I knew better,  but the weekly 50-percent-off sale was underway at the local thrift store last Saturday, and I had time to kill.  Before I knew it, I had an armload of unnecessary acquisitions and was making my way toward the cash register. I took my place in a long line of fellow shoppers pushing carts packed with the makings of Halloween costumes, bric-a-brac and the cast-off clothes of strangers.handslight

The store was crowded and noisy, and it smelled bad in that stale thrift-shop way. But I was happy with my purchases. The last — for 99 cents — was a rubberized pair of 4-inch-tall praying hands illuminated from within by a small bulb; at the other end of the 3-foot electrical cord was a non-polarized plug. Old kitsch is the best kitsch.

“You don’t see one of those every day,”  I said to the cashier, who didn’t hear my delight nor see the humor.

“Especially one that’s lighted,”  she said, serious as a heart attack. And, then, looking somberly at the prayerful hands:  “People need to do more of that.”

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the disembodied hands; flickering in pitch dark, they appear skeletal — an effect that was surely unintentional — so they may be pressed into service for Halloween.  They don’t fit well with the rest of my religious memorabilia, also acquired Saturday:  a pope and Kennedys collectible.

The handsome gold-leafed plate caught my eye when I first walked into the store, and not just because I’ve been thinking about popes lately.   I was captivated by the juxtaposition of Pope Giovanni XXIII (John Paul) — who died in June 1963 — with the famously Catholic Kennedy brothers,  who followed him in relatively short order. A Latin phrase hovers over their heads: Pregate per la pace nel mondo.   Pray for peace in the world.plate

That took the German-made plate out of the category of faintly funny oddities into the realm of something finer, and more serious:  a sentiment for the ages; a prayer perpetually unrealized. I placed it among my purchases.

That’s how it is with thrift-store objects:  Sometimes you find things that make you laugh; sometimes, things that make you a little sad.  Always, you find artifacts of another time and place:  occasionally a piece of history, more often a piece of some stranger’s life.

In 1992, I found a small, straw-colored suitcase at a suitcaseGoodwill store, the tiny keys still in the latch locks.  At home, I discovered within one silky inner pocket a bobby pin, and a long, beveled toothpick, the old-fashioned kind, on which was written in precise letters:  Cliff House at Seal Rocks.

That was all I ever knew about the suitcase’s previous owner: a woman who, at some point — maybe in the ‘1940s or ’50s — visited the iconic San Francisco restaurant.  But I thought of her every time I used that suitcase during the next 15 years, and though I travel rarely now and never take more than a carry-on, I’ve not been able to part with it.

One object; two lives. And the vast and forever unknowable in-between. It’s that sense of mystery — of time running like an eternally steady river beneath the ever-shifting ground of our seemingly separate lives — that draws me especially to old things.

mirroMy thrift-store finds last Saturday included a vintage Mirro Cooky-Pastry Press, Model 358-AM. Like me, it was made in the 1950s and is in less than mint condition.  That said, the press looks carefully used, with a smooth aluminum body and copper-colored end pieces. Two of the three pastry tips have gone missing, but all 12 of the original cookie discs are present.  Even the time-yellowed paper box is in good shape, and the instruction booklet –bearing the Good Housekeeping seal of approval — is little the worse for wear.

Like me,  the Mirro 358-AM still has some life in it.  So when the holiday baking season rolls around, I’ll pull it down from the kitchen cabinet where it’s now displayed. As I did with the suitcase, I’ll consider the person who bought it new so many years ago — back then, almost certainly a woman. Perhaps a young housewife, maybe with small children: She might have been my mother. I’ll consider how that modest little kitchen invention — a cooky press manufactured more than 50 years ago — joins my life to that of a stranger whose days unfolded, and perhaps ended,  in another era.

And then I’ll mix up the dough — maybe Snow Flakes, on page 11 of the instructions, or Orange Crisps, on page 14 — and select a disc, probably the Christmas tree.

And start making cookies.

tree disc



  1. Susan Lukwago · · Reply

    This is one of the places where you and differ, my dear Friend Cate. I do not buy or like to receive “dust-collectors.” Yet I strangely take in your writing about it and the appreciation you share about the objects … still it makes me nervous imagining a home with lots of items …


    1. I’m not a fan of “dust collectors,” either. I have to get good out of what I purchase, either practically or emotionally. Otherwise, it’s passed on in relatively short order. That said, a home that contains only what is absolutely necessary feels sterile to me.


      1. Susan Lukwago · · Reply

        I agree … and lest I came across that way … sterile is the last way one would describe my blessed little home


  2. Yet a lovely story, even made me wonder about a lot of things for some reason. Thanks for sharing Cate


    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Ann. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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