Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finds-stranger than fiction

A friend, J, and i went shopping on Saturday. She, like me, knits, and unlike me, spins. We ooh and aah, those of us at the knitting group, when she shows us the latest on the bobbin, and it's heartfelt oohing and aahing, for she does nice work.

She wants to learn how to ply properly, which is Next on the List, and to that end, she's gone and gotten herself some nice batts from a farm not too far away. Whilst there, she saw lovely large wicker baskets for sale. These aren't your run-of-the-mill wicker baskets. No siree, they are huge and were used in the 19th century as containers, much the way we use cardboard boxes today.

She told me about them and how she really, really wanted one. The idea caught my fancy, but i didn't know about bringing one home with me (more than one was for sale). She also mentioned something about buffalo hide carts. um, okay. I'm interested. J had told the husband and wife farmers/owners that she'd come back in a few or several days and most likely would be dragging a friend along, but wasn't sure what day. They assured her that someone would be around no matter what day it was, and they hoped she enjoyed the batts.

After a nice lunch on the way up in a place i've always wanted to stop and hadn't yet, we were ready to take a left to go down the road where the farm was, when our eyes were filled with the spectacle of someone dressed in a gorilla suit, waving to passing motorists. We ended up missing our turn as a result, so yes, we turned around and stopped a bit before the gorilla. He was standing by a large yellow sign with the words, ESTATE SALE written on them. Worth a look, we thought.

Seems an older woman had moved on and many of her household effects were for sale. Some dandy old frames, for which i had no use, bric-a-brac, and records--not just LPs, but a box of 45's AND 78's. I came away with a booklet of Steven Foster songs, replete with all the politically incorrect lyrics, as this was a 1951 reprint of a 1934 edition, and two old postcards that i thought an historian friend of mine might like. All for a single dollar.

The sale had been going on for at least 3 hours by the time we had arrived, so i'm sure we would have found other items of interest had we gotten there earlier. While J really liked two of the gilded frames, she couldn't think of where they'd live in her house, so we moved on.

The road to the farm was at the end of the estate sale's property line, so we turned right and went a short distance to the farm. We were greeted by the husband of the husband and wife owners. They have some llamas and sheep, who were outside enjoying the sunny, beautiful day. The husband remembered my friend and she in turn mentioned that we wanted to look at the baskets as well as the yarn. We were walking in the garage, which was attached to the house on its left, and onto another ell at the right corner, which contained a showroom, workshop, and loads of storage space.

The baskets were amazing. He went on to explain that the Royal Ballet still uses these types to store shoes. That these had been made by the blind in England sometime during the 19th century, and they had picked this stuff up as it had been used at a wool mill. They thought them too nice not to take home, although they didn't need all they picked up, as it turns out. J showed me the one she wanted, and i could see it living in her house. He went on to say there were another two available, a closed one like the one J liked, and a large open one. He showed them to us, just in case she wanted to change which one she wanted. The other closed one called to me. I knew right where it would go in my house, and told him so.

And then, he told us about the carts made of buffalo hide. They were used in the wool mills, although the one they kept for themselves they used by the side door to keep firewood handy. He pointed over to the side door on the far side of the garage, and it was covered in wood dust. He had another one they weren't using, and as soon as i saw it, my heart sang. It's shaped very much like the mining cart one sees in the Indiana Jones movie, in which they take a ride, and the hide is thick and stiff. On each of the longer sides, there's a middle seam stitched with sinew. I told him that was going home with me, too.

He then mentioned that an antiques dealer had been by to look at the baskets a day or two after J had been. How it was funny that the baskets were sitting around for months with no one looking at all, and then in the same week, two different parties expressing interest. She was looking at them on the behalf of someone else who lived in New York.

Now, yes, i thought of stereotypical used car salesmen and how they use that tactic to get you to buy things. But, we had already expressed our desire to buy the items, agreed to the price, and the feel of his words were very different from that slimy-i-think-i'm-being-had feeling. The price he quoted us we both found very reasonable, and my basket was a bit less in price than J's, since it was missing the leather straps, like small belts, that could be adjusted to keep the lid closed. Strings had been tied in their place, and i could find bits of leather on my own for new straps, or consider doing some rope work and perhaps making a monkey's fist and loop to serve as a clasp.

