Siren Song of Preservation

Just yesterday – I experienced on those profound crossroads of choice , a point of inflection between my impassioned idiosyncrasies & my ever persistent analysis of pragmatic and rational response. It is often a self-induced conflict – brought on by the purposeful meanderings and explorations of a local garage sale or antique shop. In this case – it was a benign 1970s style Goodwill store – that sat in a high density retail enclave a few steps from my hotel in San Antonio Texas. Like a street corner hustler – it was adeptly and effectively located and handily adjacent to an abetting stop light, so that the powerful innocence of its draw would be repeated, and contemplated, and repeated, and contemplated, and repeated, and contemplated – each time I returned from the dictates of my days meetings. I would glance quickly – then avert – keenly aware of my personal weaknesses to lock eyes with that innocuous smiling siren of thrift. As a rule – the sheer level of my fatigue, lateness of day, or activity commitments to my work brethren – were sufficient inoculation to resist….but this particular day – I was blessed with an extra hour of unfettered and unencumbered time. But to a sidewalk junkie of cast-offs – an hour is more than enough for one to get into trouble- especially when you are stopped at a red light and scent of salvage wafts invitingly through the passenger window.

“Ill just stop in and see if they have any boots” – I rationalized to myself out loud. In fact – there was some truth to that thought (although it clearly shows that I am firmly footed in a state of denial..no pun intended of course) – as I assumed that, given its presence in the big ol’ state of Texas – that some of those local folks must pass them along to such institutions. So, firmly convinced that it was time well allocated, and encouraged by a protracted and lengthy stop light – I turned my rental in to the lot.

As I stepped towards the door – I was truly exhilarated and curious as to what I would find within. “What a fucking spazz” I rebutted to myself…fully acknowledging the freakish glee I can harvest from such experiences and responding to myself like a break time spectator standing outside the aluminum framed double doors, flicking ashes from their Marlboro, and responding to the ridiculousness of my excitement.

The store was pretty conventional fare – perhaps even on the side of well-organized as far as such places go. It was tidy, with good signage, racks and racks of clothing, with front sections of hard goods – and surprisingly vast.

I found the diminutive men’s section – and was immediately distracted by the sport coats. I have always found that perhaps *the* best & most consistent finds at thrift shops are mens sport coats and suits. It is evident that the good portion of the populace buys a coat with all good intention, or maybe an event like a wedding or funeral, only to have it languish in one’s closet for the next few years with the ultimate destination of the donation pile along with some hideously branded golf shirt. I swear (perhaps I shouldn’t even admit this ) but cant even remember the last time I forked out monies to buy a *new* jacket in an actual store. This approach to salvaged fashion removes all angst or concern regarding the delicate preservation of such attire . Bring on the java, the folded and stuffed existence of travel, the liquor soaked immersion of a night in a low ceilinged rock club – when all is said and done – I smile in appreciation, find another for a few dollars, and set mine, despite its well loved abuse, back on the path of reclamation. Mind you – I am not advocating buying Sears brand leisure suits (although that does give me pause) – but you would really be amazed at the pervasive quality and condition you can find on these racks for, in general, ten bucks or less.

Once I scoured the coat racks (unsuccessfully of course – otherwise I would be rambling on about the fine , attained selection) – I wandered over to the “stuff” area. Those aisles can almost always guarantee a glorious parade of garish Americana. It doesn’t matter what part of this country you are in – geese with bonnets, thick pine lamps, and Kinkade like framed prints are the common dominator that bind us all – and somewhere Barnum is chuckling heartily.

As I scan – I notice a small round table off to the side – and set away from the vases, old coffee pots, and cast metal trinkets. On it were 8 shoeboxes….with the bold pink & black 50s graphics of a Miami boutique.

Hmmmm – ok – now I am curious.

I crack open a box. Inside – there were 5 bright aluminum rectangular trays – with small, blue oval stickers announcing a modest fee of .99 cents for each . On top – a lined reference sheet with incomplete, cursive scribed notations.

