Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goodwill to Men

     Everyone has their dirty little secrets, their hidden obsessions, their dark habits. We do things that shame our families, embarrass our children, and sully our good name. But like every addict, we cling to these behaviors with a fierce loyalty and stubbornly refuse to become rehabilitated.  For many years, I have chosen to engage in a certain behavior which has caused my children to cringe and hide in the backseats of cars, driven my husband to the border of insanity, and made me the brunt of many family jokes. Like many addicts, I stubbornly refuse to conquer my obsession.  Instead, I  indulge myself as frequently as possible, looking for ways to feed my habit secretly, obsessively, consummately.
     I am a Goodwill girl.  I love thrift shops. I can't help myself-- the desire for a bargain boils in my Scottish blood, threatening to rupture an artery if I do not release the pressure.  Nothing thrills me more than to pull into an unexplored thrift shop, heart racing and as anxious as a hound dog sniffing out an early morning kill. I will wait in line with the masses, the unwashed and homeless, the illegal immigrant, the college student, the struggling young housewife, the retired book collector. I know no shame in standing in that line of the unproud bargain hunters.  We are a brotherhood, all differently motivated  but serving  a same purpose: find a deal, locate a treasure, meet a need.
      I was introduced to the magical world of thrift shops during my initial year as a Junior League novice. Part of the requirement of each new League member was to serve a certain number of hours each month volunteering in the Junior League Thrift Shop, a fundraising enterprise fondly called "The Clothes Rack."  We were required to not only volunteer our man-power, we also were asked to donate a certain amount of goods to the store, which in turn could be sold to bring in more dollars to distribute to worthwhile community projects.
     It didn't take many volunteer mornings before I realized I had stumbled into my wonderland. While most young women moaned and groaned about spending their busy mornings sorting through used clothing and discarded housewares, I could barely sleep the night before I was scheduled to pull a shift.  I would spend the weekend raiding my closets, basement, and attic to load up on my required quota of donated goods.  My husband would smile appreciatively as I cleaned out chests and drawers, purging bulging closets of unwanted apparel,  all for a worthwhile cause.
     I spent one morning each month driving downtown with a trunk of bags, depositing my unwanted apparel as quickly as possible, and completing my morning shift of sorting through boxes and pricing donations. I would then spend the next two hours as a merry thrift store shopper, snapping up items I had been secretly eyeing all morning, wonderful finds worthy of a good cause.  I would drive home with bags of housewares, children's clothing, antiques....all treasures casually discarded by some generous soul.
     And books! Oh, the books that pass through the shelves of thrift stores! I am an unabashed book-a-holic, and spending $1 on literature can't be questioned. I would buy boxes of books- classics, newly published novels, cookbooks, children's stories, gardening and decorating tomes, self-help manuals, study guides- anything printed and interesting would be added to my pile.  I would practically groan with pleasure as I hauled all those pages of words and stories and pictures  into my house and onto my bookshelves.
     My children couldn't understand why I was donating items for the needy, but then coming home with more than I donated.  My trolling through thrift stores humiliated them, and they spent countless childhood hours hiding on the floorboard of the car as I wheeled into the parking lot  and begged, " Just let me dash in here for a second and see if there's anything good. I won't be long."

     "Mom, that doesn't seem fair. You're supposed to be helping the needy but you're taking things they need."
       I patiently tried to explain to them that it was more helpful for me to buy these things, therefore donating money that could be used to buy food and shelter for a person in need.  Their precious little minds just couldn't understand that concept at all, and they still think that Mom is stealing from the homeless.

     When my husband questioned my good motives, I was prepared with an honest answer.
      "It's all part of the volunteer requirement," I would explain. "We have to purchase a certain amount of goods in order to meet the monthly sales quota of the store. It's all for a good cause."
     I don't think he believed me, but he wasn't willing to be the first man in town to incur the wrath of all women by questioning the noble motives of the Junior League.
     And so began my long love affair with thrift stores.  Those volunteer hours in the backroom of the Clothes Rack opened my eyes to the world of treasures that are lurking in the bowels of thrift stores. From that day on, I began secretly trolling the local thrift stores: Goodwill, Salvation Army, the Fan Thrift Store. I scored my first major hit when I bagged four "Maeve" Waterford goblets for $1.00. 
     The next big hit was an oil painting that I paid $4.00 for at a Goodwill store on Broad Street. The store was one block from my daughter's school, making it a convenient place to spend an hour or so waiting for the carpool line to diminish. I made it a weekly habit to stop by the store, peruse the aisles, scope out the merchandise. On my big day, a truck had just arrived to unload the contents of an entire estate.  Evidently, the heirs  had little need for the worldly possessions of a deceased relative, so the entire estate of the dearly departed had been unloaded at Goodwill.  I happened to walk in at the right moment, just as the contents were hitting the floor. Two large oil paintings were propped against a wall. I picked up one as another greedy shopper grabbed the other.  I was pleased with my selection...a scene of a young girl shopping in a French market, and the price couldn't be argued with. It would cost me twice that much just to buy a blank canvas at Ben Franklin, so I knew it was money well spent. 
     The next evening, I had to attend a non-profit fundraiser at the Crossroads Art Gallery. I grabbed a glass of chardonnay and began to stroll through the various artist's booths, examining etchings and sketchings and paintings, a variety of subjects and mediums on display.  I almost choked on my wine when I rounded a corner and there, in full display and commanding a price tag of $800 was the companion piece to the painting I had purchased the day before for $4.00.  The artist was listed as someone who had taught extensively in both the United States and Europe, and the painting was part of a series of scenes from a Parisienne market.  I wanted to dance a little victory gig right there in the aisle, so proud was I of my find.
     It only took those two victories to enstill in me a life-long addiction to thrift store shopping, and I think my college-age children are starting to understand.  My son has discovered the beauty of shopping at the local Salvation Army, having consistently been voted as having the "Best Halloween Costume" for three years in a row, all thanks to his thrift store finds. Yesterday, I dropped Sissey off at college so she could help with the spring orientation and registration. With an entire afternoon free, I did what was only expected, what was only right, and she knew exactly where I was headed.  I hit the Goodwill Store on Highway Nine.  I bought a couple of books for 80 cents each, a Ralph Lauren umbrella for $1.00 and a pewter bucket with a palmetto tree embossed on it for 99 cents. It was a very good day and I was pleased with my purchases, plus, it was all for a worthy cause.
        So as we begin 2011, I wish each of you peace on earth,  good health, prosperity, and most of all, expecially if you haven't experienced it before,  Goodwill to all men.
      I am, afterall, a very Goodwill girl.

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