The Story of Stuff – Part Deux!

When I moved in to my first grown up apartment – and no, I don’t mean those 6’x8′ cellar dungeons I used to call home during university days….the small, cramped space where I’d stockpile my expensive and rarely used textbooks and musty vinyl collection, with a noisy refrigerator whose sole purpose for being was to keep the beer icy cold – I literally had an overstuffed and well cat clawed blue couch that travelled with me from my parent’s home in CB, a small TV liberated from my older sister, a 5-year-old Dell computer that worked best depending on how hard I might kick it,  an eclectic and rather obsessively organized CD collection, and a small crowded bookshelf, filled with Stephen King and Anne Rice’s finest, next to classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye from my former English major days. The small kitchen contained a few mismatched pots, pans and dishes salvaged from the aforementioned and ever so helpful big sis….but no kitchen table. There was no need, as work and a fairly active social life left little time or desire to eat at “home”. The open concept living room/dining room contained neither a coffee table or end tables, as it seemed to me that might only collect mess and clutter. And, as you might recall, the misguided words from a kindly ol’ nun from my childhood left me  somewhat deeply  changed, with the undying impression that clutter was somehow… wrong. Bad. Evil , even. And so I’d have none of that. In a sense, I learned to recycle long before it became vogue or….you know…necesarry to save our environment and the future of all humanity and all that.  Mail would quickly be opened, then filed and/or shredded. Empty cans and bottles collected and dropped off on the curb, where some poor homeless dude would quickly make off with them. Countertops sparkled, floors shined, and dishes safely stacked away behind cupboard doors, avoiding any prying eyes. If I needed to take note of something or write it down, I would often need to write it on my hand or home to remember it, as a scrap of paper to simply jot things down was simply nowhere to be found. Things seemed sterile and safe, clean and simple, and I often joked with friends that if I needed to move away quickly for whatever reason – say I finally won a million dollars or decided finally that my arch nemesis of the moment must die and I needed to flee the country quickly -I could probably pack all I needed or wanted in a small box and be off into the sunset.   And I continued this way for years, and my orderly universe continued to spin neatly on its axis, a life lived clean and clutter free.  Where everything had its place, and it’s place was….well,  tidy.

And then….along came Shawn.

The story of how we met is one for another day.  Let’s just say it was a courtship neither conventional or easy…involving two provinces, an emergency appendectomy, an unpleasant encounter with Crown Royal, a “cougar bar”, holding hands with strangers….and, in the end,  a whole new chapter for us both, together.  I could talk a lot about his rugged yet boyish guy next door good looks, or the sweet, gentle, fun-loving, and energetic kind of guy he is, but instead, for now,  I’ll focus on what he does.

He’s an antique dealer, of sorts. A lover of “old things”. A collector of vintage furniture and centuries old china. The very idea of it seemed so romantic and noble. But, in the beginning at least, this was all in theory, as I could only imagine what the life of an “antique dealer” was like. You see, Shawn lived in Fredericton, and I lived in Halifax, and over all that distance and time I could only visualize  in my mind his neatly arranged and  clearly catalogued collections, with his most favourite things, his most prized possessions, displayed proudly on some small corner table or a solitary shelf on high.  So months later, when Shawn made a big move to Halifax, I assumed it was just the matter of renting a small moving van, piling up some taped and labelled and carefully marked  boxes, and getting on the road.  Not so.  Seems the real move involved packing up the entire contents of a two-story home, and renting a 30 foot trailer, packed to the brim, most of which would go into storage at his mom’s house in Falmouth.  Along with the other things Shawn had collected when last living in Nova Scotia and kept stored there.

You see, being an antique dealer, or a collector, or a lover of finer things means you’re going to amass, gather, and build up… stuff.  A lot of stuff.  And then, after you’re done with that, you go out and find even more stuff.  I quickly learned the art of “yard sale-ing”, where we’d comb Kijiji the night before (mostly on my IPhone because it’s just….well…way better then his ol’ Blackberry)  and then wake up at 6 am, with ball caps covering bed head hair and bleary eyes half-open, and roam the city streets and countryside to see what hidden treasures we might find.  And then there’s the frequent field trips to the Value Villages and the Sally Anns and the colourful community markets, to sift through the cast offs and the unwanted in the hopes of finding some uncovered gems.   And, sometimes, if you’re patient and willing enough, the hunt proves successful, and treasures of all shapes and sizes abound.

