Wandering around Savers yesterday afternoon, looking for the rare plus-size NON-pink-sweatshirt-with-kittens-playing-with-a-ball-of-yarn motif, I found myself in the “stuff” section. You know, Christmas tree dessert plates, plastic-framed watercolor prints, six copies of EVERY Nicholas Sparks book ever written, green bubble glass florist’s vases. Stuff.
I usually avoid the stuff section. After years (and years) of being surrounded by stuff – my own and other people’s – I really acquire very little in the way of stuff. Ha, my “land-friend” may tell otherwise, as she sees the Amazon Prime packages that arrive, but they have been mostly dog and cat food and paper towels and toilet paper, so I don’t have to lug heavy stuff in from the car. And the occasional book.
I feel I have always been seen as a person with a lot of stuff, because a) there were the many years that I sold
stuff “vintage items across all categories” on ebay, and with every auction lot I’d bring home to polish up, photograph and sell online, MOST would go, but a few items inevitably stayed; and b) I inherited most of my mother’s stuff, and she was a collector slash garage-saler slash garbage picker slash borderline hoarder.
Now SHE had a lot of stuff. It was not so out of control that first time guests to the house would necessarily realize. The first floor – entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen – was always neat and tidy. But open the door to the screened-in back porch…or make your way to the bedroom upstairs…or enter the amazing attic…and….there was STUFF. And mostly decent stuff. She had a good eye. There were a lot of dishware and collectibles brought back from their time living in Japan when my father was in the Navy. She had a number of mid-century items – furniture and decorative accessories. Nice rattan porch furniture. Tons of costume jewelry. Dishes. Sandals. Table linens. And SILVER. I’d have to say her #1 obsession was with silver. Platters and trays and tea-sets and pitchers and salt-and-pepper shakers (oh my). Mostly good silver-plate but also some sterling. There were also stacks of old New York Times and notebooks filled with hand-written winning Lotto numbers, but mostly it was kind of interesting stuff.
But the one thing that always struck me as…really out there...because when you grow up in a situation, no matter how unusual or dysfunctional it is, if it’s all you’ve ever known, it just seems normal to you. The one thing, that to me, crossed the line, was The Good Beach Towel Closet. I think the bathrooms each had 2-3 sets of towels, which seemed pretty normal I guess. But there was one linen closet devoted to just beach towels. And we went to the beach fairly often as a family…and *I* went a LOT. But those towels were not for local beach trips. No, they were saved for our annual trip to Ocean City, Maryland where we went every year for Labor Day week.
We started going in the mid-60s when it was really not well known at all, and continued up through the late 70s/early 80s. My mother really discovered it when I was about 6 years old and we lived in Newark, Delaware. My 6-year-old self remembers it like this, so take it with a grain of salt – my mother had a friend who was in trouble with or danger from her husband and she needed to get out of town and hide from him asap. So my mother (I have no idea where my father was during all this. My memory of my mother is that she was not an adventurous person, which makes this story so amazing to me) gathered her friend and me and a cooler full of food, shoved us in the Plymouth, and we zoomed out of town. With no plan. We just drove. We ended up driving along miles and miles of beach…and finally hit the (at the time) little beach town of Ocean City, Maryland. Small beachfront hotels and crab shacks, a boardwalk and amusement park and miniature golf. It was a 6-year-old’s delight. We stayed all weekend and “hid out” and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And when we returned home at the end of the weekend (I have no idea what ever happened with the friend) my mother must have told my father all about it because we started going there every summer…even when we moved from Delaware up to Long Island (adding over 150 miles each way to the trip). As I got older sometimes I was allowed to invite friends to come along, sometimes my sister, brother-in-law and baby niece would join us, sometimes I made friends there during the week. Sometimes it was nice to be there alone – we’d all do our own thing and just join up for dinner’s out, our sunburned skin warming us in the lobster house air conditioning. And we had beautiful towels. Colorful patterns and prints, the largest towels available at the time – no dinky towels or bed sheets for my mother’s beach trips!
And when we returned home after our week of surf and sand and sun, my father going back to the office and me starting a new school-year, my mother would wash and fold all the beach towels, fold them neatly and stack them on the shelves of the good beach towel closet. Where they wouldn’t be seen again for another year.
My mother passed away 28 years ago. Many of her things were split up amongst family members, some things were sold at the most amazing tag sale Massapequa Park had ever seen, and Ham the Garbage Man carted off larger items and furniture. I took just one of the good beach towels. My favorite one that I used every year. A large solid-colored orange towel. I just got myself a new beach towel two summers ago when that one became so threadbare it was falling apart.
While I may seem like someone who has a lot of stuff, I think, because of my mother’s “collecting” (to say it in the nicest way possible), as I have gotten older I have become very much the opposite. I have one beach towel. I have one pair of bath towels. One set of bed sheets. One pair of dishtowels. You’ve seen my closet. I really do not like acquiring things. Books. I buy books – but I almost always pass them on to others after reading them. And when I’m gardening I love to buy plants. But for the most part, I do not buy stuff.
So I was a little surprised yesterday, when wandering around the stuff section of Savers, to find two throw pillows, two paperback books and a clear glass vase in my arms. And it just got me thinking about my mother and The Good Beach Towels.
I’d really intended to share my thrifted clothing finds with you today, but…the best laid plans, blah blah blah. So I thought I’d share a memory instead. Hope that’s okay.