My father called me “Secondhand Rose”. The name originated with the musical “Funny Girl”, in which Barbra Streisand’s character first auditions for Florenz Ziegfeld with this rather corny song. As the fourth girl in a financially struggling family, I rarely got new clothes. My dad loved Babra Streisand; even as a child, I knew that he meant to cheer me by recasting my disappointment by tenuous connection to the great singer.
As I strolled through a thrift store in a spare ten minutes on Wednesday, I cast my eyes about aisles in which I’ve previously scored cheap designer suits and pristine, delicate Haviland plates. I’ve spent my adult life wearing clothing from consignment stores and the “better” thrifts, calculating the savings, allowing myself to gather a bunch of trendy tops for which I’d never pay retail cost. Sometimes I think that I look good in my secondhand clothes. Other times, I feel like a homeless person. I save money but I never have this season’s styles; I never have just the right size.
At times, I could not afford anything other than secondhand. But that’s not been true for decades. I still shop that way. A small measure of the draw hides in my deep-rooted conviction that I don’t deserve nice things, that no one’s looking at me anyway, that it does not matter.
But on Wednesday, I wandered the aisles thinking of all the junky pocketbooks on my halltree and the twenty cotton shirts hanging unworn in the laundry nook. I stood while a shopper skirted around me with her cart and gazed down the long expanse of the store. You’re sixty, I told myself. You’ve worked hard. You make a living wage. You don’t have to play Secondhand Rose anymore. I told myself there’s nothing wrong with used clothing — and there’s definitely not. But at some point in everyone’s life, they deserve something new — something no one’s ever had, something purchased just for them. At some point, saving money should just mean watching the sale racks for that perfect sweater, and then buying both colors.
At some point, it’s okay to want something nicer, and to get it for yourself.
I turned to leave the store and spotted a crow lying on the knick-knack shelf. I know a couple of painters who use crows as their theme, so I lifted the little wooden plaque and tilted it to study its message. My heart skipped a couple of beats. I carried that crow to the check-out lane, and then home.