Along with collecting, I also became quickly introduced to the entire subculture of the antique world and it’s dealers, a diverse, colorful, and multi layered crowd if ever there was one.  There are the young “hotshot” history buffs like Shawn, who work hard at their somewhat related day jobs and turn into something else at night…these sleek hunters and historians with a passion and appreciation for antiques and old things passed down through family generations, and a yearning need to find and liberate  these hidden treasures from those who might not appreciate the artistry and rich  history they hold; the earnest businessman type, at times struggling to make a living (and struggle to part with things dear) in a world that they love; the wealthy hobbyist, who when bequeathed with some ancient object find their curiousity piqued to learn much more; the metrosexual married dude, whose love of fine tea cups just might be masking something else; and, finally, the unfortunate bottom feeders, who prey upon and often take advantage of the misfortunes of others.

I’ve come to discover many aspects of this antique world  are quite fascinating, mostly because the people and the collecting itself make such great fodder for future tales to tell.  And I doubt I’ll ever tire of the history that these dusty old things might tell, and the excited and animated way Shawn might tell it.  And, without any help at all, I can now proudly stand on my own and spot a Hummel figurine, a Maud Lewis painting, and some Alice Hagen pottery (not to mention a ’60s Mego Spiderman).  As for that other romanticized myth of antique dealing, I must confess I doubt we will ever become rich from it.  Or in other words, Shawn’s not really in it for any monetary gain.  For example, in this crazy world I find myself immersed into, silver has suddenly become a hot commodity, valuable for the price it brings when melted down.  So what does Shawn do?  Buy as much silver as he can, however dented or scratched or even downright hideous, because he can’t bear the thought of someone money hungrily destroying some old work of art or fine handicraft. (I fully expect to walk in one day and be blinded in the reflection of the vast pile of unwanted but suddenly treasured silver he’ll have rescued.)   No, money certainly isn’t his primary motive in this hunt.  What drives and motivates him most is researching and discovering the history of some newfound object and then reuniting it somehow with its rightful owner.  Or uncovering some relic that flashes someone back to their grandmother’s house from their childhood.  Or marrying an early 19th century sofa to an early 19th century home.  Shawn’s joy is in the discovery, and in ensuring that something once lost but not forgotten can once again be unified and whole.

And so, it seems, my apartment dwelling has changed.  I’m now surrounded with many beautiful things, and some rather amusing newer ones.  And I’ve uncovered, in myself, an unknown love of folk art, maybe because it’s whimsical nature allows the big kid in me to proudly let his freak flag fly.  I mean, it’s not everywhere you can go to find a foot long blue and white ceramic beaver perched earnestly on a fireplace mantle.  Or a rather jovial looking she devil rising out of the fireplace.  Or the spooky children watching every so spookily from the commissioned portrait from years ago gone horribly wrong.  And everyone I know has at some point lined up to have their photo taken with the five and one half-foot giant Santa from the 1960s that used to reside in the living room.  Yes, that’s right, a giant five and one half-foot Santa.

My relationship to stuff has changed a lot over the years.  Friends love our clean and bright apartment (did I mention its very clean?) because it’s full of fun, interesting and novel things, all with a unique history of their very own.  One could even curl up on the very end of the eight foot 1800s sofa and spend hours amusing themselves as their eyes wandered and took stock of everything in their surroundings.  And everything can still have it’s place, even if that place might get a little crowded when some little ceramic neighbor moves in and wants to hog all the attention.  And I still love to scrub floors and countertops and dust tables and shelves as much as ever, I just need to do so a bit more carefully these days.

Stuff.  Seems it’s not so bad after all.  In fact, I think I kind of like it.  But shhhh….should you happen to see a Catholic nun around, don’t tell her I said so.  🙂

For Shawn

on his birthday


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