This morning I came out our front door and walked past a clump of bee balm (Monarda Didyma, Bartram’s Owego Tea). I walked past the tomatoes ripening at the far end of one of the gardens. I dumped the compost bucket on the compost heap. I walked back to the front door past another clump of bee balm. Clumps of bee balm are always around every Maine farm yard. I have never lived anywhere that did not have clumps of bee balm in the yard. I did not try to have this happen. It is the way it is on old Maine farms.
When I was first an antiques dealer I was allowed to vend my wares in the back of my grandmother’s barn. I was in “junior high school” (middle school) at first. Then in high school. I was open “after school most days”. Except in the summer. During school summer vacation I was open all the time I wasn’t out “getting more stuff”. Midway through summer vacation; Maine’s “High Summer”, the bee balm in my grandmother’s yard was in full bloom. It was filled with bees and hummingbirds.
I had a very strictly defined area in the barn for my “store”. I went from …the wall by stairs to the second floor of the barn… along that wall toward the rear of the barn but stopping at the “door to the (horse and cow) stalls” with no allowance on the back wall past that… but here right angled out onto the open barn floor space to a barn post with… an old floor size electric lamp my grandmother …tied to the barn post and plugged in saying “You’re gonna need some light”. The space then again right angled and went back up toward the front of the barn an equal length to match the stair-stall wall length. Then it right angled a final time straight across to the stairs to form in total a large open rectangle.
As the space filled, the stair-stall door wall became “full of stuff” “for sale”. This “full of stuff” went out to the light at the post with diminishing density along the back line of the space. By the time the stuff got to the light it was sparse. I had a small table and two chairs at the light as my business office; check out, lighted inspection area and …sit and talk. This last rarely happened because I sold to adults who always paid up and left real quick. The whole empty half of the space toward the front of the barn was my sorting area where all new acquisitions were placed, sorted, inspected …and often sold… before being placed in my “store stock”. Quickly my customers made it clear by their actions that the stuff in THIS area of my store was of greatest interest to them because it was “fresh stuff” that I had “just found”.
To announce to the world that MY store was open, I hung an old United States flag on a pole out a window on the second floor of the shed & summer kitchen between the main house and the barn. Once the flag was out I would sit in an old blue metal porch chair in the shed doorway and look up the drive way toward the street. There were several other old chairs there too for additional “customer” seating. Before me and just outside the shed door was a large clump of bee balm, a lilac bush and another large clump of bee balm on the other side of the lilac. At high summer I had to look through the bee balm to see the street. The bee balm was always full of bees at work and frequently enhanced its interest to me with an equally busy hummingbird… or two. I sat and waited for a “customer” watching the …birds and the bees in the bee balm. The “customers” always came.
The reason they always came was NOT because of ME. They came because of my grandmother and HER store. Her store was actually smaller than mine but… she had been an antiques dealer much longer than I so was “well known”. Her store was at the far rear corner of the shed. From where I sat at the shed door it was straight back from me in the “dark end” of the shed going back to “the cold table” and the stairs to the second floor crawl space. Her “stuff for sale” was on a free standing table down the center of this space. More “stuff for sale” was found down the left hand side of the space on top of and under a large and long table… with this region having more “stuff for sale” on the wall above that table and even more “stuff for sale” hanging or resting on the stair steps leading to the second floor. On the right side she had more “stuff for sale” on a board placed on a table high wood pile. By late fall this board table was gone and the wood pile was full to the ceiling with “stove wood”. At the back of this space was “the cold table”. This was where my grandmother put recently prepared food like a whole roast chicken still in the roaster, fresh pies, bowls of eggs, picked garden vegetables and fresh baked bread. This is because the space was cool and dark with a light breeze from the stairs; perfect for that day’s food “keeping”. Often “customers” viewing my grandmother’s store had trouble recognizing that things on “the cold table” were NOT for sale. Especially the pies. They always asked “How much are the pies?”. I’d say “That’s our food it’s not for sale”
“Oh. They LOOK really good”.
“Yep. My grandmother made ‘em”.
This “the cold table” problem was enhanced by my grandmother hanging “stuff for sale” up above the table on the wall AND leaning up “stuff for sale” like old axes against the bottom of the table. It confused “customers” on their first few visits but in the end it always worked out.
