Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ruined by Jesus: The Trials of Estate Shopping

Estate sales can be awkward.  It's uncomfortable to paw through the belongings of someone's dead grandmother as the family watches, listlessly attaching price stickers to obsolete serveware and Porter Wagoner cassettes.

I'm hyper-aware of everything that's wrong within certain discomforting scenarios, so I kind of hate estate sales, but I also absolutely love them because they are treasure troves of amazing, mint vintage being sold for change by people who can't believe anyone would ever buy this shit.

Today I bought an armload of 1960s nightgowns, from the carefully handmade cotton variety to flouncy pink chiffon with embroidered rosettes, and even a buttery smooth nylon gown that clothiers stopped making 50 years ago because of their extreme flammability.  If you fell asleep with a cigarette in bed, as people were apparently wont to do regularly, you would be quickly engulfed in flames in one of these gowns.  And now I have one of my own!

This was excellent luck, as I've recently become interested in vintage nightgowns and have wasted endless time searching the internet for new pieces made in antique patterns of the Edwardian and Georgian variety.  Let me save some time for you: THEY'RE NOT OUT THERE.  So this dearly departed old Texas woman has saved the day for me, although she's lent me an evening fashion that is less Lady Mary and more Priscilla Presley.  I'm ok with it.

It felt so strange and wrong to be standing in another woman's closet, shrewdly inspecting the state of her clothes, holding things up to myself, and debating on whether I could pull off her things even in jest.  I know she was very old because she had a large collection of hats and gloves, and not only that, she kept them.  She had polyester pantsuits, pencil skirts cut to a 1950s length, chiffon and silk scarves, and dressing gowns with matching housecoats that were too old ladyish, even for me.  They made me recall my great-grandmother, old Italian mother Marian English, and her rigid observation of outdated fashion practices.  Curlers, nightgowns, polyester, and bags that matched your shoes.

My great-grandmother wore a nightgown to bed every night, and put a silk housecoat on over it if she was still up and about the house.  For years, I spent Friday nights at her house, and I remember when she tried to give me a nightgown and housecoat of my own.  I was around 10 years old, and this was too much for me to handle.  We had clashed many times as persons of different eras, and with a diplomacy reserved only for her, I'd usually back down.  I'd eat her bran muffins instead of doughnuts and let her serve me a bowl of frozen grapes as a "treat" instead of candy.  I'd let her listen to Dr. Bob Martin at a deafening volume all day on the radio without complaint.  I followed her instructions on etiquette when it came to answering the phone.  I'd let her force me to wash my face at night even though I for some reason hated to do it, but the nightgown was where I put my foot down.

I looked at this thing made of slimy pink satin, tattered and moth eaten from literal decades of wear, and threw a fit.  I couldn't stand the sight of myself in it.  Something about it repelled me.  It was the opposite of the image I wanted, and I cringed at the thought of my friends somehow seeing me in it.  This went on for a few weeks until she couldn't take it anymore and doubled down on me: I could not wear my dirty clothes to bed on her watch.  I gave in and put it on.  She handed me the matching housecoat - another layer, this time of lace, with floppy rosettes sewn to all the edges.  She had won.

Today's old Texan grandmother also had linens for me, which I purchased for impending projects, a collection of stories by Dashiell Hammett, and various pieces of Limoges porcelain dishes.  She had a collection of dish cloths from the 70s, which I loved, until I unfolded them and found they were all covered with religious art.  More perfectly fine items ruined by Jesus!  The perils of estate shopping in the bible belt.

The grizzly old guy at the cashbox reviewed my items, shaking the nighties and the linens out one by one, and leveled a googly eye at me: You want all this stuff?  Yeah! I shouted defensively.  He laughed and said, "Uh, five bucks I guess."  He doesn't know what a pink chiffon nightgown goes for on Etsy.

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