Not everyone likes charity shops. For those who don’t shop in them for a genuine need, if no treasure is found, they are terrible!
I actually call them ‘opportunity’ shops. And it is a great opportunity when you are in the them for a few reasons;
Firstly, you CAN get a bargain - like a two-hundred-dollar dress with Virginia Westwood on the label for five dollars. Now that is what I call a great bargain. They are terrific places for the people that actually have to be thrifty, not having much cash they need to buy cheaply clothes, crockery, furniture and lots more. I see about half and half of the two different types of people where I work.
I’ve just thought about a third kind of person that would walk into an op shop. The type who buys there because they know the proceeds are going to a good cause, like ‘save the children’ or the red cross. But to be frank, I don’t think there are many of that sort!
I don’t get paid to work here, I do it voluntarily. I work in an office four days a week and have a day off so for a day a week I run the Good Samaritan op shop on High Street. I was only coming in temporarily when my best friend broke her leg and asked me to take until she was better, and that was about eight years ago.
She didn’t come back and I stayed on.
I love it. There is something about walking into this place. It has a certain smell. I don’t mean a terrible odour but a kind of old but clean smell. It’s a bit like the smell of a church – except that is an ‘everything’ smell, woody, sorrowful, happy, hopeful.
I will walk into an old church with worry and anxiety in my heart, sit on the scratched and worn pew, look at the stained-glass windows and instantly feel better…. even though I don’t walk into the Good Sammy’s and feel that, I still enjoy it.
The clothing and care of it is important. I wouldn’t want to try on a dirty dress or blouse so I double check for stains and also rips. I’m a dab hand with the sewing machine, so the old singer that was donated to the shop I use to mend clothing. I also iron the clothes. Why should the poor have to try on creased dresses?
I like to call the people who come into this op shop the clients. They would get called clients in ‘Marcelle’s’ and ‘Junie’s’ up the other end of high street, so this is no different. You try clothes on and you either like them or you don’t, they either fit or they are too small. No difference…. except the price!
Desperate people do rash things sometimes. We do have two big signs that read ‘PLEASE DO NOT STEAL FROM THIS SHOP.
WE DO NOT APPRECIATE IT AND WE NOW HAVE SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS’…
But it hasn’t made too much difference and the truth is that we don’t have surveillance cameras!
I am what is known as a ‘sucker’! Some people call it being a ‘pushover’ or ‘too soft’! If someone is caught pinching something I just figure that they don’t have the money to pay for it, so I just say “take it please but try not to take anything else’….
! “Just give me two dollars and pay the rest next time” or “Pop it in your bag and I will pay for it “and I always do. Well like one of my friends always says “You can’t take it with you”!
It’s always interesting seeing what people buy at the op shop.
We have the retro shoppers, only interested in goods from the sixties and seventies onwards…..heading straight for the records and the kitchen goods. Here’s a tip…. Never get in between a retro shopper and a set of tin canisters for the kitchen! “My Nan had a complete set of these canisters but she gave them away when her kitchen was renovated, can you honestly believe that?” said a twenty something girl buying a set of four with one missing.
Then there is the dealer – walks in and heads straight for the crockery, lifting up each piece to check on the bottom for ‘Made in England, Bone China or Wedgewood’…and then they will come and ask you if there is any other crockery out the back that they can look at! They check the jewellery for stampings on the inside of rings and bracelets. If they had
found something worth a lot more than the selling price you can always tell by the animated look on their face, bright eyes, clutching the piece tightly in their hand.
Then the ‘crafters’ – they come in to buy anything to do with arts and crafts, like material, feathers, wool, felt. “How long is this piece of material?” I will get asked by a frumpy lady in a hand knitted jumper, the dog on the front of it slightly weird looking, and the home made hairband on her head looking more like something ‘Hiawatha’ would wear…
The vicar of the local church comes in sometimes, just to browse, occasionally taking some deep and meaningful books. One time he slowly walked towards the counter with something in his hands, and before popping it down on the counter, furtively looked around, making me suspicious as to what it was. My misgivings were justified when he put down a pint-sized beer mug and a brand-new bottle opener. “Oh” I couldn’t help saying, and he replied “Yes, Umm, for my brother, he enjoys a beer and I, funnily enough, collect bottle openers…”
‘And I never see you sneaking out of the local pub at closing time when I’m on my way home from work either Vicar’ I thought.
Sometimes I would come into the shop on a Friday morning after unlocking the door, dragging bags or boxes of goods that had been dumped out the front. ‘Lazy people. We’re not a tip’ I would say to myself pulling out broken toys, half boxes of jigsaw puzzles, shoes with no soles left on them and dirty clothes. But most of the time it wasn’t like that – the bags had clean clothes, good shoes and almost new toys that had been donated by some kind people. The good always outweighed the bad.
One day, a grey and rainy morning, I had just finished setting out racks of clothing, putting the petty cash into the till, and checking around in general when the old clock in the ‘staff only’ section behind the curtain struck nine am for the time to open the door to the public.
‘I wonder if we’ll get many in today with this rain’ I thought standing on the footpath and looking down the main road. It wasn’t usually too busy on days like this. I didn’t mind the rain but some people forgot to wipe their shoes as they came in or bang their brollies to get off the excess rain, so at the end of the day, I would have to put the heaters on to try and dry the dampness in the shop.
I really needed some new wellingtons myself so headed for the shoes to have a look, but just as I was trying a pair of boots the door opened.
