I noticed her immediately, the petite, white-haired woman wearing a hospital air-filtering face mask and blue plastic, household, cleaning gloves. She bent over the eight-foot-long tray of a table sorting through its collection of odds and ends that had not sold at the Goodwill stores around the state. Evidently she did not want any germs from this warehouse filled with cast-off clothes, toys, appliances, games, furniture and more.
As I worked my way around the gymnasium filled with similar tables, I saw her at other tables, just looking, checking out things. And then for a while I lost track of the little lady as I found a stack of long, brand new wire shelves without their brackets. Finds like this have enhanced my household storage space over the years. I might have a use for it. I awkwardly placed the shelves across the blue cart thinking surely my husband could make some brackets.
I rummaged through another tray and found a 3-D puzzle I knew he would enjoy. It appeared to have been taped shut to keep all the pieces intact. Looking over the bin of toys with my daughter, she began picking up light-weight orange construction site safety helmets. As she pulled out three, four and five, others noticed and began passing down other helmets to her. She soon had all the orange helmets and began putting back the few white and yellow helmets.
“What will you do with so many?”
“Sell them as a party favor for a child’s construction party.”
I found a working “See and Say” toy. I pointed it out to my daughter. “No. I don’t need that,” she shook her head. I held onto it anyway and added four small Chick-fil-A cows to my buggy. They might do for a couple of projects on my list.
Pushing the buggy with the shelves around the folks lining the bins, I barely missed a young mother with a fussy, small child.
“Would you like this? It works.” I picked up the See and Say and pulled the lever. The child stopped fussing and reached. Seeing his mother’s smile of approval, I handed it to the child.
Questioning the idea of lumbering around any longer with that stack of metal shelving, I stopped, took them out and studied them again. Very new. Very unused. A young man came over to me,“here are the brackets. We saw the shelves and were looking for them. You need the brackets for the shelves.”
“I am not sure I want the shelves. Do you want them?”
He also was not sure, but his wife immediately named a spot she wanted to use them in their house.
I released my find to them.
Spying a sewing machine under a table in the appliance section, I meandered over and looked long and hard at it. With six machines already arranged around my sewing room, I do not need another machine. In fact, I need to release a couple, but still, I could not help leaning over and inspecting the machine. It would only cost a couple of dollars at the Goodwill Clearance Center in Little Rock, but it would take up space forever in my house. I set it back down. It was a catch and release kind of day.
A moment or two later, a man heaved the machine into his blue buggy beside two other machines. Before I left I counted four machines in the buggy. I asked if anyone knew if he had a repair shop.
“You could ask that lady with the face mask. She was shopping with him,” the friendly stranger pointed.
I approached the slightly bowed little lady.
“I like sewing machines. I have always loved machines,” she said and began telling me about the 300 she had at her house. She thought maybe she would open a shop and try to sell them.
“When I get working on one, I forget about everything else,” she said.
The woman could have passed from someone’s great-grandmother who spent her days sitting in a rocking chair knitting baby booties for great-grandchildren. Instead she pored over sewing machines.
“I can’t do car engines anymore. They are just too much for me now,” she added.
OK, now she had my attention. Here in this end of the line center for all things unwanted, I had found a woman petite enough to walk under my arm, a woman who might weigh 98 pounds soaking wet and she could no longer fix car engines so she spent her time fiddling with the mechanics of sewing machines. She wandered off to check out another sewing machine. I turned to the man who had pointed me to her. “You come here often?”
He said he did. He looked for buried treasure stories such as the 1960s vintage movie camera he had found. He bought it for the $2 max assigned to small but heavy items. A camera dealer helped him sell it.
“Some hobbyists like to have these cameras to use with film. I sold it for $400,” he grinned.
That was not the best story of the day. He told of another man who had picked up a strap with nails sticking out of it. He and others at that bin wondered, “what is this thing?” before they each dropped it back into the bin.
One man though picked it up and put it in his buggy. “I have not seen one of those in about five years,” he said. “It is a homemade slave collar.” Later, he told folks that his $2 item sold to a collector for more than $3,000.
That story left all of us taking second and third looks at everything before we left that day with our end of the line thrift store purchases not worth anywhere near that much.
(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer for the News-Times. Email her at email@example.com)