Today Tyler and I took a day off from the store and went on an adventure. We took some new friends to one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. An antique shop situated between the highway and a Dairy Queen in St. Joseph Illinois. Winter Wheat Antiques has been a part of my life for close to twenty years. I would even dare to say the contents of those unassuming buildings have fueled my imagination since the first time I stepped through the doors and probably caused some of my more attractive quirks and eccentricities to surface and be celebrated. Some of my most prized possessions have once hung on the walls or occupied shelves here. It’s easy to get lost in time among precious heirlooms and stacks of books while being stared at by a tiny stuffed elephant with button eyes and his companion a monkey that at first glance appears to have once actually swung from vines in some remote jungle. On closer inspection the painted features and delicate time worn fabric reveal the monkeys true identity, a well loved very realistic children’s toy.
This paradise captures my love of juxtaposition. Today I sat in a chair built around 300 years ago its sturdy arms proudly showing the wear of countless hands that have caressed its gentle curves while surrounded by Christmas ornaments from the 1950’s.
I must admit I am equally in awe of both. Rendered breathless by the thought of the owners that this chair has outlived while mesmerized by the glitter clinging to the snow capped rooftops of miniature houses built to prepare mantles for the arrival of St Nick. It doesn’t stop there, standing in an isle filled with delicate China and precious dishes no doubt handed down through generations and fought over by squabbling sisters before their mother’s death bed has even grown cold, I spy a tall vessel atop a cupboard that has been filled with aboriginal arrows carefully bundled and labeled. The chaos is kept at bay by careful and deliberate organization. I live in a world where random things are treated with great respect as long as the madness is neatly organized. I thrill at opening a drawer and finding it filled to the brim with blown glass ornaments from World War Two each nestled among its kin, each sporting a hand written tag tied on with thread. Pure bliss. Ceramic statues of sleepy looking saints may share the company of chalk ware dogs in hats carried home from depression era carnivals but they must remain on their own shelves. Each object your eye falls on in this kaleidoscope of color and texture is a time machine. I learned as a child accompanying my father to antique auctions that the things we create are destined to out live us. This is very clear at Winter Wheat. The things that crowd around you are not clutter. They are memories. Each whispering for attention. Recognition. Most hold great value more in sentiment than in the worth of the materials that they are constructed from. You will not encounter boxes clad in gold and rare gems. You are more likely to find a box stuffed with twenty sock monkeys. Each one different. Each one reflecting the child it was made for and the person who made it. That’s what these things are to me. Memories. Proof that people are capable of truly extraordinary acts of love, like making a sock monkey or keeping a shoe box filled with letters from a lover who’s words caused you to read and reread them so many times the envelopes are tattered from your touch.
In this place you are not surrounded by things but objects. Belongings.
I have spent hours impossible to calculate bent toward boxes of old photographs here. One of my passions. Tiny time capsules. Fragile but potent. Photographs carry the weight of human history. They summon up the reality that our world has been shaped by many individuals whose names you will not read in the history books passed out in high schools. I rummage through history. Not imagined history but history in vivid truth. Weather studio portraits of siblings in their Sunday best posed for posterity wearing button shoes or candid shots of a picnic where blankets are spread out near a model T. These are windows into a real world. Echoes of real people. The people who truly built the world we live in today. I love looking at these faces and knowing that this group of women fought for their right to vote or that these workers were the ones that paid for the railway they are standing near with sweat and determination. Knowing that the couple standing on their front porch holding a newborn would see the dawning of the civil rights movement. That is real history…. And some of them are just strange as hell. I mean come on, two old ladies from a hundred years ago standing on a porch holding up a chair with a white cat perched in it. What the hell? That one is coming home with me. I only buy the ones that speak to me and I never know what that is going to be.
Today Tyler and I were caught off guard by three autograph albums. We joked before we opened them about the famous signatures we would discover inside. Instead we found beautifully hand written notes of encouragement to friends moving away or pieces of poems penned in 1893 to the host of a New Year’s Eve party. To say I was moved wouldn’t even come close. I was transported. To a time when friends spoke of the love for one another in words that suggested that their friendship would endure any hardship including time itself. One sentiment has stuck with me all day. ” in the river of your memory let one ripple sing for me.”
As I left today the amazing woman who owns and curates this collection met me out in the sun with a gift. She presented me with something I will treasure always. An album covered in soft leather the embossed flowers barely visible. This book contained a handful of remarkable photos and enough blank pages to inspire more collecting. As I looked over the album again this evening I noticed that several of the pictures were of a lazy river. “In the river of your memory let one ripple sing for me.”