And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I guess I’ve always considered myself a scavenger. I prefer old things over new, and I especially enjoy finding treasure. When I was a little kid living in northern Minnesota, there was a big field across the gravel road from my house. It was a baseball field, or at least, it had one of those high fences surrounding where a batter and a catcher would be. Kids played there during recess at school. But mostly, it was a big empty field.

At a far corner, behind a bunch of brush, there was a secret spot, or at least I called it a secret. There were large rocks in a strange sea of gravel. As an adult, I know now that this was likely where construction workers put all of the rocks excavated when the homes in this area were built, but for me at that time, it was like a secret circle. I spent hours there, sifting through the rocks, looking for ones with sparkle or unique shapes, that I brought home and kept in buckets in the garage. I never went there with friends. If someone happened to walk through, I’d hide behind a rock until he or she left. This was my secret spot, my magic circle, my treasure trove. Toys were fun too, but these old rocks, dug up and left behind, were my treasure.

When we moved to Wisconsin, we lived in a neighborhood right next to a country club with a golf course. On summer evenings that went on for hours before dark, I wandered the course and the bushes and trees around it, scavenging for whole golf tees and lost golf balls. I collected broken tees too, of particularly bright colors and patterns, and they were kept hidden away in an old cigar box that I bought for a nickel at a rummage sale. But the whole tees and golf balls that were still in good shape, I sold at a lemonade stand I set up on the 9th hole. I offered two different drinks, usually pink lemonade and then some other Kool Aid flavor, and I set up displays of the tees and golf balls. Found treasure to the golfers, and found treasure to me, with the bright colors I would admire inside my cigar box, a relic from another time.

I clearly remember my first “big find” at a garage sale, which I started frequenting when I was still in elementary school. But here, it was the summer before my junior year in high school, and someone down the road had an old typewriter for sale at their rummage sale. It was five dollars. I was with my mother when I saw it, and she thought I was ridiculous for wanting it, so I went home without buying it. But then I returned two more times. Each time, it was still there, waiting for me. The last time, I handed over the five dollars. That typewriter still sits in my classroom. I can’t explain the feeling it gave me then and now, when I hold it and think about all the fingers that have pounded out words on it. It’s history.

After years of scrounging through rummage sales every week and weekend, primarily for clothes and toys for my growing kids, I discovered Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army. I abandoned rummage sales for what was essentially a rummage sale of all things under a roof that kept me safe from the weather. When I divorced my first husband, I made the awful mistake of believing him when he said he would cover all the kids’ expenses if I didn’t go for child support in the courts. Of course he didn’t follow through, and so I had to dress my kids, in the throes of fragile adolescence when the world becomes about who is looking at you, on my very, very limited budget. My kids wore clothes from Goodwill and the Target clearance racks, and they looked darn good. My daughter might tell you differently, as I could never find the exact style jeans she wanted and the other girls wore, but she looked great.

And now, years later, when scavenging has returned to being a source of pleasure and not necessity, it continues. All of Olivia’s prom and homecoming dresses came from Goodwill. She’s never shown up to an event in a duplicate dress from a mall store. She’s worn designer dresses to her orchestra concerts, and the dresses never cost more than a few dollars. Right now, she’s toting a Vera Bradley purse, mega-pricey in the stores, that we picked out last weekend at a St. Vinnie’s. She loves it, and she learned that good quality doesn’t have to come with an inflated price.

Through all of this, I hoped I was teaching my kids that they could have what they most treasured, whether it was an old typewriter or a designer handbag, without giving in to vast commercialism and consumerism and overpricing. The treasure isn’t in how much you pay. It’s in what you love.

But there was a new treasure yet for me to find.

My son Andy is going to be 36 years old this Saturday. Throughout our years together, I would call him from Goodwill or wherever I happened to be, telling him I found this video game or that comic book or this t-shirt with that superhero on it – his treasures. When he responded enthusiastically, I bought it for him. But lately, he’s begun hanging out in Goodwills himself. He shows me his finds.

Two weeks ago, I took him with me to a St. Vincent de Paul in Pewaukee, a huge store that is housed in an old Pick’N’Save grocery store. Last weekend, when Olivia wanted to go to see it, I took her, and Andy came again. We had a ball.

As we were driving home, I told Andy that on the next weekend, for his birthday, he could pick wherever he wanted to go to dinner, and I would take him.

“Oh!” he said. “And maybe…maybe we could go to another Goodwill too. Together.”


And there’s my treasure.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My first find – this little Corona typewriter. I bought it at a rummage sale the summer before my junior year in high school. It cost all of $5.
One of my favorite Goodwill finds. This original painting has hung in AllWriters’ since the birth of the studio. Again, it cost all of $5.
Olivia’s Homecoming dress in 2016. Goodwill purchase. I thought she looked like the ocean.
Olivia, for Homecoming in 2017. And another Goodwill dress!
And Olivia, Homecoming 2018. And yes, Goodwill.
I don’t have any current photos of Andy, but here’s my favorite one of him as a little guy. He was 17 months old. And by the way…everything he’s wearing came from a rummage sale.

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