"Army" Buddies

Secondhand shops swap newness for variety. Finding it an advantageous trade, I rarely step inside a "normal" store. I prefer the beautiful and the ugly, the vintage and the modern, the useful and the obsolete, all vying for shelf space; pans like Grandma used for family dinners; hats like Dad wore, and toys GenX-ers remember from childhood. To fully appreciate the thrift store atmosphere, I'll shop with a friend--preferably one possessing a hair-trigger sense of humor.

My friend, Tammy.
For me, that friend is Tammy.

As we browse, instead of turning to fisticuffs over the same prime merchandise, our division of labor has me taking the kitchenwares for Laura's Last Ditch, Tammy the hair styling tools for What Once Was Lost. Combining business with pleasure, we pause frequently to draw attention to our most chucklesome discoveries. Loud guffaws from the Grand Rapids Salvation Army's aisles may well mean we're shopping.

My autistic son often shops with us. With "Look at this!" our refrain, he, who utters more echolalia than useful speech, proffers arbitrary finds, mimicking the "Look at this!" he's heard so often from the two of us. When it's a plastic ice cube tray rather than a toy, I am amused, a veteran mom no longer nonplussed by his horrific deficit of meaningful communication.

I sold Bridge to Mars in my shop.
Tammy convinced me to buy it. It sold
for $40 within a couple of weeks.
Some thrift store merchandise shares a similar dichotomy of horrific yet amusing: a bare-kneed ceramic nativity shepherd, created by an amateur wanting in skill; a shark in a jar of formaldehyde; a black velvet UFO painting I feel compelled to purchase. When I shop solo and find a tacky gem, I mourn the opportunity to share with Tammy my perverse joy. Regardless, I laugh aloud, semi-consciously hoping a nearby shopper will join my merriment--though no one ever does.

Just after Christmas 2010, I find a peculiar framed photo of a boar-like creature, an attached brass plaque boasting "Javelina Club Founding Member, 1986." My prolonged gaze weighs the laughs it might receive at next year's white elephant gift exchange against its $4.99 price and a year's storage. I replace it on its hook. Tammy goads me that I "need" it, but I refuse to listen.

A javelina. Courtesy: Wes Swaincott's Short Stories
Weeks pass, yet I cannot banish the Javelina Club wall hanging from my mind. I resolve to set my usual tightwaddery aside and spring the $4.99, confident I will rescue Javelina Club from humiliating Salvation-Army-reject status. When Tammy and I return, we approach the back wall of our favorite shopping destination we lovingly refer to as "The Army," ready to laugh anew, then consummate the purchase of what will surely be next Christmas's most outlandish gem. But, it's gone. Bereft of my prize, we leave the store. My good friend shares my disappointment.

Tammy warned me I'd regret not buying it. Nearly a year later, I still, like a fisherman, consider this the one that got away.

Friends come and go. With my outspokenness, hard-to-suppress bossiness, eccentricity, and social anxiety, crowned with a phobia that makes placing a phone call an occasion for angst, I marvel that I have friends at all; indeed, I have scared off or neglected many throughout my life. So I especially appreciate Tammy, who, accepting of my many quirks and foibles, has taken the bait.

And I hope not to let this one get away.

"A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you."
Elbert Hubbard


  1. My husband is my "army" buddy. I do not like to let him go alone because #1 I don't want to miss anything and #2 I don't always trust his taste! Yay for good thrift stores!

  2. I hear ya! Good friends are precious. It's fun to have a "buddy" to go adventuring. I love that Bridge to Mars painting. That was a special find! Sorry Javelina got away.

  3. Good friends make everything more fun!

  4. Bebee Baldwin Toton says....Tammy is the Best Friend EVER! You indeed have 'caught' a treasure, much greater than any oddity you will find in "The Army". I am thankful to you Laura, for being such an excellent friend to my friend, especially since I am painfully locted 5 hours away! My cell phone is my suspension bridge to my Darling! I love you both, and wish we lived much closer...OH, what fun we would have!

  5. Yes, Bebee, we would have TOO much fun. The stores would kick us out for sure! Thanks for sharing your friend with me!

  6. This just made my day! I CERTAINLY won't be slipping away... and I hope you won't "get away" either. All of those traits you have that you think scare people away make you all the more lovable and dear. I'm looking forward to many more eyebrow-raising, chucklesome trips to thrift stores with you!

  7. My husband goes through the computer and men's sections (usually woefully sparse compared to the women's section) in about 20 minutes and then wants to leave. So I am giddy if I can convince a friend to go with me instead--and often, yes, there are peals of laughter and mischievous cackles as we spy something hideous and/or try to discern whether what the other person is holding up is supposed to be a joke or a "find" (I have quirky taste). Thanks for highlighting the joys of double-teaming a thrift store!

  8. Renee and I both love thrift stores, and we joke about the "treasures" too. We plan on being in Michigan Memorial Day week (I just sent in a deposit for a Grand Haven cottage). Maybe you can show us some of the more interesting stores - the quirkier the better. Tammy can come too--she sounds fun.

    (Actually Renee & I like your quirkiness.)

    Cousin Mark from Ohio

  9. Mark, I'd be happy to give you the thrift store tour! You'd probably enjoy the Goodwill Outlet and St. Vincent DePaul. I always need an excuse to go to thrift stores!

  10. that bridge to mars is awesome. With the right decor (sparse/futuristic) it is really not tacky at all.


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!