  • New Mexico
  • Key West
  • Alamo
  • Fiesta 1960
  • Mother’s Flowers
  • ….and on

Slides. Kodachrome slides. My beloved and obsolete Kodachrome. The complete collection of someone, unknown, disconnected & lost in the gleam of shinier generations. There were easily 500 or more . All housed in individual units that held maybe, 25 images or so. I turned the tray to the perpendicular side – and could push each slide out, it still framed firm in a metal slip, and held it up to the light. Gasp. A time capsule of continuous vibrance. The color was breathtaking and almost universally rich. Parades. Streetscapes. Soldiers. Canyons, Flowers . Cars. Catinas and Fairs. Southwest culture – complete in its arid, simply built, small town foundations. Mexican adobe walls – burnished & stencilled with invitations to tourists long before the invasion of super highways. Towering ferris wheels against the heated azure of the afternoon. An army of mirror clad baton twirlers back by a low slung hardware store. I felt an intensity of personal responsibility to save the unsaved. Interestingly – there were scant few *portraits* of loved ones or fellow explorers – and the image flows were well-composed and documentary. From what I could surmise -they were predominantly 1950s – with a well-trod bridge into the 1960s..then a slow trickle as late as 1970 but there, distinctly, the boundary of reflected time held firm.

Each shoebox had similar disjointed comments and locations – but strangely nameless- as if the photographer had always assumed his own immortality – and he would be there to share the images complete with personal, energetic and enlightened commentary, beer in hand, about the wonderful places, events, and nuances captured. My intrigue was tainted by a tinge of sadness – as a photographer *and* as an avid family archivist. This was a painstaking collection – taken at great expense of time, energy, care, intent, and passion. A companion to this person (or persons) adventures in life – and here they lay – on a dusty thrift shop table – surrounded by strangers.

I earnestly began to scan each and every tray of the collection – rapidly pushing through holders, and lifting my arm to the front plate glass to catch the declining sun, so as to review each image. ” I can save this collection from such disrespected obscurity”

The Archivist had arrived – buckled in – and pressed the throttle hard.

I began to stack trays in small batches based on unique content – while the curious Goodwill women swung by repeatedly – obviously thinking I had found *something* of tangible value. They would look down at the table and these small strange, aluminum boxes, scanning quickly as if to steal away the pups I had carelessly let stray too far from my care. Their gaze would quickly flatten – a bit dumbstruck, smoky and confused by this business suited man and his frenetic burst of sun-prismed movement. Even the hourly workers rolled through – pretending to straighten an item or two – looking more as if they were strait-jacket tailors about to service their next client. Mind you – my blitz was all of 15 minutes or so – but anyone spending 15 minutes looking at one, single, *something* at a thrift shop is bound to raise some flags of curiosity.

Ok – done…14 trays all told.

Combined and repacked – a premium hand forged set.

I lifted them – and stepped towards the aisles of the unexplored with absolutely no desire or intention to find something more – but rather to permit my aforementioned idiosyncrasies ample space for a wrestling match with my practical reason. The Pragmatist had joined our spontaneous archeological endeavor – and had taken comfort in a neighboring EZBoy recliner – spewing calm reason.

Confessionally – it was as a determined tug-o’-war as I have witnessed – and I literally paced along a few wide circles throughout the facility – as each anointed representative of my internal direction vied for primacy and control of my final actions.

:: “Will they fit in my suitcase?” I pondered…”I know – I will ship them back with the help of hotel staff”
:: ” I can’t take on the preservation of other’s history – I can barely keep pace with my own!”
:: “What am I nuts? – I’m not even from Texas!”
:: “I can’t leave these behind – they are like orphan dogs, neglected and poised for disposal”
:: ” “Maybe I can make something cool with these trays”

My internal debate became urgent, riotous, humorous and intricate . Point – counterpoint. Committed historian vs. time-strapped surburban father guy. It’s a very good thing the resonance of these conversations echo only within the narrow confines of my skull as I would assuredly be marked a lunatic. My only blessing is the sheer velocity in which such conversational analysis can occur. Sometimes all but a second or two – when expanded – perhaps no more than a few minutes time. Regardless – a conclusion is extracted – and once determined – the conviction is steadfast

Thus, a few back tracked steps – and I lowered the 4 worn boxes to the tables edge – as The Pragmatist pushed his way through the doors into the heavy blast furnace air of a late San Antonio afternoon.


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One Response to Siren Song of Preservation

  1. Tammy says:

    Ok, there is a part of me that is relieved I don’t have to find a spot for more boxes but my heart hurts at memories left behind. Frankly, I was almost sad to read the last 2 sentences and find that you had left such treasures behind. I half expected that you would surprise me with these treasures and that your blog was your “J. Peterman” tease to an already acquired item.
    I love you, your writing, your passion, and your love of history :o)

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