In order to meet my early morning plane in Omaha I drove the night before from Des Moines and settled into a motel just off a ramp from Hwy 80, about an hour from the airport. This was as close as I could get since Omaha was hosting the College Baseball World Series that weekend, and their fans were occupying most all the nearby hotels.
Arriving in the early evening, I decided to drive the single mile into town. Expecting to find a quaint village with lots of antique shops, I discovered an antique festival. The festival consisted of temporary booths, covered and inactive for the night, lining the main street and most of the side streets. I had trouble finding the main street since so many streets were blocked off. I was looking for a particular café I’d heard about even though the young man at the hotel had warned me, “Oh, I wouldn’t eat there,” he said grimacing.
With the help of some pedestrians on the street, I found the café and entered. Without sitting down or reviewing the menu, I left almost immediately. The musty stale smell of old objects that permeated the entire town seemed to culminate in that one small space. The walls were cluttered with memorabilia, the tables and booths appeared cramped and cluttered, giving me a sense of clostrophobia. My appetite disappeared immediately and I knew I couldn’t eat in that space.
I’d been to antique shops in small town before, but I remember them as being less musty and dusty and mildewy. In those villages, the merchandise was displayed as though it were new, or being viewed in a museum. Yes, the items were old, but the wood had patina, the special shine that can only develop through years of being used and worn. Dust, dirt and disrepair were the hallmarks of the items in this festival. And the smells were of dead things, stored and left unattended.
As I walked to my car I thought, “Everything old isn’t valuable. Everything old isn’t a treasure.” Perhaps that’s what keeps people searching through the old barns and basements, stopping at estate and garage sales, and attending antique festivals. They’re searching for the one item, disguised as junk that could transform into something of value. At the bar where I finally ate, I heard the woman next to me say, “Lots of women like to go to spa days, or discount malls, but for me, its antiques, and the hunt.”
On my way out of town I noticed a few vintage houses, which seemed inviting and cared for. I’m sure their plumbing doesn’t work as well as it once did. I’m sure the roof may need repair, or the foundation may be cracked – but people are stilling living in these antique treasures. The front porch contains a swing or rocking chair, the living room window glistens from the beveled glass in its cornice. And flowers in the garden say, “I’m vintage, but I’m still useful, and I’m loved.”