Little Red Cooler

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Sometimes friends ask me to keep a look out for specific antique or vintage items as I’m scouring auctions or local estate sales. I keep a notebook of their china and crystal patterns in case they need a random piece to complete a set. Other times I just get lucky and snag something that I think they might want.

Last Friday, Pookie and I went to an estate sale at a very nice and meticulously maintained ranch-style house which had been preserved by its late owners as a sort of 1960s time capsule.

After scoring a perfect vintage silver plated tea service for myself from the dining room, we headed to the garage. Pookie was immediately drawn to the leather Samsonite briefcase in like-new condition which still had the original pens in the pocket from 50 years ago when it was new and expensive.

As Pookie ogled her briefcase, I spotted my great item of the day sitting under a table stacked with Christmas ornaments: a 1970s red Coleman metal cooler complete with bottle openers on the side handles. I could have sworn someone had told me about their desire for this exact cooler.

But who?

After we loaded the cooler in the car, I started texting the usual suspects. Cecelia denied knowledge of a cooler request but said that if it were plaid she would most definitely want it. Tristan was working on a house so I didn’t bother him. Pookie couldn’t remember either.

That’s about the time The Old Man called to check in from his office. I told him about my find and surmised, from his squeal of delight, that he was the requester. The person who wanted the cooler was my own husband.

It was the cooler of his youth. The one that his aunt and uncle packed with drinks and food for family road trips or took along while fishing. For him, a metal Coleman cooler brings back distinct and warm memories of a time when his Aunt Lucille would fill the cooler with enough sandwiches to keep the kids fed during stops at roadside picnic tables long before drive-through fast food became the norm for travelers.

On Saturday, after another long day of treasure hunting, we inaugurated the red cooler while “chairing” (see Chairing from July 31, 2014) with a bottle of champagne in our backyard. We made a toast to the couple who had valued their possessions and the people who wouldn’t throw old stuff away just because there were new things to buy.

And The Old Man is happy to report that the cooler still works…perfectly.

The Present

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By Pookie

Griffith gave me a book,
I don’t know him.
The book was a present,
left on a shelf
in the house of a dead man
for me to find.
Maybe it was Griffith.
It’s a book of poems
meant to make light of dark days
or to hold down papers.
I think Griffith liked this book.
Maybe he wanted to make sure
it went to loving hands.
Maybe that’s why his name is still there.

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

“I AM ALWAYS DRAWN BACK TO THE PLACES WHERE I HAVE LIVED, THE HOUSES AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS.”

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I might be rich. Or I might own a really bad counterfeit copy of a first edition Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

You tell me.

The provenance of the book is perfect since it came from the wonderful estate of a high-end collector who lived in New York City in the 50s and 60s and was friendly with many in the publishing world. The sale was held in his home where thousands of volumes were double and triple stacked and I, along with many other local book nerds and out-of-town dealers, spent hours that stretched into days combing through the shelves and finding numerous signed first editions.

So, when I spotted the bright orange cover pressed in between two larger books I was confident in its authenticity.This was not a man who bought fake books on street corners.

The jacket cover is worn and bears the first edition pen drawing of Capote on the back. But after I got the book home and examined it further, there are some issues:

  • The jacket has no price or printing date.
  • There is no copyright page or a Random House imprint anywhere except on the “about the author” page.
  • It is not bound in the First Edition bright yellow binding but in a more red/brown tone.
  • The paper is thin and upon further examination the typeset is unaligned.
  • There are missing words in the text. Some letters are handwritten (which does look like a galley.)
    And most concerning is the side title on the book jacket which reads “EREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS.”
      After some investigation around town, one friend of the original owner told me that he had heard that it was a bound galley copy that Capote had printed for his friends in advance of publication.
      But a book dealer I know was puzzled, thought it might be a bad 1950s fake and suggested I find a modern literature book expert. And that’s where y’all come in.
      If you have any ideas, let me know. I’m prepared for the bad news…but if anyone has some great news that would also be welcomed!
      In the meantime I’m proudly displaying it as my mystery Capote book. It somehow seems appropriate.

Pennants

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As the child of public schoolteachers, summers for me meant car trips. Not simple weekend getaways but months-long excursions that my mother meticulously planned with the AAA and road managed with her dog-eared Trip Tik.

Over the course of my childhood, we saw the country from coast to coast several times over; always taking time to stop at historical markers and national parks in addition to homages to the legendary horse racing tracks that my father had always dreamed of visiting. (In the 1960s and 70s children could still visit racetracks, but that is another blog post!)

These were the days of Stuckey’s, those blue-roofed wonders where in addition to refilling the gas tank and taking a restroom break, a child could always find a sticky pecan log, a key chain with your name imprinted and my favorite: felt pennants advertising the local area.

