I remember when my mother began antiquing. It was not something she'd done her whole life, her own mother being more of a flea market person, keen on a buck for a plastic spatula as opposed to $25 on a steel one that looked like something an Ingalls would wield on "Little House On The Prairie."
I remember - not due to the sudden emergence of all these dainty items in the house, and the warnings to be careful around them - but because I often tagged along on these excursions. The youngest of four, and with all my siblings over the age of 16 and driving themselves around in their own cars, I was ripe for the ride.
These Sunday afternoon sojourns up Route 1 occasionally all the way to Mystic were not often the stuff of wasted days either, as there was usually a case of comic books or records to be found in plenty of the shops, tucked away in corners, as dusty as they were deals. We're talking 25 comic books for 5 bucks here, Little River Band and 10cc vinyl for 2 dollars there. I returned from one antique shop in Essex with two issues of "Peter Cannon...Thunderbolt" for a quarter apiece. Twelve-cent Charlton comic books that came out the very year I was born, and printed right here in Derby no less. What a score!
"What a score," it should be noted, was - and no doubt remains - the antiquing person's battle-cry. I'd shout it upon leaving a shoreline shop the size of a shed, yet loaded to the ceiling with goodies of all shapes and sizes and from every decade, only to have my mother shush me. She was more keen on letting a "what a score" loose once we were in the car and safely down the street.
Nightstands, stools and lamps would be elbowing their way out of the trunk, the fraying rope we'd use on these shopping sprees doing its best to keep the hatch from breaking free and launching our "score" onto the roadway behind us.
It had actually been a neighbor of ours, an old woman I only knew as Mrs. Brown, who had turned my mother on to the world of 'tiquing. Mrs. Brown was my mother's next door neighbor in Morris Cove until my grandparents fled Connecticut for Hollywood, Fla. when I was but 6-years-old.
Visits to Mrs. Brown's house were first peddled as "the right thing to do" and "checking in on her to make sure she's alright," as she lived in a huge house all by herself and my grandfather - ever the handyman - was no longer around to do her bidding. I made sure my mother knew she did not need to give me the reason for a visit to Mrs. Brown's early on. I didn't need one. She was a sweet old woman who doted on me, snuck me snacks, and occasionally broke out a deck of cards for some gin rummy. I liked going there.
When they would get to kibitzing, I would sit in a smallish rocking chair in the living room, rocking it back and forth the way only a 6-year-old can - like it's an amusement park ride. My mother would chastise me, but Mrs. Brown would assure her it was fine, that the chair was nothing special.
Not long after she began showing my mother the special: Pieces picked up from all over the country, or passed on to her from her parents, who had received it from their own. My mother became immediately entranced by such a concept, especially the first time Mrs. Brown let her in on what some of the pieces were worth.
My mother started slowly, with tchotchkes - tiny little ceramic figurines from some bygone era. I recall being enthralled by the price tag having a number written in ink but my mother would offer a lesser price and more often than not the seller would agree. I'd ask why we couldn't do the same at Bradlee's or K-Mart.
She'd bring her "scores" to Mrs. Brown's and I'd sit in the rocking chair, working it furiously, while my mother showed them off, saying how her goal was to collect "the entire line of them," and they'd grin as if it were all treasure. Or at the very least investment.
Mrs. Brown told her to start hitting Route 1, and to take it from Branford all the way to at least Old Saybrook; that there was one glorious antique shop after another, and to make sure to drive slowly since some of them "looked no different than houses." She was correct.
My mother went antiquing for the rest of her life, long after Mrs. Brown passed away, and the woman was my grandmother's age, so this was many, many years. My mother would come home speaking of "scores" and how much they were worth, or would be worth some day, but I knew she'd never sell a single thing. They'd get left to her kids, and none of us would be able to sell them either. (Well, maybe my brother.)
Mrs. Brown left me that rocking chair in her will. I wasn't even in high school yet. Into my bedroom it went, and my first house after that, wherein I rocked both my children to sleep. It sits in my living room in Branford today, and still rocks impeccably.