19 May Anniversary, Antiques, & A Few Mistakes

Jill and I celebrated our sixth anniversary this past weekend. It’s easy to remember the date because it’s always on Preakness weekend—Maryland’s biggest horse race, which the state is trying to keep even as Pimlico, the racetrack, is going bankrupt. Six does not seem a great many years. We’ve been together for ten. Still, as well grounded as we are, it seems we’re just getting started, at least when I compare our years together to marriages of friends. Some are holding onto twenty-five years or more. It seems a remarkable number of my friends have long-lived marriages. Remarkable, that is, in the face of the divorce statistics and my own history: this is my third (and, yes, last) marriage.

Jill and I spent the day antiquing. We drove to York, Pennsylvania, home of Historic York—the architectural antiques warehouse that got us started when we began rehabbing our old house ten years ago. Speaking of anniversaries: Historic York has been in business for over 30 years. It must be among the first preservation-friendly non-profit salvage warehouse in the country. It used to be crammed into a small storefront on York’s main street, but now it’s in a bigger space in mid-town York. We almost never leave Historic York without buying something. This time, Jill pointed out a country cabinet that would fit well on our back porch. Suddenly, it seemed we couldn’t live without it. That’s how it goes: we never know we need something until we see it.

The great thing about warehouses like Historic York is that you can make an offer, especially on a consignment item. So we made an offer. And the offer was accepted. Turns out, the country cabinet had been sitting there for a year. Jill claims she saw it the last time we visited but didn’t say anything because our focus was elsewhere. That’s another part of the phenomenon: you don’t see what you aren’t looking for, no matter how cool the item is.

While in York, we stopped at Big Steverino’s warehouse. We met him through his eBay store. Big Steve scours the east coast for architectural antiques and brings home some very cool stuff. This time we got a killer piece of stained glass from him—cheap because it’s damaged. We figured we could get it restored. But then, after returning home and having it appraised, we learned it would cost $900 to fix. Obviously, we don’t know much about glass. But now we know more—meaning that’s the last time we’ll pick up a piece like that, thinking it’s a bargain.

Short of the failure of my first two marriages, nothing has been more humbling in my life than working on this house. It’s a showcase of my mistakes—like my first attempt at plastering, found in a dark recess (fortunately) between two door jambs. It looks like crimped pie crust. I can’t even talk about the tile job I abandoned in the master bathroom a few years back. Looking at it now, I don’t know what I was thinking. But isn’t that how life works, we look back at ourselves and shake our heads in wonder.

My most recent mistake, sad to say, cost us some money and had nothing to do with the house. Jill asked me to get plane tickets for a trip to Detroit to visit her family during the Memorial day weekend. I thought she said, and clearly I believed, Memorial Day was the last weekend of May. I ordered the tickets a month ago. And a car rental. I was proud of myself for being on top of things. But, then, just last week, Jill reminded me that we would be in Detroit on the 21st. “Wait a minute,” I said. “You mean the 28th.” Yeah, wrong weekend. Nonrefundable tickets. Car reservation is nonrefundable too.

The one lesson I hammer home when I’m teaching student writers is this: slow down. Everything in our culture encourages us to race through life. To make sense of the world, however, you can’t race through writing. Truth be told, much of my life is an avalanche of activity and anyone who knows me knows that I’m trying to do too much at once. And so I make mistakes. But plane tickets for the wrong weekend is a first.

What this means is that Jill and I now have to drive to Detroit on Memorial Day weekend. It will take about 12 hours each way. Satellite radio will help make it bearable, as will the several antique warehouse stops we have planned. On the way back, we’ve scoped out a flea market too.