Once upon a time in a little New England tourist town, somewhere in a little rosy world, floating in a little tiny galaxy, far far away, there was a little bitty lass who paid no heed to the garments that adorned her smooth, taut little body; for every article of clothing placed upon the delicate shoulders of this lithe creature, whether it be gown of shimmering gold or drape of fraying potato sack, suited the flowing silky tresses and glowing unmarred visage of the graceful young maiden. Then she turned 40. Nothing fit anymore.
Alright, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, and… I may not have been beautiful in my youth, perhaps closer to a little word I hate, “Average.” I may not have instantaneously transformed from maiden to hag at the stroke of dawn on my fortieth birthday. Still, shopping for clothing at age 40 is a much different experience than shopping at age 20. Clothing, both in size and style, simply doesn’t fit the same way it once did. Yet the ego still longs to be, at the very least, presentable and / or interesting in appearance if not flawlessly smooth and untouched by gravity and childbearing. This can be an expensive proposition. In my case, it feels as if just as my children are finally transitioning out of the stage of constantly changing sizes and clothing, I am transitioning into a phase of ever changing shapes and roles, procuring and discarding jeans and tanks as if they were tissues. Enter thrift shops.
Though I am now but a mere visitor there, I grew up in Alton, NH, a town that is geographically large in area yet little in terms of number of year round residents. Unlike many of my fellow classmates, I did not live within walking distance of the state’s largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, or the postcard worthy views of Mount Major State Forest, but rather in the southern region of the town, about five driving minutes away from Trudy’s Thrift Shop, or, as we called it as teenagers, “The South Alton Mall.” Trudy’s is an institution of sorts in Alton and one of the few remaining secondhand stores within the realm of my travels that maintains an air of respectability and tidiness while managing to keep operating costs low enough to offer prices that are approximately 75% lower than those of certain well known corporate thrift stores, such as Goodwill. The price of clothing at Trudy’s Thrift Shop is minuscule compared to that of some of the higher end franchises like Plato’s Closet.
Yesterday afternoon found me with an empty hour to fill in Alton. I was driving past the open thrift shop with my 17 year old hag-in-training, feeling uncomfortable in skin tight size zero jeans and dusty black combat boots that matched my now stored winter coat and stored up Gen X brand nostalgia better than the heat of the approaching Memorial Day Weekend. I pulled in directly in front of the Furniture Building, located just feet from the separate main building, and commanded my hag-ling to exit our battered chariot (a.k.a. my 2005 Hyundai Elantra). I expected at least some movement of protest but my daughter joined me, if not enthusiastically, then at least without argument.
We perused the furniture building first. I’m constantly on the lookout for the rare find that will compliment my eclectic collection of oddities and antiques, while weighing the inconvenience and logistics of having my Handyman help me carry any particular piece up the steep, narrow, treacherous stairs of our 158 year old apartment building. My best and least back breaking find in most recent months was an aged blanket chest that cost around $10 and worked well as a night stand until a recent burst of spring cleaning and rearranging rendered it a stand alone decoration and storage item. There weren’t any pieces that both caught my attention and met my criteria yesterday so we continued through the open garage area of the main building, which houses tools, baskets, toys and the like, into the shop.
I quickly scanned the jewelry, accessories, kitchen items, books, glassware, wall hangings, the vast array of various sundries before heading to the narrow aisles that house bedding and curtains arranged neatly on hangers resting at some height above my 5’1″ stature creating forests of cloth. I’m currently in the process of transforming my son’s bedroom into what my Handyman and I are calling a Boffet… This would be a bedroom, office, and closet combination that suits both my haggish self and my very particular adolescent son. I quickly located a blue and white Laura Ashley comforter and sham set with a price tag of $20, the same price I paid at Trudy’s for a now beloved heavy, king size, purple Martha Stewart bedspread in the fall. I decided to consider the purchase and ultimately leave the matter to chance… I will purchase the comforter set if it remains orphaned at Trudy’s the next time I pass.
My daughter and I continued into the clothing room. I took a moment to tease her about the prom gowns displayed on the wall near the entrance. It seemed appropriate in the wake of a very recent and quite expensive trip to a prom shop in Portsmouth, but my hag-in-training wasn’t amused. She pointed out the age of a small selection of wedding gowns in the back corner before collapsing into a stool insisting that she may faint if I failed to examine the racks of $1.00 to $2.00 tops quickly enough to prevent an impending crisis. I ignored her feigned distress and took advantage of the fact that shortly after I began to sift through the racks, the leader of a local church youth group walked in with her teenage son directing him to a rack of shorts after sweetly acknowledging my daughter and greeting me with a forced nervous smile as if my wanton ways and blatant heathenism may be contagious. Hag-in-training was forced to behave out of a sense of social duty and I found four shirts that would fit myself and the season better than the tight, dark, Michael Kors tee I was wearing. I studied the available jeans and shorts, at one point glancing up to see another shopper smiling, presumably over my banter with Miss Hag about how she should be happy that I spend my time shopping for used shirts because my habit allows us to buy new shirts for her. Or maybe the vaguely familiar shopper was simply amused at the spectacle of a 40 year old hag being haughtily informed by a beautiful 17 year old maiden that camisoles with lace and padded cups are unacceptable attire for the decrepit. My daughter’s breathe rose from her exposed belly button ring to fill her lungs with indignation beneath one of the light blue crop tops she wears regularly. I returned a pair of $2.00 Gap jeans to one of the racks after relinquishing the forbidden camis and decided it was time to leave.
I marveled at an array of watches and earrings as I paid for my shirts, silently congratulating myself for adding four new items to what I call my “Costume Collection” for less than the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee. Grand total: $5.00 even, paid in cash, the only accepted form of payment, and bagged in a recycled plastic bag from the nearby Dollar General which I almost refused before deciding to donate it to the task of cleaning our Familiar’s litter box.
All in all, another successful trip to the thrift shop. And part of the beauty of the arrangement is that a dollar or two isn’t a great loss if I decide that I want to donate one of my finds back to the shop and potentially to a more slender, youthful body so as I may select another shirt that may better fit the ever swelling and deflating curves of a hormonal middle aged hag with a penchant for drama that appears to have woven itself quite soundly into the seams of the next generation.