Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Some recent trips to local thrift stores got me motivated to work again on this blog, and to think again about the notion of alchemy. Alchemy is, of course, any magical power or process for changing a common, value-less substance into one of great value. As I combed through piles of wonderful old college textbooks from the 1940s and 1950s, it occurred to me that the alchemical process for those of us who love vintage is simply one of perspective as opposed to physical change. I mean, I love to see jewelry made out of materials that others have discarded (see http://www.etsy.com/shop/rachaelbrooke for an example of what amazing things can be created from simple materials), but sometimes it’s merely which person happens to be holding the item in question that gives it value.

For instance, as I was looking at all the books in a store that I had never been to before, I was struck by the number of old textbooks there were, and especially by the number of old textbooks in Russian. I began to wonder about the person who had owned them and taken such good care of them. All were in amazing condition, with no marks or tears or even edge wear. And they were beautiful books, with titles in gold on the spine and covers. There were bilingual dictionaries, some books that appeared to be literature translations into Russian (I don’t speak a word of Russian!), and more. And I started imagining the individual who had acquired these, the obvious dedication that individual had to learning, and the care that she or he had shown these volumes. In my mind, I imagine someone (for some reason that someone is male in my mind), who came from a Russian family that had somehow ended up in the southern US in the 1940s and who placed a great deal of value on education. This family wanted to preserve a language among its younger generation even while adapting to a community that must have seemed downright alien at the time.

And then this younger generation aged, and the man who I imagine owned these books died, and this lovely collection ended up in a thrift store. I suppose this would have been reverse alchemy: gold turning to lead, perhaps. And it wasn’t until someone like me, someone who experiences a thrill in dusting off a cover to reveal a title underneath (even if I can’t read it), that the process reversed itself again.

Sure, there’s no basis in any kind of fact for what I imagine. But I like feeling that I have a connection to this unknown person, if only through the shared experience of coming from immigrant families who sought to carve a place in this world without losing the old one.