by Debbie Carini
There are lots of things that people inherit—money (think Rockefellers, Du Ponts Vanderbilts), titles (Prince Charles, Count Dracula), talent (the Mannings, the Fondas, the Wyeths), red hair (from some long-lost relative who only ever appeared in a black-and-white photo so I’m not really sure how I ended up as a carrot top), and even the presidency (Adams, Bush).
In our family, the legacy is of a people who buy junk, fix it, then reuse or resell it. As I write this, the theme song to the 1970s classic, Sanford and Son, comes to mind.
When my parents moved to California in the mid-1960s with 2 small children and another on the way, my father was delighted to discover the ”Swap Meet,” a resource for reselling unwanted items and picking up extra cash.
Not that we had a lot of unwanted items, but my Dad was almost Martha Stewart-esque in his ability to repair and repurpose other people’s discards. He took broken pieces of furniture from the garbage and made them into benches and step-stools and gave new life to garden tools, snack trays and small appliances simply by cleaning them up and positioning them as if they were being sold in your local downtown hardware store. And, most of all, he honed his salesmanship skills, famously convincing a lady that my mother’s cat-eye sunglasses—which were slightly bent after one of us sat on them in the car—fit her face perfectly (she toddled off looking a little like Elizabeth Taylor on a bender). He even once crafted a skateboard from a piece of discarded wood, old roller skate wheels, and bathtub appliqués (I don’t think that sold, because I remember clanking down the street on it, but I never slipped off).
This love of junk (for lack of a better phrase) is a birthright my sisters and I have happily embraced, and our homes are filled with finds from garage sales and flea markets.
One sister has even crafted a business, not entirely unlike my father’s early efforts, of salvaging beautiful garments and pieces of jewelry from the bins of thrift stores and giving them new life in her traveling boutique, Recycled With Love. She claims to be “saving the world, one old J Crew outfit at a time.”
Last week, my mom and I worked with my sister at her booth at the Irvine Flea Market. We spent the night at her house because we had to be up and at’em by 3:30 a.m. to drive 2 SUVs filled with treasures through the early-morning fog.
As we unpacked the vehicles and set up her “store,” customers started to appear—she has a regular clientele and they love her eye for the chic and cheap.
Even my daughter, who once disdained my monthly trips to second-hand stores and the Salvation Army’s as “too smelly” has taken her rightful place as the third generation of recyclers with her online column, Girl Meets Planet, where her mission is simply to be “Eco-friendly, one killer outfit at a time.”
Proving a new maxim:The family that reuses together reduces the strain on earth’s resources together…and for that, we can be thankful.