The key note above is ME being the one selling from my grandmother’s store TOO; in addition to selling from MY store. THAT, in hindsight was what my grandmother got out of this having me have a store in the barn. Right off the upper end of HER store and behind the blue metal chair I sat in at the shed doorway was a door to the barn that stepped right down to present my store in full sight. So… for me… when they first came, the “customers” would always shop all through my grandmother’s store first but when they got up to the doorway to the barn they’d say something like “Let’s go out and see what YOU’VE been finding” and walk right down into the barn and over to MY store. Before they did that I’d help them with anything in my grandmother’s store including things like going way into the house and finding her to see if she’d “do better” on a price or a “could they pay but have a man fetch it?”. I did all that all the time and my grandmother would never come out to the store. Ever.
As I said above, I “opened” my store by placing a flag attached to a pole out a shed crawl space window. In the shed I would go back through my grandmother’s store, up the shed stairs, over to the third window that was always open on the bottom, slide the flag on the pole out that window, weight the pole down to the floor with an old iron farm bench vice and …look out the window. Then I would look DOWN from the window right on to the top of the second clump of bee balm by the lilac bush by the shed door below. The flag flapped above the clump. The busy bees buzzed in the bee balm. Any hummingbird flew off until the flag placement disturbance was over. After the flag placement I’d go sit in the shed chair and wait for a “customer”. No one ever talked about the bee balm even though they all walked right by it . The only exception was that every now and then my grandmother would speak about it to herself or actually speak TO IT; address the bee balm. On a hot day she’d say “You want it to rain too don’t you” and sometimes go get buckets of water from the barn corner rain barrel nearby and dump it at the bottom of the bee balms. That included a third far clump down in the “hot corner” of the house’s ell.
One day, late in my high school days, I found and bought a six foot long double swing leg country Hepplewhite “harvest” table …in perfect original condition and old surface… for one hundred and ten dollars. It was a wonderful table and a wonderful find. I was ecstatic. Until I got home.
I brought the table into the barn and put it front and center in my store space. Then I went and got my mother and grandmother. Both didn’t seem to want to be bothered but came along. I showed them the table. They showed no interest. I told them how much I paid. They both told me right away that I “had paid too much”, that the table was “not worth that much”. I defended myself by pointing out it was a “LARGE” “harvest table”. That did no good. I actually went up to my grandmother’s store and carried a standard size Hepplewhite swing leg table from her stock down and put it on top of the harvest table to show “how much bigger it is”. They didn’t care. I’d “paid too much”.
Although confused and discouraged by this, I still “opened” the next day. I put the flag out, looked down at the bee balm and sat in the shed doorway. Bees buzzed in the bee balm. A hummingbird visited. After a while a truck parked at the head of the driveway. The truck had Vermont license plates on it. A couple got out and walked up to me in the shed door. “Is this the antiques store?” they asked.
“Yes it is.” I said and pointed out my grandmother’s store to my left. Into the shed they came and carefully browsed my grandmother’s “stuff for sale”. They didn’t buy anything. When they got to the door to the barn, the man said “Is there more out there?”.
“Yep. That’s my stuff; my store”.
Out they went. I got up and followed them. When I got there they were already looking at the table. It was still right where I’d left it the night before. They looked at it. Walked around it. Looked at it. Looked at me. Looked at it. Pulled one leaf up. Looked at it up. Put it down. Did the same with the other leaf. Looked at me again and then said “How much is the table?”
I said “Would you pay one hundred and ten dollars?”
“Yes we would.” the woman said right away.
And that was that: I got out of that fix by selling the best twenty-five hundred dollar country Hepplewhite harvest table I’d find for a decade by selling to the first people who showed up in the yard for cost just so my mother and grandmother wouldn’t be angry at me for “paid too much”.
I was so happy to make the sale I even sold them a perfect original condition old red painted with yellow floral decoration comb back Windsor arm chair rocker that I’d bought the week before for twenty-five dollars out of a barn and been asking one hundred and twenty-five dollars… for forty dollars… too. They paid me and we loaded the table and the Windsor right into their truck and they drove away. They never mentioned the bee balm either.