, Practical Man wants to run away when he sees the loud pattern.
I think he might have some kind of rare retinal disorder.
I love him anyway.
This suitcase is approximately the same size as my old running away version.
The inside is pristine, as if someone 5 or 6 years old couldn’t quite fit all her treasures in there either. As a result, it probably rested, only occasionally disturbed by a fleeting fancy of running away, until it was returned to under the bed.
I think it wants to be my new briefcase. It is not only (obviously) fabulous looking but eminently useful with both interior and exterior pockets and a handy umbrella slot. I can’t wait to take it out into the world and around the university, full of fun stationery supplies, snacks, a sunhat, music, assorted Sharpie markers, and life’s essentials: books and books and more books.
Some things never change.