It is summer, and so tag sales abound. In our favorite weekly, The Shopper’s Guide, we scour the tag sale listings, circling ones that seem to have potential. We search for older items, not necessarily antiques, but objects that might fill a purpose for the farm chores, or something that can be useful in the studio–old linens ripe to be invigorated by natural dyes, old pots for their immersion and wooden drying racks for curing. Occasionally, we get fooled by the descriptions and find ourselves amidst puffy pink and purple plastic; from such, we leave posthaste.
A few weeks ago, this advertisement caught my eye:
“BARN SALE: 100 years of stuff must go. Antique farm implements, spinning wheel and looms, old tools, old sewing machine table, single bed frame and new futons, books, wooden chairs, textiles, knick-knacks and crazy stuff.”
Off we set on a spectacular morning–vivid blue skies, a gentle breeze and no humidity. We arrived shortly after 8 am, the start of the sale. The aged barn was filled with boxes and bins, looms, tools, indeed everything as described, but one thing was not listed: a feeling, an aura. By going to a tag sale, one receives a glimpse, an image, an impression of the person through the items that person kept. Being in this particular barn, surrounded by a collection of used tools, implements, and collections, was not time traveling but essence-gathering. What a pleasure it would have been to share with the former resident a cup of tea, wind some yarn, and learn about some of the natural cures and remedies, and solutions to particular challenges, that some of these objects signified. I found myself just stopping and soaking it all in. Being in her barn was a gift, and one could tell that she lived by her principles, of and off the land. She had not been swept up in the never-ending morass of consumerism, but instead sought ways to live a simple and direct life.
From talking with the organizers, I learned who this extraordinary woman was and recalled having met her. Whenever she came into the Library, I noted her, especially for her beautifully woven, textured and layered garments. And so it was that the looms in the barn were used to weave the fabric she wore, and the sewing patterns that I perused at the sale had formed the basis for her clothes. Indeed, it seems that she made her life, through a true, homemade, thoughtful existence.
Ever since this tag sale morning, I find myself periodically taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and walking back into that barn, trying to squeeze one more drop out of the memory. Not only that, but I am attempting to start walking a bit differently, shedding and paring, and looking a bit more closely, and questioning how one chooses to live one’s life.
In his book, Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of the Shelter, Howard Mansfield walks one through centuries of houses, exploring the nooks and crannies and the whys and wherefores of dwelling, both in the physical and in the metaphorical.
“All houses are houses of dreams, said Gaston Bachelard, the philosopher-poet of dwelling. We live in houses and so we dream houses. We daydream there and daydream about them. They give us the shelter to enlarge ourselves. They are the vessel in which we go forth into the universe. A good house is a good daydreaming space. It is the universe, he says.”
Howard Mansfield , Dwelling in Possibility Searching for the Soul of the Shelter, (Bauhan Publishing, 2013), pg. 17.