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Sunday, July 17, 2016


All right I’ll admit it: I love going through other people’s stuff whether it’s an estate sale, a garage sale or a pile of stuff on the sidewalk. It’s the thrill of the hunt. Always has been; always will be. You have no idea of the incredible things I have found or maybe you do if you’ve seen my house—or if you are a “picker” as well, I’m sure you are overcrowded with found treasures.

My habit started at age three and I remember it well: I was in my grandparent’s dining room pilfering through the drawers in the huge buffet that almost took up an entire wall. Who knows what I was looking for but I kept pilfering until I heard my grandmother say “Don’t plunder in those drawers.” “Plunder” was a word I didn’t know but I knew the tone of her voice—the not good one that any kid recognizes. Instantly I stopped and resumed doing something else but from that day forward, I was the forever seeker of hidden treasures.

By age eight, I had a collection of rocks underneath my bed much to my mom’s disdain. They were ones I had found and to me, each one was simply beautiful. Kept those rocks forever until too many moves by my parents and me and who knows what happened to them for they were never seen again. The answer to my problem was simply to collect more rocks—and of those, I still have some plus many more.

My impulse to be a picker never did quit: I went from rocks, to handkerchiefs, to boxes, to old buttons and to whatever I spied that was either free or sold at a cheap price.  When I got married the first time, I had some collections or “dust catchers” as my mom called them but not much. It was on a trip that my then-husband and I took a trip to Tennessee to stay with a college friend of mine and her husband that I caught the “picker fever” big time. My friend Carrie had a house full of things that I simply lusted after and she knew it. We went to several auctions but I bought nothing for my then-husband would not pay the shipping fee on big furniture. So much for that but when we returned home, I was on the search for what my friend had and I found it all right—I found an overload.

I will never forget an antique dealer friend of mine saying upon surveying my house “You need a box room.” Ah, she knew me too well for boxes of any kind have always been my weakness. Can I explain it? Of course I can’t: I just liked boxes. My box fetish went on to much bigger ones—the wardrobe type. At one point, I had fifteen that I had picked, refinished and sold most but five are still here.

Many male friends of mine have bought things from me and with each thing gone, I felt regret but the money I made went to buying something else for the house, for my sons or for another treasure. Years ago now, I found that thrift shops were a great place to pick for I would know the layout and seek what interested me but the problem is I still have so much of that and yet it’s hard to let go of so much of it. Do I need a lot of it? No. Do I like a lot of it? Of course I do—why would I find or buy something I didn’t like?

My grown sons seem to have no desire to take half of what is in my house even though much of it is things that have been passed down through my family. To me, I know the story behind each piece but to them, they don’t. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you are facing the same dilemma—of what to do with treasured things. I have sold a lot in the past when life was normal such as being able to put an ad in the paper and have semi-honest and sincere people stopped by but as for now? It’s an entirely different world in which it’s hard to trust strangers for too many reasons.

In the last seven weeks, I haven’t bought one treasure and maybe it’s the knowing that there simply is nowhere to put it but last week while driving around, I spied a chair on the sidewalk underneath a piece of rotted trellis. Parked my car, got out and pulled back that trellis to see a metal chair with a padded seat and back rest: The material on the seat had a big gash in it and I stood there hesitating for two reasons: I couldn’t fix that gash and I had no place for another chair either inside or outside of my house. But sometimes common sense goes out the window when a treasure is seen that can be redeemed.

Yanking back the trellis, I lifted that chair into the backseat of my car and it had to be the heaviest straight back metal chair I ever lifted. Got in my car and as I headed off, I knew I’d made a huge mistake and so I drove by a friend’s house thinking that she and her husband would like it but they weren’t home. The only decision I had was to bring that chair home, which I did, and set it on my sidewalk. It took about five minutes of looking to know good and well I didn’t need it or want it. Again, I lifted that heavy chair into my backseat and went back to the very place where I had gotten it. Stopped my car in the middle of the street, attempted to drag out the chair when a woman in front of me came to my rescue by saying “Want me to lift that out for you?”

I was never so grateful in my life as I watched her drag that heavy chair to the exact place it had been as I held back the rotted trellis. Thanked her and headed home.
The very minute I got out of my car, I felt something in my hair: It was dusk and there was no way I could see what it was and so I used my right hand and flicked it off of me. Instantly my right ring finger was on fire—it felt like a thousand fire crackers were going off in it. Never had I ever felt pain like that and had no idea how to stop it and so I asked people. Finally someone said “Maybe a hornet or wasp was in your hair:” “One of those?” I asked. “It felt papery” was all I could say about it. “Then it was a hornet in your hair” said a friend of mine who had been a science teacher.

All because of a worn out chair I got stung by a hornet: Go figure. I had no baking soda but remembered that using toothpaste can do the very same thing for a wasp, bee or hornet sting and so I ran to the bathroom, opened the toothpaste with my left hand and smeared my right ring finger with it. After one hour, the pain decreased and I sat here thinking how totally stupid the whole thing was. One friend said “You should have just kept the blasted chair.” “Don’t I know it” was my reply.

Two days later while driving around, I spied the trellis but guess what? Someone had taken the chair again and it was not trash pickup day either. Maybe that person also got stung by a hornet for the chair could have held a nest inside—but I will never know. I don’t want to know.

But aside from that totally stupid episode, I will still be a picker—a gatherer of this and that and one that seeks treasures for it is innate and who knows what treasure is lurking around the corner? I just hope that whatever it is, it is devoid of hornets. Rest my case.

Sherry Hill

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Sherry Hill

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