Yard sales and memory

A funny little thing about memory a couple of hours ago – a madeleine-equivalent but not to do with taste or smell. I happened on a mammoth yard sale which turned out to be loaded with interesting stuff. An old-fashioned wicker dolls’ carriage was the first thing I spotted, with old-fashioned doll dresses in it, plus a stack of handmade doll bedding in a pretty fabric. A couple of slipper chairs with purple velvet seats, an oddly-shaped floor lamp – and table after table after table full of dishes, costume jewelry, tchotchkes, toys – all sorts, and much nicer than the usual yard sale dreck. Hoarder-like in quantity but not in quality. I settled down to take my time and look at everything, because it was worth looking at.

So I got to a table with a box on it full of costume jewelry on cards, and I picked up a card with a pair of earrings with tiny shells – tiny shallow bowls surrounding a rhinestone – and zoom a memory shot out of the vault, one I’d never retrieved before. I had a kit or set of some kind when I was a child, to make costume jewelry of that kind. It must have had pieces like those tiny shallow bowls. The weird thing is that I don’t really remember the pieces, but looking at those earrings prompted a very real (yet vague) memory. I think you glued them onto things (but what things?), and you could make pins and earrings.

I looked at the rest of the stuff and then went back to the table with the box with the earrings to look at them again, and they had the same effect. It’s a bit eerie.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t remembered that kit since childhood. It was interesting having it pop up like that – not unlike a popup ad, actually.

I have lots of available memories of toys – toys I can summon easily just by thinking of “toys I had as a child.” A tricycle, a red wagon, a Davy Crockett pistol, a rifle, a cowboy pistol with a holster. A little red table with two benches for dolls. A china tea set. Several dolls. A cardboard playhouse.

Mostly though I played with the outdoors. Trees, bushes, the brook, the fields – they were all my toys.


  1. Numenaster says

    Sounds like the kind of stuff my mother’s mother specialized in, and passed directly to me. Tiny pink shells fading to white at the edges? Yep. They made great mouse ears when you glued them to the shell of an olive sea snail and drew on eyes and whiskers.

    Also odd-shaped seed pods, driftwood pieces, shed deer antlers, beach glass, and fuzzy-backed leaves. Grandma predated the craft glue gun, or she’d have had 2 of the finest. As it was, she had great woodcarving tools and a whole basement full of lapidary equipment.

    Oddly, the craft gene seems to have skipped my mom completely, and all of her brother’s kids too. I’m the only one who was really into this stuff growing up, and now my brother’s kids are taking it up.

  2. Stella says

    Okay, your description has triggered just as vague a memory for me. This goes back to the mid to late fifties. There were small pies of fabric in the kit, too. I can feel and smell them. One was burlap-like and the other was like a thin, stiff taffeta.

    It must have belonged to one of my friends. It’s not the sort of thing I would have been given.

    Incidentally. moments like yours started to become common for me in my early sixties. I was sure it was a symptom of clumps of brain cells holding hands and jumping off a cliff together. Maybe not. Most evoked pleasant experiences.


  3. says

    Ha! No, it doesn’t feel like clumps of brain cells leaving town. It feels more like magic, really – such a small thing, forgotten for so long, suddenly poofed into the memory by a pair of probably homemade earrings.

  4. Claire Ramsey says

    What a fine memory! There is so much stuff in the world that can be transformed, shells into mice ears, old keys into picture frames, anything into earrings, trees and bushes into cougar dens. . .

  5. says

    Actually what I remembered was mostly the feeling of making the things. I don’t remember actually doing it – I don’t remember squeezing out glue or anything – but I remember what it felt like. I guess that’s what makes it eerie. A tiny fraction of a second of a time-machine experience. I made pins, I think, and you stacked the little bits, and when you’d done it – a pin! That you made!

  6. Claire Ramsey says

    the lure of making stuff. . . it’s not really about the glue or the tools or whatever, it’s the whole deal – collecting your stuff and setting it out and touching it and thinking what you’re going to do and the cool outcome, it is so mesmerizing. And so much fun.

  7. ludicrous says

    You can query memories at night. Make a note now on a piece of paper of thoughts or feelings evoked by this thread, put the note on your pillow. When you go to bed read your note and allow it be your last thoughts before dozing off. When you awaken try to stay with the dream you woke up with, let it play out, review it, ask if there was another dream previous to it. Some people can stay in that twilight zone and doze in an out of a continuing dream type reveries. There is an extension of our thought life in there that can be very enjoyable. Have fun with it.

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    I once tried to write a blog in which I attempted to record my childhood memories but when it came to writing them down I discovered that they were each about three seconds long. For example there was the time when I was four and my brother and I were exploring a nearby building site:

    I fell into a post hole so my brother ran home to get help. I could write a whole essay about the incident based on how the family retold the story over the years, but when it comes down to my ACTUAL memory I’ve got practically nothing: I looked up and saw dad reaching down towards me. He grabbed my hand and – well that’s it; that’s all I’ve got. I don’t remember the time I spent in the hole, or even falling into it, and I don’t remember taking even one step towards home after I got out of it. Just that split second when dad reached towards me. It’s as clear as a bell, but it’s all I’ve got.

    And ALL of my other memories are just as short and just as out of context. I can remember a tiny snippet of conversation with a friend on a nice sunny day about sixty years when that annoying fly that was buzzing around my head as I spoke. I can remember the smile on my friend’s face and the little scratch on her cheek – but what happened a split second before or a split second later is completely and utterly gone!

    So I didn’t write the blog after all.

  9. rnilsson says

    Isn’t it amazing what one can build from a set of little shapes? A couple dozen is all it takes, and you put them together almost any way you want — and hey presto: yet another blog piece!

  10. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    When my son started playing with more complex toys, I pulled a box of my old stuff from the attic. Most of it I immediately recognized and remembered… the G.I. Joe figures, Transformers, Star Wars, etc. But at the bottom of the box was this goldish colored ball. As I picked it up, I inadvertently pressed a button and a tiny ET figure popped out the front. I hadn’t thought of that toy in about 25 years, but the memories just immediately flooded right back in.

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