A middle-aged man stood at the door with three boxes of donations in his arms. “Hello, is it alright to leave these here?” he asked in a quiet tone, and they seemed heavy as he puffed a little.
“Of course, that would be great, as long as there are no electricals there…we just can’t take the risk that they are safe”.
“No, just clothing, bags, shoes, some books, lots of those”.
“You can pop them down here if you like” I told him as I lead him towards the back of the shop. I had a strange feeling that I knew him from somewhere but couldn’t pinpoint it. I think it was his eyes – they were very unusual, a green colour with dark flecks and lovely dark eyelashes. I even recognised his voice in a strange way. But so many people pass through this shop each week that he’s probably been in before. “Do you live around here?” I asked him, trying not to sound nosey but probably coming across as.
“Not really around here, more towards the lake, a few kilometres away. But I’ll be going tomorrow. It’s time to move on, and hence the reason for the sort out”.
I didn’t dare ask him why he was moving although for some reason I really wanted to. He seemed a little sad and I wondered if perhaps his wife had died.
He left the shop after I thanked him and as he smiled at me, I knew that he was familiar in some way but I couldn’t figure out how or where from.
The day was wet and very long! It did get quite busy in the afternoon as the weather fined up and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds.
For some reason books were very popular and I asked one lady what she was going to do with the eight murder mysteries she had bought. “I’m having me knee done” was her rely and I assumed she meant that her recuperation included reading. She didn’t elaborate so I left it at that!
My favourite ‘crafter’ came in. I could tell that she had crocheted the sleeveless top she had on because only last week I had sold her all the lime green and pink wool we had in the shop!
“Yes I did make this” she replied when I asked about the top “and what about the socks?” she continued and I looked over the counter to see one long knitted lime green sock and one pink one! “Great job” I told her giving a thumbs up while smiling to myself.
The vicar walked in, had a good look around, and obviously not seeing what he needed walked right out again, which left me thinking ‘mmm wonder what he wanted?’
I had one old lady walk in with a pair of old slippers on, very well worn pink fluffies, and after going into the change room, walk out in a pair of short leather boots. She even double checked in the mirror to see if they suited her! After she had gone I checked behind the curtain, and there they were, the pink fluffies! “Oh well, she must have needed them” I said aloud to myself.
Five o’clock came around and I shut the door. After I had counted the money in the till I put the heaters on to dry out the shop. It was very quiet and as I tidied up I once again tried to think where I knew the man from who had left the boxes of goods. ‘Actually’ I thought ‘That’s what I’ll do while the heaters are drying the place – sort the boxes he brought in’.
I made a cup of tea and knelt down on the mat and opened the first box. Shoes and clothes, but good quality by the look of them. I was very cheekily thinking that there was a nice dress or two in there that I could buy! I actually couldn’t be bothered putting them away so left them in piles for someone else to do tomorrow.
Opening the second box I discovered a few handbags, leather, good quality and knew they wouldn’t be on the shelf in the shop for long. I looked at the books and thought ‘I’m too tired tonight’ but as I was closing the lid of the box, a book caught my eye.
It was a child’s book. The spine was broken and it looked and as I lifted it out, smelt old. It was dark blue in colour but it was the picture on the front that intrigued me. As I had a closer look I suddenly felt breathless. The picture on the front was of a tree with a swing hanging from the thick branch. On the swing was a little girl, blonde curly hair framing her smiling face. The swing was up in the air, the girls legs straight out in front of her and in my mind I could hear her calling out ‘whee’ as she propelled herself forward.
“I’ve seen this book before, I know this book and I’ve read it so many times” I called out in disbelief.
I quickly opened the hard cover page. Inside in neat small writing were the words ‘To my beautiful little boy George. I will always love you. Mummy’ and three little crosses, kisses.
I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. ‘George… it was him’ I thought, not fully comprehending ‘I knew those eyes, his soft voice’ and then I began to cry.
Sitting on the floor in the op shop I cried for all the lost years. I thought of the childhood we missed out on together, the love we should have shared, all wasted, all that time spent apart.
It was dark when I finally made a move. I had no more tears to cry. I was cold and stiff from sitting for so long. My head ached and I felt num inside. But I knew I would need to go through the entire box of books if I had a glimmer of hope of finding a clue to where George was moving to or even a phone number.
All I could remember from when I was a little girl was our mother reading that book to us each night. We would sit in one bed, mum in the middle and George and I either side, and we would both snuggle against her. It always felt warm and safe.
I don’t even know where mum went to. I can’t remember. I suppose I was only about three or four. I know I cried a lot and wanted her warm hugs and familiar smell, but she never came back
There was another lady, our Aunty I think, helping to look after us after mum left. I don’t know her name.
One day dad came home from work early and told us that George and I were going to live with families that could care for us, different families.
I went to live with another lady and man and they were kind to me. As the years went by, they became my ‘mum and dad’. I never forgot the love of my mum, but eventually I couldn’t remember her smell or even her voice.
We never saw dad after we left so I could never ask him the reason why mum left us. Maybe she died. I don’t know. George might know, he was older than me.
I didn’t see George either. I always thought that he probably lived overseas, maybe he did for a long time, and then came back here. I don’t know. I just knew now that I had to track him down, to find him. Catch up on all the time we lost. That was my mission in life.
One day I might even be able to write a story, titled ‘I found my brother in an op shop’…