We wanted to look at yarn as well. His wife had joined us by this point, and as we walked into their showroom, which was filled with lovely yarn they had spun, scented homemade soaps that they make, and knitted items, some for sale, and others to provide a sample of how the yarn looks knitted, he pointed to another large basket that held a bunch of yarn. "If you'd prefer that basket," he said pointing to the yarn-filled one, "you're welcome to take it instead of the one you chose. It's in better shape."

It was much cleaner and had the leather straps intact. And i can't say why, but it didn't sing to me the same way. I thanked him for the option and told him i was very happy with the one i had chosen initially. How i thought the baskets and buffalo cart should stay here rather than go off to New York. He smiled and laughed.

He helped us load the items into J's car. We could fit two of the three, but not all three at the once, so we contented ourselves with filling up the back of her car with the two baskets and would come back for the buffalo hide cart.

I ended up getting two skeins of a brown/grey icelandic wool to make a hat for myself. They're hoping to get their own icelandic sheep very soon--the fleeces they used for this yarn came from neighbours' sheep. They demonstrated their sock making machine, which had us transfixed. He showed how he could turn a heel within 10 minutes. The wife showed us the socks she was wearing, which had been the first pair she made on the machine. Took her about an hour and a half. They're going to give a how-to class for anyone who'd like to learn in June. It's free, and J and i can both see wanting to have one of those machines. They don't sell them or get any commission, but shall be happy to give us info if we'd like.

He gifted J with several ounces of roving that he said she'd find fun to spin because of the way it was combed? carded? Not sure what term he used, but he said they were long strands, so would make for fun spinning.

We were in the workroom now as that's where the sock making machine was, and we were coming back through to the showroom, when we saw another customer. J had given her credit card to the wife for processing, and i was producing my checkbook to settle up. She had just come in, and he introduced us to Joan. She had knitted up a cowl with some of their yarn and wanted to show them the finished product. It was lovely and looked like it would keep one's neck very warm. She had also come back to say that her client in NY wanted the baskets. Yes, she was none other than the antique dealer.

She was too late, of course, as we had already bought them, and they were in J's car. And the buffalo hide cart was waiting in the wings for our return trip. She was gracious and said the only reason she hadn't bought them the other day was that they wouldn't fit in her car and that she was waiting to hear back from the client, who had just confirmed. She told us they were worth far more than we paid for them, even though she didn't know what price we had been quoted, and that we got a good deal. Now, i don't know if he would offer her the yarn-filled basket as he had me, or if Joan had planned to get all of them and create some sort of display for the client.

We chattered good-naturedly, bade our good-byes, and told them we'd run home with this load and come back for the cart.

The gorilla was still at roadside, waving to all and sundry to take a gander. We waved as we turned for home. We dropped off the baskets at my house. J wanted to get the spot in her house ready before she moved it in, would that be all right? I assured her it would be, and i thought i might wash my basket and let it dry on the patio. We could do the same with hers, if she'd like.

We took the ride back up for the cart. The Sunday drivers appeared to be out a day early. We could see the gorilla and someone else dressed in a canvas tunic and troll face was walking past the gorilla. The gorilla seemed indefatigueable in his efforts to encourage motorists to stop and see what bargains could be purchased at the sale.

I saw a Prius with NY tags turn from the farm road onto onto the main road. "That's Joan," i said.

J looked briefly, then turned onto the farm road. The gorilla waved at us once again, and i waved back. We got to the farm, and the husband helped us load up the buffalo cart. He said that Joan had just left. I nodded and said we saw her as we were pulling off the main road and onto this smaller road. I didn't say it, but noticed her car looked empty. The buffalo cart is now in our barn, and shall be very handy when we've got to move boat stuff that's now stored in the barn over to the boat as she's outfitted.

This seems the sort of thing that one tends to label under fiction, only most English teachers i know would think it preposterous and too staged. Gorillas waving, buffalo hide carts, and someone else wanting the same huge baskets to arrive minutes too late for purchasing. It wasn't even a full moon.


  1. It's a shame you didn't post a photo, these baskets sound like what are called 'Theatrical Hampers'.

  2. Cro, i need the gizmo that can transfer my digital photos to a computer. The camera i have has software that i can add to the computer, but my own computer's operating system is too old, and i'm not allowed to add it to my work computer.

    thanks for the term, 'theatrical hamper'. I'll take a look and see if i can find a picture of one on-line and determine if it's the same beast.