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I was picking my way through some plastic bins of old kitchen utensils at a Sarasota thrift store admiring the beauty of the handle of a wooden spatula when I spotted her— an elegant woman, well into her seventies, in a large straw Floridian hat, long black wide trousers and a red vintage beaded Czech glass necklace. She held a cream cardigan on a hanger, lifting it up towards the light to see if there were any spots. Then she smiled to herself, satisfied with her find, and placed it in her cart.
I knew she would know where all the great thrift and vintage stores were so, as she started to wheel away, I walked up to her. “Do you know if there’s a Goodwill store nearby that’s a good one?”
“Yes, I do,” she replied. Her brown eyes made me feel warm, like the Florida sunshine I was enjoying while away from my home in wintery Ohio. “I know where it is. I’ve been doing this for years, I never by retail.”
That’s amazing, I thought. She never steps into Macy’s, Walmart or Target. She finds everything she needs secondhand. Some people I know don’t appreciate old things. Yet, so many of these items come from a time when quality reigned. They were built for beauty, and designed to last.
“It’s good for the planet too,” she added, as if she read my thoughts.
She looked in my cart. “You know that spatula you have? I love old utensils. I still have my Mother’s.” She began to give me directions to the Goodwill and then said, “Why don’t you follow me there? I’ll show you the shortcut. I’m almost finished here.”
“Sounds good,” I said, happy to have found a thrifting companion.
When we walked outside she got into an old white Cadillac with a handicap sign dangling from her mirror.
I followed her North on Tamiami towards the airport. Then I turned into the Goodwill parking lot and waited behind her for several minutes as she waited for an old man to pull out of a handicap spot. Relax, I said to myself. This is a woman who holds all the secrets. She knows there’s no need to rush.
She stood waiting for me as I parked my car. Then the two of us followed a large crowd of people going in the door.
“Thanks,” I said, she pointed me toward the fashion jewelry. “They have some good jewelry here.”
“Good tip. I’m sure I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Awhile later I saw her in the housewares aisle, pushing her cart. It was two days before Christmas and she had found three beautiful red velvet nesting boxes with gold ribbons in mint condition. They looked like they had once been used in a Christmas store display.
“And look at this,” she said, holding up a snow globe with a golden angel inside. It was beautiful. How did she find that? I wondered. She certainly had the touch.
“My friends and I are going to have a Christmas party!” she said. “Here, look what I found you.”
I was so moved that she had been looking for something for me. She didn’t even know me, but she had reached out to make me happy. She handed me a lovely white porcelain box with a silver-colored painted lid.
“You could put chocolates in it, or lots of things. Make sure to check inside. Just in case it’s chipped.” She gently pulled the tape off the lid and we both took a good look. It was perfect.
“That was so nice of you! I love it.” I said.
“Merry Christmas!” she said.
“You too, it was so nice to meet you. I have to get back now, but thanks for taking me here.”
“My pleasure,” she said and smiled at me, one bargain aficionado to another. Then she moved her cart around someone coming down the aisle and headed towards the clothing department, back into the hunt.