As a teenager, I quickly learned that in my household there wasn’t a lot money “just laying around” (unless you happened to find a $20 bill just laying on the ground). Unfortunately, a scarcity of cash was in direct odds with my innate love of new things that, to this day, is the reason my alcove is usually filled with packages. But this isn’t an anecdote about the emotional highs and lows of online shopping.
Childhood trips to the mall were pretty much off the table (no funds = no fun), trips to Marshalls were on an as-needed basis only. But thrift stores were like a Supermarket Sweep gold mine, minus the heavy turkeys, cat litter and ticking timer. Nothing was off limits, and quantity was key. A life-long love of 25-cent vinyl and old-man golf pants (to think — I wasted my thinnest years in plaid grandpa bottoms) and ironic tees began, as did a steady collection of lunch boxes, Avon figurines and ‘70s macramé basement castoffs, as well as beer signs that would have been perfect decor for the Regal Beagle.The kind of photo that today, after careful manipulation, would be pure Instagram popular-page gold with its own dedicated Pinterest board.
But my most beloved thrift-store find was a framed photo of a random baby with whom I’d experience a long-term relationship — my longest-ever relationship, in fact.
The photo, clearly taken in the ‘70s, was of a baby in an inflatable pool reaching for a flower held in the hand of an adult. It was a lush display of natural and synthetic pinks and reds — the freshly picked magenta rose just as alive as the red-orange and hot pink plastic bath toys floating in the pool. No filters, no retouching. Just the kind of photo you’d find in your average middle-class American’s yellowing, slowly disintegrating photo album.The kind of photo that today, after careful manipulation, would be pure Instagram popular-page gold with its own dedicated Pinterest board. But back in the ‘70s, it was just real life.
It came framed in a mildly garish white and gold frame, measured 24”x 24” and cost approximately $10 (not a nominal fee for a thrift store or for my college budget). I bought it in 1998 at a Harrisonburg, VA thrift shop called Granny Longlegs.
And while she wasn’t necessarily the cutest kid, the sense of familiarity and the suggestion of her past, which felt like mine, was something I became attached to. And apparently I was the only one. My roommates and friends not-so-lovingly referred to her as “Creepy Baby,” which only made me love her more.
The photo was a forever-frozen time capsule, a blip in some nameless baby’s life, suspended in perpetuity in a chintzy frame. An anonymous toddler, ostensibly born around the same time as me, in a backyard kiddie pool, living a life that looked like mine. Someone I didn’t even know felt so familiar that she became both me and mine, and that moment in the pool felt so intimately rote that it was hard for me to believe it wasn’t me reaching up to my own mother or relative.
Creepy Baby accompanied me from Harrisonburg to Ashburn, VA where I lived alone for a dreadful year after college, to the beginning of a new life in Washington Heights, New York, to an apartment on Rivington Street, to the Brooklyn home I now share with my husband (who wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of sleeping beneath her, but I think he knew how much the photo became a piece of me I wasn’t yet ready to give up).
But finally, this past May, during a frantic spring purge, I pulled Creepy Baby out from behind a piece of furniture where I stash framed pieces that are either out of rotation or that I’m not sure about it. I don’t know why, but it I knew it was time to go. I’d loved Creepy Baby, but it was time to set her free.
Before I could overthink my decision, I set her out on the sidewalk for someone else to find and love, looked back at her once more, and walked away. It was the end of a nameless love and a connection to a piece of a past that I had fostered as my own. Like many relationships, you somehow just know when it’s time to walk away. And when I looked back at the curb again, she was gone.