I spent the morning volunteering at the local thrift store. My motivations were somewhat selfish, I wanted to get first dibs on some of the cool vintage goods that come in. Not gonna lie, I had a motive.
But I was also curious. I wanted to see the goods in their context of delivery. To see the items before they’d been removed from that context.
I wanted to wander through the stories of a thrift store in a town where the average population is 80+ years old. The history that dwells in the RVs and trailers that dot this town is mind blowing. History that reaches back to times of homesteading and settlers. History that reaches back to the Wild West.
Stories of items that are left behind.
Left behind because they’re no longer necessary. Left behind because they’re no longer usable. Left behind because the owner is longer on this Earth.
Left behind. That’s what I spent the morning sifting through and it was fascinating.
One particular task I was given is still lingering. An older man, close to his 90s, dropped of a truck full of boxes, books and random possessions. I don’t know his story, but I did get to help him unload his past.
The head volunteer then gave me a recipe box filled with index cards from the man’s possessions and told me to recycle the cards with writing and save the blank cards. So I dove in.
As I opened the box and began sorting the cards, I realized that this man had recorded every book in his collection. By title, author and page totals, categorized them by topic and then alphabetized them within each category. And he had 5 boxes of these cards.
I felt as though I was throwing away a man’s history. His collection of knowledge. His meticulous categorization of books accumulated over a lifetime. And the guilt swelled as I tossed out more and more of his work.
But what has stuck with me all day is the reason why he did it. I have no idea why someone would categorize their personal library in this way. I have a personal library and I couldn’t imagine doing this. He didn’t summarize each book or even give any indication as to why he recorded the title, author and page number.
Was this a task he did to fill time after a loved one passed? Was this activity done to catalogue a collection for insurance purposes or for a loved one? Or was it simply an activity to pass the time?
I’m not sure. I’ll never know. I only have my guesses. My assumptions. My imagination.
I also sifted through a collection of sheet music from spanning from the 1930s until the 1980s. All with the same women’s name written in cursive on the covers. The titles told not only of this woman’s musical preferences, but also of a historical and societal snapshot as her musical lifetime passed.
Titles like “I Love You So Much It Hurts and If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked You A Cake”. And my favorite title, showing the indoctrination of this generation into the patriarchy, “It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House”— Nestled next to Cinderella, of course.
Sifting through her music collection told me so much about her life, but left much unspoken. Was she a music teacher exploring the different generations of music for her students or did she simply play the piano for her husband after she baked that cake? Was she a professional musician from the 1950s, playing the culturally appropriate music of her time, performing for the mafia who ruled the Southern California cities? Or was she in the local church choir playing the piano for services and the occasional Tuesday night polka dances?
What’s her story? What’s his story?
And will their stories be saved for the next generation or will we simply create a story from our own imaginations as we explore the items they’ve left behind?