Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life Is Good: The Antique Store Years

Back in the late nineties, I used to run an antique store in rural Maryland. We rented the apartment upstairs and in return for cleaning and setting up the store, I got a commission off all the sales I made. It wasn't much money, but setting up the store was a great project for me. I was a young mother of a toddler at the time, and out of school for a while, so I was feeling that I was stagnating and not learning anything new, except perhaps new and creative ways to get a 2 year old to take a nap. Moving into that antique store was the beginning of a great renaissance for me and a foreshadowing of how Mr. Farmer and I would choose to live our lives once we owned our own place.

When we moved in, the entire house was more or less unlivable. The two front sitting rooms in the old farm house had served as an antique store in years past, but they had turned into a jumbled mess of dusty antique storage. The yellow and green, vertical-striped wallpaper in the stairwell was peeling. The huge staircase railing was covered with dust and fine mold. This place was perfect.

We set to work quickly, moving the furniture around and peeling off the ugly wallpaper. We made the house a home by hanging photos and finally putting out the fancy towels we had received as wedding gifts. I spent day after day dusting and polishing small antique pieces and arranging them for display. Every day was an adventure of discovery and an experience in learning to organize a large amount of stuff into a small amount of space.

In the process of this cleanup I made a discovery that would change me forever. In the large hall closet was a heavy box. In that box were hundreds of taper candle stubs, mostly 3-4 inches long and in every color imaginable. From that box, a hobby that bordered on obsession was born. I started by melting down candles of a single color in a small pan that I bought at a yard sale. I removed the wicks with a fork and set them aside to cool for recycling. My very first candles were made by hanging a long wick into a beer bottle, carefully filling the bottle with wax in alternating layers of color, then allowing the wax to cool and breaking the glass off the candle. The results were fantastic, and I was hooked!

The outdoor cleanup lead to my first adventure in the kitchen. A large grape arbor stood overrun in the back yard, neglected for many years. But Mr. Farmer, being how he is, recognized that among the weeds a good, strong grapevine persisted. He cut the whole thing back so far that I was certain it would never recover. It did, however, and before I knew it we had so many concord grapes that we just had to find some way to preserve them. I pulled out the old cookbooks and the inserts from the mason jar boxes and decided to make both jelly and jam. I spent hours upon hours popping grapes out of their skins, cooking, straining, mixing and canning. The jelly didn't set, but it made wonderful pancake syrup, and the jam was perfect. We gave it away at Christmas and still had more than enough for our own use.

We only lived in the antique store for about a year, but what a year it was! We turned a house into a home. We turned antique storage into an antique store. We turned scrap candles into new candles and grapes into wine, syrup, and jam. We even turned our family of three into a family of four (almost, Little Miss Farmer ended up being born back home in PA, even though I carried her mostly in MD). It was a very productive year, with many memories that I will cherish.

"The Antique Store"
by Laurie Basham
Local artist who chose "my" antique store as a subject.
How cool is that?


  1. Wow... I remember that place! We had a fun weekend when I came down to visit. I had forgotten all about the antique store on the first level!

  2. That is because friends and family come in the back door!

    I remember that visit as well. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?