With our daughters older and enjoying a Saturday without mom and dad in the house, my husband and I have returned to one of our favorite pasttimes – attending auctions.

We loved picking up old treasures long before television shows popularized it. I’m not one for diamonds, rubies and designer purses, but I find old pottery irresistible. And, vintage Christmas ornaments. And 1970s Pez Heads. And, German beer steins. And, milk bottles. And glittery barware that looks like it stepped right out of a James Bond movie. The list goes on…

Recently, at one of the auctions, we marveled at the sale of an old Allis Chalmers tractor manual for $495. The buyer was probably in similar disbelief of my high bid of $3 on a tin of vintage Cracker Jacks trinkets. As they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Surely, auctions bidders can find functional, practical items for sale. Sometimes bidders are looking for opportunities to flip their purchases. But, what I really love are the nostalgic pieces that take us back to grandma’s kitchen or grandpa’s work bench. Just the sight of a Drury’s beer brings back visions of my Grandma Cains watching roller derby and sipping her favorite beverage.

I didn’t set out to be a collector. Instead, it was a natural progression of my inability to part as a child with greeting cards, dolls or Avon bottles. I’m just too sentimental. Items are tucked neatly away high up on the shelves in the garage, but every once in awhile, the greeting cards come out of storage. My daughters got a kick out of seeing a 1972 Valentine’s Day card from one of my former classmates who they came to know as their dental hygienist.

I love giving new life to something that was once cast away as unwanted, outdated or unnecessary. Some items find their way into my kitchen drawers, curio cabinets or bookshelves; other items will find their way into my siblings’ Christmas stockings. What cook doesn’t have a use for a bone-handled granny fork?

There certainly is a thrill in the chase or blindly hitting the jackpot with a purchase. At the same time, there is so much knowledge to be gained from our ephemera from the 1934 World’s Fair or Nov. 23, 1963 newspapers, or the chalkware prizes won at county fairs from long ago. Old things teach us about culture and society. They inform us about life in the past, and oftentimes connect to historical events, like President Kennedy’s assassination, World Wars or the Great Depression.

At this time in our daughters’ lives, they are not yet thrilled with the hunt. They don’t want to tag along with us to auctions and flea markets. Still, we love to come home and share the stories of our new treasures as we’re polishing them up and giving them new life.

The girls haven’t been ones to sit down and read a history book for pleasure; but, they’re intrigued by my grandpa’s war ration coupons and our S & H green stamps. They find it hard to believe soda once came in glass.

Together, we’ve scouted out in La Porte County the locations of the Lincoln Highway, the Spaulding Hotel and Bob’s Barbeque – learned from postcards. We’ve figured out how to use old contraptions like nut crackers, shoe stretchers and box cameras.

These old pieces of history, I believe, also help my daughters develop empathy. To envision how our ancestors churned butter, cooked in a 20 lb. cast iron pot or shoveled coal for heat can only make them appreciate what they lived through each day to provide for their families. Children in those days would have had little time for video games and reality television. I think they’ve come to appreciate the speed of popping popcorn in a microwave bag rather than in a pan on the stove.

If only we would have let the girls take some of our old treasures to school, they could have made great history projects.

And, what will we do with the Cracker Jacks trinkets? They’ll become a conversation piece in my Vaseline glass bowl on the coffee table.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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