Today marks the end of an era for one of my very favorite places in town. The Wilkes Antique mall is closing shop today. My heart aches at the thought of it. In the past week I’ve been 3 times just to savor every last moment of nostalgia I could muster before my days of meandering through the dust and treasures is no longer permitted. I hate it. (Hate is such a strong word. My Mom barred the word “hate” from our house growing up, and I’ve kept her rule as my own my whole life, save times I can find no other word to describe my passionate disdain for something. In this case it fits.)
I don’t know much about the history of the Antique Mall, other than it was owned by a man named Joe Campbell. A quiet, strong, fascinating man. Not terribly friendly, but exceptionally knowledgeable where antiques are concerned, and exhaustive in his research when it came to pricing antiques. If you’ve ever tried to “talk him down” on a price, you know what I mean. He knows the value of something and he’s nearly relentless in negotiating. I like that I suppose. Being so sure of something that budging on price, even a little, is a no-go. I like that about God, especially.
The Antique Mall was 20,000 square feet of stuff. Old stuff, wobbly stuff, sturdy, bigger than big stuff, dirty, clean, new, weird, smelly, warm, cold, valuable, you get the picture, stuff. And I loved all 20,000 square feet. Finding the Antique Mall was a godsend for me. It was home away from home for me. I’m not sure, in an absolute sense, why I loved the mall so much, and why it meant so much to me, but it’s been a lifeline for me since I moved to North Carolina. Maybe in writing this, I’ll figure out why.
Growing up I spent a lot of time with my Dad’s sister and brother-in-law, my Nana and Uncle Bud. They were flee-marketers, and yard-salers. My sister and I spent weekend after weekend at our local flee market with my Nana and Uncle Bud, running around and watching them sell junk. Their house was filled with all sorts of oddities that they’d buy and sell. It was neat, mysterious, and sometimes creepy. They had a stuffed iguana that to this day makes me cringe when I think of it. Gross. Anyway, junk, as I used to think of it, was their passion. My Nana loved milk glass, and had so much of it spread throughout her house. And she loved glass frogs. She loved all sorts of different, quirky things. But most of all, she loved me. Her hugs were so strong I was sure they’d steal my life if they lingered a second longer. I remember finding it hard to breathe when she hugged me, but even still, I hated to let go. Her hugs were a safe place for me. She used to bite my ear and kiss my face, and grimace when she didn’t approve of something. She was a fireball to the core. A picture of strength, perseverance, and love, and a bit of a rebel. With that said, perhaps now you can imagine what happened to me the day I found the Antique Mall. It was a moment of translation for me. It was familiar and strange, warm and uncertain. One of those, the lights are on but nobody’s home moments, when you seem to be stuck somewhere outside the realm of time, where past and present become seamless, worlds collide, confusion comes, and an instant later, clarity. Only an uncertain clarity, if that makes any sense. If I’m being honest, it broke my heart. I entered with great caution during my first visit, moving with no real direction or intention, but as my feet went forward a part of my spirit began to perk up. A part of my soul began to cry. It was very usual. I found milk glass right away, and bought it. That was an easy sell. It reminded me of my Nana. It was white and clean. It made my eyes shine brighter. I fell in love. I’ve since bought many things from the Antique Mall. And every time I bought something I found myself so grateful for the life that used to cherish my new find. For my stranger friend who was passing his/her treasure down to me. I know there is a story, good or bad, attached to the things I’ve accumulated, and each story, albeit untold and unknown to me, is precious. I will value the old. I am intrigued by its history. As its new owner, I promise to honor it (in a semi-serious way). I mean, let’s not get carried away here, I will take care of it and enjoy it for as long as I own it. I will try hard not to break it, but if I (or my girls do), it’s okay. We loved it while we had it. That is honor.
I suppose I should mention that my Nana passed away about a year after we moved to North Carolina. It was tragic. The Antique Mall and I found each other during my Nana’s battle with cancer. I held onto the Antique Mall in a semi-unhealthy way for a time. For awhile it was a coping mechanism for me. A place where I could wander for hours on end, looking pleasant on the outside, but kicking and screaming and writhing in pain on the inside. I’d move through 4 floors of antiques, pounding my spiritual fists in disgust and rebellion, so angry at cancer. I’d buy a piece of milk glass, finish my fit, and be done with it. I’m still angry about her death. I didn’t know I was, but as I sit here writing I am overcome with a bit of indignation. Death is an ugly, dirty, rotten thief. Here again, I will use the word, hate. I hate death. (I have peace and rest in my heart because I know I will live in Heaven with Jesus (and my Nana) forever -- I had a dream where I saw her in Heaven -- but I am nonetheless disgusted by death. I will fight forever against death with prayer. It’s all I can do.)
(Wow, maybe I should take time to write rough drafts for these. I get so carried away, moving in directions I didn’t intend to go. Oh well.)
Anyway, I’ve never experienced a building so jamb-packed with beauty, life and character like the Antique Mall. It was filled with so many things just waiting to be swept up by someone like me. It made me an antique lover. I hope, for my husband’s sake, that I don’t become obsessed. I mean, my house is only so big, but like my husband likes to say when I bring home something new, “You bought more milk glass…because you can never have too much milk glass.” He’s right! (wink, wink.) I mean, to be fair, I have passed on many a milk glass. I haven't gone totally milk glass crazy. As it turns out, I don’t buy it anymore as a way to hang on to my Nana. It's not a coping mechanism anymore. My heart has been healed. I miss my Nana, but I know death is only a short interruption in our time together. Now I buy it because I honestly love it. It makes me happy. It’s beautiful. Maybe it’s genetic. Who knows? I hope my girls have an affinity for milk glass, otherwise there will be a big milk glass estate sale when I’m 100 years old and ready for Heaven.
Before I go, I want to share something that Joe Campbell, the mall’s owner, told me shortly after we met. I asked him once why he likes selling antiques. He said, “I’ve done so many different things in my life. I’ve had stores and restaurants. I’ve sold real estate. I’ve built houses, and now this.” I asked which, of all the things he’s done, was his favorite and he said, “I don’t know. None of them. I guess I’m always the most happy doing whatever it is that I’m doing at the moment.” I cried. Isn’t that it? That we be the most happy doing whatever it is we’re doing at any given moment. He’s got it figured out. That’s how my Nana was. That’s how I’d like to be. I’m trying my best.
Thanks, Antique Mall, for being my friend for so long. I will miss you. But as it goes, change is inevitable. This morning I was sad about losing the Antique Mall, and just now I’m content. In its barrenness, life will come. Joe will move on to doing something else that makes him happy, even if he has to fight for it. He’s fit for the fight. He’ll do great! I pray the building will be transformed into something new. It helped me become something new. It deserves the same.