I don’t know who she is but the other afternoon I was profoundly affected by a chic, perfectly coifed, and fashionably dressed little old lady who showed up at the consignment shop in the Princeton Shopping Center with bags full of treasures obviously accumulated over a lifetime, all meticulously cleaned, polished and shiny, and wrapped individually with new tissue paper.
I had just finished tutoring English at the Princeton Library and decided that I needed a walk on a sunny afternoon. So I drove out of expensive-to-park Princeton to the shopping center, where I could take a leisurely stroll. Peering in the window of the One of a Kind Consignment Shop, I witnessed the unwrapping process in which a shop representative was commenting on and listing each item as its owner unwrapped it. I went inside to look around.
I was mesmerized by the scene up front as each new item was removed and placed on a table. There were crystal vases, beautiful serving dishes, a large silver ladle, decorator plates, ornate pottery, and much more. Obviously these were possessions accumulated over a lifetime. I couldn’t stay to see it all, but even the shopping bags in which she brought her treasures were classy — I spotted Lord & Taylor and other posh stores.
Truly I was not there very long — I couldn’t just stand there and stare. Casually I expressed interest in a set of glass plates but was told to return in a few days after they were priced and put on display.
Somehow I am haunted by this beautiful woman who had apparently driven there on her own (she mentioned that she had inadvertently left something in the car). What is her story? How did she feel about separating from these lovely possessions? What led up to this trip on a sunny Thursday afternoon?
Aging myself, various scenerios came to mind: She’s leaving her beautiful Princeton home to move into an assisted living community; she’s just had bad medical news and wants to make life easier for her heirs; no one in her family has need or use for any of these lovely items; perhaps she has no family.
Who is she? How did she feel unloading this large amount of beautiful personal possessions that had probably served thousands of friends and relatives throughout many decades? What will it be like when she returns home — a home where so many possessions are no longer on the shelves, in the cabinets, on the walls and coffee tables.
You can create your own scenario. I just know that I can’t get this woman out of my mind. The image of what I saw that afternoon is haunting to me. Perhaps because I know that some day, I will be doing the same thing.
Phyllis Spiegel is the owner of Phyllis Spiegel Associates, a public relations consulting firm based in Plainsboro. She knew she would become a professional writer in the second grade when she was paid $5 for one of her poems. As a freelancer she has written several articles for U.S. 1, including our annual roundup of films at the Telluride Film Festival.
A graduate of NYU, where she earned her bachelor’s in English, Spiegel is now semi-retired, and a volunteer for literacy and foster care.