The imperfect seams of the yellow baby rompers at the estate sale carried no monetary value. They simply held enough sentimental value to justify keeping them long after the baby boy had children of his own.
The little outfit reminded me of the red rompers I made for my own son. As I struggled to button down the shoulder straps, he wiggled to get down and go play. He didn’t care what he wore. He wanted to run and play.
I’m sure similar memories kept the late seamstress from donating or trashing the rompers. She had made them. Her son had worn them. They meant a lot to her. I bought them for the story of the love she stitched into them.
At another estate sale, I discovered a cherry red, size four, ruffled dress with a ruffled white pinafore: the only child’s clothing in a closet stuffed with women’s clothing. This perfect princess dress for Christmas even had a simple white cotton slip with a white embroidered flower on it. No little girl had worn that outfit in decades. Just as no one had worn the pale yellow, ruffled dress that fit my daughter nearly forty years ago. I have it tucked away somewhere. Nostalgia retains clothing long past its time of usefulness.
I bought the red ruffled dress and pinafore. It spoke to me like paintings speak to art lovers. The image of the child who once fit the tiny outfits lingers. A similar, nostalgic image lingered when my cousin gave me a tiny pair of leather high-top shoes which my father wore in the 1930s. Years ago, my grandmother tied those brown laces into secure knots before letting him down to go play. He ran. He played. He grew too big for the shoes. My father passed more than a decade ago. His baby shoes remain to remind us of him and my grandmother.
Feeling of nostalgia get me in trouble at estate sales. The detritus of decades of memories attracts me. I peruse dishes, linens, furniture, knick knacks and décor – each hinting at one person’s unique story. Some kept everything, changing little over the years. Others evolve over the years. At one sale, a family member reminisced, “she used to love to entertain and set a table with linens, good china and silverware. The last few years, she used paper plates and napkins and plastic utensils.” According to the price tags on everything, none of the family intended to carry on the tradition of elaborate table settings.
Evolving preferences explains why another sale offered the 1940s book for teens, “Your Manners are Showing.” I discovered it in a corner where someone had tucked it long ago. I put it on my pile of “must have this.” I consider it a good reference book of expectations from the years before my birth and a sharp contrast to today’s acceptable behavior.
Sometimes an item for sale reflects good intentions that died after writing the check for the pristine set of classic literature relegated to the bottom shelf; the records, cassettes and DVDs never opened or the dusty 60 year-old dress with the price tag attached. With each sale, I catch a glimpse of the another family’s past activities, interests and memories of days when their now adult children blithely wore whatever mommy gave them to wear, read books popular at the time or played with toys now long-neglected.
Parents’ memories of a child’s fussy times fade; the clothing and toys remain with memories of the good times wearing the sweet little outfit, playing with a favorite toy or reading a book. We can’t turn the clock back. We can hold the rompers and remember.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”