It seems to come out of nowhere: you are driving down a quiet country road, passing fields, barns, and ramshackle buildings. On a November day like this, with the gray-laced clouds gathering above and the wind blowing dead leaves across the barren landscape, you’re probably not expecting to find anything that will offer any kind of adventure. But then, there it is: Fairfield Antiques Mall, a converted chicken house that boasts all sorts of hidden treasures – furniture, jewelry, tools, collectible coins, clocks, glassware and pottery, lamps and lighting, paintings and prints… Pretty much anything you’d want to come across on an antiquing in weekend in New England.
There are several other customers walking around, peering into glass cases full of jewelry, admiring armoires they can imagine gracing their own living rooms, giggling at fashions of yesteryear. Today, there are signs posted throughout the store (which sprawls over several wings and floors) proclaiming that most items are on sale. Depending on the booth and vendor, some items are up to 50% off. Soon, the cacophony of dozens of feet making the floorboards creak fades into background noise as I see what I’ve been hoping for: booths crammed full of books that have been marked down to only one dollar apiece. Seeing all the colorful spines on the shelves in front of me, my heart begins to race. It’s like putting a sugar-addicted child in a candy shop and telling her to go wild, have at it, take while the gettin’s good.
I select three books that call to me. An abridged, adapted version of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, pushed together into one attractive volume. I usually avoid abridged versions of anything, but for only one dollar and with a pretty binding and soft, inviting pages, I figure I have nothing to lose with this one. The St. Nicholas Anthology, a red, hardcover volume of stories, poems, and pictures that are geared mostly towards children. It seems like I always see this book whenever I go to Fairfield Antiques Mall, as though it follows me around the store, choosing a different booth each time I am there. I figure it’s time to give in and buy it. If nothing else, these two books will make good gifts for my niece once she is old enough to appreciate them.
And then I find my personal favorite of the day: The Letters of John Cheever. I don’t know much about Cheever, but I do know that I like several of his short stories, enough to make me want to read more. When I open the book, I see a piece of paper has been glued onto the front page – a handwritten note to someone named Lewis: “Your headwaters have been found. How many of these have I heard you use? Count ‘em, buddy!” And then an illegible name. However, after that scrawled signature is another, far easier to read: John Cheever. I’m no expert on famous literary signatures, but from what I’ve seen of his, this one at least appears to be authentic, and for a buck, that is good enough for me. Unfolding the paper, I find a large page of bright cartoons, full of corny jokes such as, “What did the grape say when the elephant sat on it? Nothing – it just let out a little wine.” (If anyone can decipher this note and its signatures, please let me know! I’d love to figure out the connections between the owner of the book, John Cheever, and the other men who signed their names to the page.)
You will find all sorts of interesting things in this store. Though the books are my primary objective, I also enjoy looking at the old furniture, jewelry, knickknacks, clocks, photographs, record players, and kitchen appliances. I don’t know about you, but I have always felt that I belong to a vintage time. I suspect antiques stores appeal to me for the same reason they do for others like me: each item bridges the gap between present and past and calls to mind nostalgia for a long-ago, simpler time. When I see a white enamel wood-stove from the 1930s, I imagine a family wrapped in flannel blankets, warming their toes on a deep winter’s night as they tell stories to one another. A collection of antique tools may have belonged to a farmer who acted like an old curmudgeon but who was the first to help a neighbor repair his malfunctioning tractor. Or maybe those silver hairpins were worn by a beautiful young woman to her first prom, where she received her first kiss from her first real beau.
Of course these imaginings of the past may be over-simplified – we have the tendency to paint a pretty picture of days gone by. It’s easy to believe the past was better than the present, because we weren’t there to live it. Or maybe we were, but we have a selective memory. Either way, and even knowing this, it’s impossible not to assign tales to the items I find in antiques stores. The past is made up of millions of stories, big and small. And as a reader – and as a writer – it is in my nature to imagine and create for myself the characters and scenes of those stories. It is a way to connect to those people and places from the past, a way to see the present with a different perspective. As Tim O’Brien says in The Things They Carried, “Stories are for joining the past to the future… for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
It is places like the Fairfield Antiques Mall that bring the stories of the past into the present and make history come alive. And whether you are there for the books, the furniture, or the free coffee and cookies, you are in for a treat. If you’d like a different kind of Black Friday experience and a chance to find some rare gifts for your loved ones, the store will be having their annual 3-day Thanksgiving Sale Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 27th – the 29th. And as long as you’re in the neighborhood… You will be hungry by the time you finish antiquing, so head on over to Big G’s Deli in Winslow, about a ten minute drive away. I have never been disappointed in a sandwich from Big G’s – they are huge, made with homemade bread and packed with fresh ingredients. My personal favorite is the Gov. King, a delicious combination of turkey, ham, Canadian bacon, Muenster cheese, onions, and coleslaw. They make their own pastries daily, including enormous cookies and whoopie pies. (And I hear the extensive breakfast menu is amazing as well.) For me, a trip to Fairfield Antiques Mall is not complete without stopping at Big G’s to take a sandwich and a whoopie pie back home with me. And once I’m home, it’s time to unpack the paper bags and decide which story I will read first…
Fairfield Antiques Mall is located at 382 Skowhegan Rd, Fairfield, ME, and is open daily, 8:30 – 5:00.
Big G’s Deli, open every day from 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM, is located at 581 Benton Avenue, Winslow, ME.