Over the weekend in Eagle, Dear Host (DH) and Our Hostess (OH) decided to buy a small furniture item at the local thrift store. The business is situated near Main Street in a trim white building with this poster at the door.
Absorbed in jotting down some trip notes in the next room, I was only a casual listener to this plan. My expectations of the shop were modest. Based on many garage sales, and the large warehouse stores back at home, I expected harassed staff deluged with lockdown-era rejects fit for the landfill, with some poignant castoff bric-a-brac and perhaps some new cheaply manufactured imports. For me this expedition was just a part of my commitment to experience and observe as much of Eagle as possible.
Over the phone DH greeted the thrift shop owner and acknowledged that yes, he understood that the shop was closed Sundays for the Sabbath. Then he agreed that, fine, our assigned shopping reservation would be from 2:00 to 2:30. Then, in answer to an apparent question from someone at the shop, he added that his guest, Mary ____, would be coming along. Answering the next question, he agreeably spelled out my last name. Answering still another question, he volunteered “Why, she comes from ______ City. She is visiting us this week.” The call ended with sociable pleasantries. He signed off.
By now I was eavesdropping with wide eyes. A thrift shop that takes reservations? And imagine a generic “When are you open?” phone call — where the business asks the name, spelling, city of origin, and leisure plans of a household guest who is not even the customer. Even for Middle American social engagement, this seemed unusual.
DH explained. The store is of compact square footage and in great demand. During the pandemic, management began keeping a guest book to log in and distribute the traffic flow fairly among 30 minute slots. This maintains order, and safeguards the health and comfort of seniors and other shoppers who need to take special care of their health. When DH put it that way, the arrangement sounded like resourceful management. Besides, now that Eagle Thrift had included me in a time slot, and knew my name and which family in town was hosting me, the least I could do was pay the respect of showing up and summoning some genuine interest in our 2:00 visit.
We crunched up the gravel side street to the building. At sight of the Ten Commandments I flinched a bit, imagining how distressed my city friends would be at the sight. For those friends, the Commandments had been exploited by the adults in their childhood, to cause serious harm. In my city this billboard would have gotten an immediate response, perhaps with a can of spray paint. But to me they were an impressive sight; a clear transparent business statement that spoke for itself.
Opening the door, I was completely disarmed by the warm greeting of a tall strong-looking gentleman who sang out “Why hellooo, Darlin’!” and ushered me right in. He hailed each shopper wth the same greeting, making a welcoming fuss as if he had been waiting all day for the sight of our bright faces. This endearment surprised one no-nonsense man with a rancher/farmer appearance, who took a step back and asked “Why are you calling me that, Sir?” The greeter graciously replied “Young Man, at my age I don’t even try to keep track of alla your names. You are all Darlin’s to me.” Greatly mollified, with a slow smile the customer quipped, “Then ‘Let me call you Sweetheart.'”) When one young customer grew snappish over some purchase, he found the greeter’s sizable but gentle hand on his shoulder, and a word of fatherly counsel enlightening Son that in this house, we men use constructive uplifting language. The shopper calmed right down and finished his visit in peace.
And whoa, WHAT a store! If only I’d discovered this place sooner! Abundance, assortment, variety, all neatly and ingeniously displayed for best use of every inch from floor to ceiling. Sure, there was some poignant bric-a-brac peeking out. But there were plenty of good quality items in fine shape, and plenty of appealing handcrafted heirlooms. A whole wall of free Bibles took pride of place, all editions, some new and some well worn, for anyone to help themselves. I was longing to take a Bible home. It would have been a delight to spend an afternoon browsing through the versions, reading the family trees and inscriptions and margin notes, and choosing a copy to take home. (That was in my dreams just last night. The staff welcomed me back and let me look through all the Bibles for the one with the handwritten notes and events and family history that would tell me who my ancestors are, and where I come from.)
But alas, there was no time to tarry. This store was a thriving hub of activity, with customers waiting eagerly outside for their turn. Animated conversation filled the space as customers shared their stories with smiling staff and one another. Clients had driven in from miles around. Some were new military families over at the base, setting up house on new assignments. Some were farm families enjoying a trip from the countryside. Some seemed to be forging through hard times, in immediate need of goods. The wide selection, rock-bottom prices, and warm atmosphere must be a great comfort to people like moms who had to grab the kids and leave for a safer life, or families after a wildfire or flood who had to start over. Clearly, the patrons valued their store, its social connections, and its role in the community. To make way, I devoted my time slot to a quick enjoyable browse. On the way out though I did catch sight of an oversized pair of men’s New Balance walking shoes with thick padded soles. They were virtually brand-new and a perfect fit, kind and comfy to my arthritic feet. (They’ve proved to be excellent shoes, supportive and sturdy, handsome for office wear.) And what timing — on that gravel driveway approaching the store, I’d felt sharp stones slip in to worn sole spots in both sneakers. “Shoes, Ma’am? That will be 25 cents,” said a beaming young cashier. It took me a gaping moment to compute where the decimal point lay in that sales total, but I fished out a quarter and paid up.
Then I went over to visit with our greeter. “Sir, you are having too good a time for a working man.” He was delighted to banter with me, narrating his long career in useful service work, and how much he enjoyed volunteering now and greeting all of his many Darlin’s. “And with that, you’re quoting straight from Psalm 22,” I pointed out. “‘Save my Darling from the power of the dog.'” He agreed, and whispered a special tip: “The lovely girl behind the counter? She is a nursing assistant at the care home. Would you like to see a real angel? There she is!” He and I had such a hearty visit that 2:30 came all too soon. I was sad to leave, and could not help giving him a goodbye hug. “Your presence here today is a blessing,” he assured me.
Eagle Thrift called to mind the image from Matthew 13, and “a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” The name says “thrift,” but the experience felt rich, and not only in the material realm where rust and moth consume.
The owner helped DH and OH with their new end table and a lovely mirror, a combined purchase of $3. I expressed to her my appreciation for the greeter and his courtesy and good spirits. She said “He is in constant prayer. He prayed for you, and for everyone who came through that door.”
So that was the secret. No wonder the staff preside over such a cheering and peaceable place, a true asset to the town.
Now I can pray for them too.