Weekend and holiday travelers have an endless array of attractions to visit when on the road. There are theme parks with roller coasters several stories high, zoos with exotic animals from every continent, museums with soul piercing art, natural wonders like the Grand Canyon
and simple oddities like a ball of string 15 feet tall. But one place that usually never makes the list is the local antique shop. Yes, antique shops. Adults always enjoy the nostalgic trip they get when they pick-up a toy they remember from their childhood. Children enjoy the magic of exploring and discovering. Both age groups find their imaginations fully engaged by all the new wonders of a former generation. Each item becomes an adventure in history.
Of course if you have never been in an antique shop, I bet your impression of them was just like mine. Until I took the time to really explore one, I always envisioned an antique store being run by some crotchety, mean spirited “miser.” Was I ever wrong. My trip back to my home town of Ponchatoula, Louisiana opened my eyes to a whole new experience in traveling…the adventure of antiquing.
It seems appropriate that Ponchatoula is known as the antique city because that is the best way to describe its charm. The town is located off of I-55 just north if the roar of the “Big Easy,” New Orleans. In this era when life has sped up to a fevered pitch and complexity is the norm, Ponchatoula is a reflection of the way things were and the way many people still wish life was like. An era when people took the time to greet their neighbors, and neighbors took the time to serve their communities. A time when shopping was not a contact sport at the local …Mart. A time when being a dutiful parent did not have anything to do with cell phones or high speed internet service. A time when a job was a career. A time when reality television meant the 6 o’clock news. A time when people actually grew old gracefully, without botox or boob jobs.
These are old fashioned ideas and themes but once again that is the town’s charm. It seems to celebrate attitudes that other communities would consider antique. Just take a stroll through Ponchatoula’s Pine Street.
As you walk down the balconied sidewalks, it is hard not to feel like you have walked into a Norman Rockwell painting. Store fronts are decorated with merchandise and fresh flowers. Benches are nestled up against the store fronts, and folks actually sat on them, discussing their lives, town and hopes. The discussion I heard on the day I was there centered on the upcoming Strawberry Festival. Some were worried that higher gas prices might affect turn out. Regardless, traffic was going to be a “bear.”
Listening to the locals talk, I began to imagine all the discussions that had past beneath the shade of those old buildings. The whispers of Prohibition, the threat of a Great Depression, the world at war, the belief in Civil Rights. With these thoughts whirling through my mind, I suddenly realized most of the buildings on Pine Street were vintage antiques themselves.
The architecture dates back to the early twentieth century. Many of the stores have second story flats with balconies filled with swings, patio furniture, ceiling fans, bbq grills and flower pots. The buildings may be antiques but they are still in regular use. Something that seems to be a common theme for many of the items found in the shops as well.
“For the most part I like items that are ready to be used,” Dot Love owner of Vintage Treasures said. “Our items aren’t valuable just because they’re old or antique but also because they’re practical items that can still be used in somebody’s home.”
It’s true. When you walk into most antique shops you feel like you’re back in your great aunt’s living room with strict orders to touch nothing. Surrounded by an assortment of novelties, furniture and trinkets that represent a generation of history, you are forced to sit on the couch with your imagination smothered. Fortunately, unlike your great aunt’s house, antique shops are meant to be explored.
“I don’t mind people handling items or asking me about certain pieces. I love learning the history of things myself. That’s half the fun,” Love said as she motioned me to a display case. She slid back the door and showed me a 1920s pen ink well that once sat in the Louisiana Governor’s office. Love acquired the set at a local estate sale. At the time, she thought it would simply be a wonderful vintage piece to have for her shop. She did not learn about its link to state political history until a few days later.
“It’s fun to think about all the laws that were probably signed off with that set,” she said with a thoughtful smile.
That is the magic of an antique shop. Everything has a story that can bring the past to life.
You find beauty, humor, hopes, dreams, romance, adventure all caught up in the things that defined each generation. You see what was important socially, politically, in entertainment in religion. Antique shops appeal to one of our most basic desires…to explore and to learn more than we already know. Now, I’m not talking about learning like we do in a SAT prep class or trying to memorize all the right of way rules for a driving test. There is not a whole lot of magic there. I’m talking about the kind of learning you experience as a fisherman learning to tie the perfect fly lure or as a photographer learning how to use f-stops to capture a sunset or as a teenager finally learning how to get to the last level of Grand Torrismo.
My trip to Ponchatoula’s shops taught me the beauty of exploring history. The most interesting part of my visit to those downtown shops was seeing people of all ages wandering the isles. Retired couples, middle-aged couples, teenagers even school aged children worked their way through the stores with their eyes glowing with amazement.
“Look at this…”
“I never thought I’d see one of these again…”
“What do you think this was for…”
These questions floated through the shops in hushed tones. I soon found myself caught up in this same excitement especially when I turned the corner in C.J.’s Antiques and Collectibles and discovered a stack of old board games. Here was an instant flashback to my teen years camped out in front of the “tube” a glass of chocolate milk in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
All my favorite shows were there life Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard. The classics were also represented by The Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man and the original Star Trek. I wasted no time picking each one up and examining the cover art to recognize all my old heroes and reading the captions to learn new trivia I had forgotten. There were actually dozens of General Lees.
It was like I was thirteen again and the possibilities of the future seemed limitless. For a few moments, I considered buying at least one of the games if not all, but then I thought of the two young brothers who I passed earlier on my way into the room. They were checking out old Hot Wheels collectibles. Their observations of everything boiled down to one phrase… “Too Cool.”
I was not sure if the dice and faded cardboard cut outs of those board games would rate as high with two kids who were used to 3D, full color surround sound, video graphics. Then, I noticed one of them eyeing the picture of the General Lee on the Dukes of Hazzard box. That’s when I realized there was one thing every child enjoys, the act of discovery. In an antique shop there is always something new around the corner, so I left the games for the brothers and began exploring for myself.