It was the blue color of the box that caught my eye. That, and the small patch of faded silver-metallic ink. As I quickly edged closer to it, I was able to read the lettering across the top, which said “General Electric Portable Steam Iron”. Hmmm….this could be interesting! I carefully opened the lid and smiled as I saw a small, shiny, chrome and black iron nestled snugly alongside a black cloth cord and a tan cloth carrying case. Jackpot!
My petticoat swished against the red and white gingham dress that I was wearing as I hurried across the antique store to find my husband Joey. When I reached him, I cautiously held out my exciting find. “Look at this!”, I hopefully exclaimed. My good-natured husband turned around to see what I was holding. “An iron?” he groaned. “We already have an iron and it’s a perfectly good one. Besides that, where would we keep it?”
“We don’t have a shiny, chrome, portable steam iron that is still in the original box with the warranty papers!”, I said. Joey raised his eyebrows and sighed. I continued on, “I’m sure I can find some place for it. Besides, look at how neat the steam attachment is! Can we get it?” My sweet husband looked at me shaking his head. “I guess so.”, he said. “If you think we really need it.”
If you think we really need it? Well….that was tricky. I tried to quickly rationalize this in my head. Did we really need it? Practically, no. We already had a modern iron that worked wonderfully. But….the problem was, that while I was pretty sure WE didn’t need it, there was something in ME that did need it.
That something in me wanted to rescue it. I wanted to bring it home, take it out of the carefully packed box, whip out one of my vintage dresses, and make that little chrome iron useful again. Why? Who in the world knows?! I really blame much of it on my Grandma Mary, who also rescued old and forgotten antiques. For whatever reason, I knew that I had found a treasure.
The story has a happy ending for me (and the iron!). We purchased it that day and since then, it’s been sitting on my bar. I’m still trying to figure out where to put it. I’m guessing I have a couple more days for it to sit on the bar before Joey threatens to give it to the local thrift store. The little iron makes me smile, but it’s also made me seriously ponder why I feel so drawn to old things.
Like the iron, many of the items I am drawn to are much slower or more tedious to use than their modern-day counterparts. Although they are slower, these items are often much more durable and have a timeless design when compared to the plastic, “throwaway” items of today. Another plus, these antique items can often be repaired if something goes wrong.
Durability and timeless design are good reasons for being drawn to an object, but the biggest draw for me, is the repair. “The repair?”, you might ask in surprise. “Where in the world would you get something like that repaired today?”
“Exactly!”, I would say.
When I was a little girl, I lived in a little midwestern town that had a typical main street. There were many stores there, but by the 1980s, most of them were going, or had already gone out of business. One of those stores was “Ed’s TV and Repair Shop”. Ed was a family friend. I remember going in that store with my dad and looking at all the televisions around the little shop. Ed, a tall man with a big smile, would come out from his repair shop in the back to visit with us. Eventually, Ed’s little shop, along with all the other ones on main street closed. In a big part, this was due to cheap, modern, plastic, throwaway items.
Have you ever driven through a small town and seen a main street with most of the businesses closed? I have. It makes me sad, wishful, and a little angry, all at the same time. I think about Ed, and all the other people who used to have shops that made main street a busy and interesting place. I think about how nice it would be to purchase something and be able to count on having it for many years, instead of just having to throw it away because it’s obsolete, or because it wasn’t made to last more than a few years.
Modern items may be cheaper and easier to obtain, but what we didn’t realize is that when we sacrificed quality for cost, we also sacrificed Ed and all the other store keepers on main street. We gave up the personal service and customer care that you get when you buy something from a local main street store for a self-service checkout register where you have to scan your own items.
So I’ve decided that when I buy antique items like the iron, in a funny way, I’m being defiant. I’m going against the grain. I’m not buying a cheap, plastic, throwaway item. I’m buying something that is durable, fashionable, and real. I’m buying something that can be repaired (in one of the few main street shops that are left). I’m buying something that connects me with the past. I’m buying something for Ed.
Something for Ed. Something for Ed, and all the other main street shop keepers whose shops went out of business when the big box store moved into town. Something for the main street shop keepers who are still hanging in there, working hard and making every sale count. Something for the main street shop keepers who work hard each day, know each customer by name, and know all about every product they sell.
While it may look like just a small, chrome and black, travel iron with a cloth cord, it’s really so much more. It’s a call to return to local shopping and quality items, to make our main streets flourish again and bring back jobs and businesses.
It’s really…something for Ed.