In the days before instant cameras, pennants were an easy and fast reminder of all of the places we had visited. Recently, I cleaned out the hall closet and came across my collection in an old Maas Brothers bag and still in good shape.

And did the memories come flying back! There was the 1965 Disneyland pennant that represented my highlight of our trip to Los Angeles in a black Volkswagen Beetle—complete with the specialty luggage that fit behind the back seat and in the front “trunk.”

From 1970 were my two beloved Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” pennants that took me back to the middle school summers we spent in Cincinnati so that my father could attend graduate school. I don’t know what he learned in his studies but I do know that I learned how to decipher a box score.

And among the assorted Florida pennants was the one from the Kennedy Space Center. In 1971, the seventh grade of Marshall Jr. High School spent a Saturday traveling on school buses to Cape Canaveral for a day-long field trip. This was the height of the space race we were all convinced that we would see a real astronaut or engineer that day; the Justin Biebers of our time. I’m sure I took lots of naturally 1977 filtered pictures on my Instamatic camera. But all it took to transport me back to that feeling of actually BEING in a special place at a special time was my pennant.

Not a bad thing to collect after all.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Old Houses

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I grew up in a town full of wonderful old houses. A quick bike ride across the railroad tracks and Calhoun Street would turn into a brick-paved old Florida wonderland.

The Prosser house was always my favorite with its majestic white columns. Pam favored the Victorian homes on Evers Street where she spent summers babysitting. And the homes on Mahoney Street were living tributes to the people who built Plant City either through commerce, agriculture or government service.

Years later when we decided to leave Washington, D.C. and move back to Florida, it was the inventory of great old houses that drew us to Bartow. We spent hours on the internet comparing listings of homes with the square footage and huge lawns we had missed from our 1903 Capitol Hill townhouse—which while historic was just 11 feet wide in places.

Like Plant City, this is a town full of houses with stories. Legendary Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Spessard Holland lived here, not in the big estate on Broadway but just across the street from it in the old bungalow. Down a few blocks in the great wooden house lived a composer who wrote for Frank Sinatra and around the corner from it sits the brick home where the street curves around an oak tree. Here in the “City of Oaks and Azaleas” we do love our trees. Local lore maintains that the lady who lived there sat in a lawn chair with her shotgun ready as the city crews paved the street. Guess who won?

Currently, there are several grand historic houses for sale in town and just like those childhood bike trips, I find myself weaving through back streets to check on any change in sale statuses. Realtors here should really have a disclaimer that no matter how grand your name is, locally these houses will always be known by their old family name.

We have lived in this old bungalow for almost 14 years but it will forever be known as the John Pittas house. A Greek immigrant and successful restaurateur, John lived here for over 50 years until he died at the age of 106. An avid gardener and cigar smoker, we still find the plastic tips of his smokes everywhere; middle of the driveway, under the azaleas; the garage. We never knew him but sometimes when we feel his presence we ask him to telegraph to us EXACTLY where in the yard he buried that jar full of cash we have heard so many tales about.

My husband once asked a neighbor if maybe it was the water here that contributed to John’s longevity. “No,” he smiled. “John never drank water.”

So if you catch me in the back with a shovel and glass of wine, that can be our little old house secret.

The Old Man: A mystery on film

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When I opened the old leatherette camera bag, two small aluminum canisters with bright orange lids spilled out, each about the size of a spool of thread. Their weight felt familiar in my hands; the knock of the 35 millimeter film inside was like an echo from the past. Each roll of Kodachrome had been exposed, waiting to be developed for many years.

In the old days, I knew how to mix the chemicals and make a print on paper from a negative in a darkroom. But those chemicals and enlargers are long gone. You can still get film developed. A drug store in our little town does a lively business at it, because as a clerk explained to me, “A lot of our older customers just don’t like digital cameras.”

Even though I use and love my digital cameras, I understand their feelings. Unlike today’s digital cameras, which divide the world into microscopic dots, each with a number assigned by a computer, film captures light through a chemical process. It has almost physical contact with a moment in time. But now these rolls of film have sat for years inside the old bag. I don’t know if it is possible to develop them or if I should even try.

The old man who owned and shot this film is long gone, and I never knew him. If he had family, I don’t know why they didn’t want his cameras or discover this undeveloped film. What bit of light left on the film is mystery: Perhaps there are moments in which someone he knew and perhaps loved paused and smiled into the lens; a sunset sparkling off the Gulf waters; people gathered for an event no longer in anyone’s living memory but for the curious mixture of light and not-light settling on the film’s surface for just a fraction of a second. Just enough time to create an indelible image, if only in the imagination.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.