While you may be busy today, occupying yourself with picnics in the park—or barbecues in the backyard—I am fervently hoping to add one unusual item to my holiday to-do list: visit an antique shop.
Yes, I know there are traditions more American than that, made to fill up this national day of celebration. Come to think of it, unlike some people I know, I find antiquing is not even my cup of tea. Or, ahem, grande caramel frappucino. But for this holiday weekend, I am going to add that one item to the list.
I have a specific reason for this task: I’m hoping, in some small way, to commemorate an ancestor I’ve never met, personally, whose life has lived on in the childhood stories I remember from my mother: my grand aunt, Chevis Davis Chitwood Kyte.
My daughter has long been trying to talk me into driving to a town to the north of us, to browse through the antique stores downtown. It was just the other day that I finally agreed to join her. I had something specific I needed to find. We were on a mission, and she knew just the place to accommodate my hope to quickly accomplish that goal.
But you can’t just rush into an antique shop, grab your selected item, slap some money on the counter and run out the door. There is an ambience to the place that must be respected, a protocol to heed. Life inside the doors of an antique shop must move at the proper pace.
While I was following my daughter—the one more experienced in such antique-shop decorum—I tried to feign interest in the, well, junk (don’t kill me yet—I promise this will be a worthwhile divertissement) cluttering the aisles and closing in on me from the walls. I couldn’t help but notice two out-of-place pieces of pottery on a humble wooden stand.
If you have been journeying with me through the research on my family tree that I have been journaling all along here, perhaps you recall the story of my grand aunt Chevis. It was she whose rather painful life experiences ended in an early death from cancer. These life experiences, I’m hoping, were somehow assuaged by the beauty Chevis created at her job at the pottery company in her hometown Erwin, Tennessee. You may recall the post I wrote about that same Southern Potteries company.
I never had inherited any pottery from that cheerful collection of now-renowned folksy artwork—believe me, after my own aunt passed away last November, I looked carefully through all her collectibles, hoping there was a piece to commemorate our common relative. The style of the artwork, however, was imprinted in my mind’s eye. One never knows, ya know?
Fast forward to that moment when I—stranger in an antique shop, trying not to look to my left or my right, fixed solely on the task I had come to accomplish, spending not one penny more—walked past those two items. They were marked with the right name, but something was wrong. There was a smear on the wording. The familiar logo wasn’t included. But the style…the style seemed right.
I can be a tightwad when it comes to spending money unintentionally. Besides, I’m a researcher. So, what did I do? Resist the urge to buy—and promise myself I’d research the identifying stamp further when I got home.
Last night, it just so happened that we were joining friends for an early Fourth of July concert in the park in that very same town to the north. Afterwards, we planned to wander the downtown area, which on Thursday evenings is converted to a farmer’s market and street faire. I promised myself I’d take a detour into that antique shop, in the hopes that those two Southern Potteries pieces were still there. After all, these two are my piece of America. My roots are intertwined in the history of that company.
Of course, I got caught up in the moment, and forgot my mission for the evening. But I’m already determined to make another trip. Part of me is hoping the two items are still there, and that I can still buy them at the reasonable asking price. The other part of me is nagging, “But why are they so cheap?”
That’s the part of me that I will be telling, “Shut up.”