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Monday, June 9, 2014

Where are the pickers of yesteryear: Naomi

Ah, mixed feelings here. I met Naomi at a yard sale in Bloomington. I arrived on foot (since I had no car), started chatting with Naomi, a woman about 15 years my senior. She ended up giving me a ride home. In fact, she started taking me to sales with her on weekends.

It says something about me that I still remember two things I bought at that sale: a large woven bedspread and some fabric to cover the seat of a Queen Anne-style chair. I have both even now.

Naomi was radical politically. She had many left-wing bumper stickers plastered on her car, eliciting honks, wild hand gestures, and sometimes near collisions from the conservative drivers of the area. She was an eccentric personally. She was divorced. Her former husband was Greek and had taught in the law school. When democracy was restored in Greece, he returned to a government post. Even though he no longer had a legal obligation, he sent Naomi a check every month. Their kids were gone: the son was in college and the daughter was a dancer in Europe.

She also got money from her family. Her father had been a rather prominent architect in New York City. Her widowed mother was in poor health and lived in a big apartment on the Upper West Side. Her mother gave her extravagant gifts: a small Rembrandt etching, beautiful jewelry, and many objets. She would occasionally drag something to an antique dealer when she needed money.

She lived in a beautiful old house, decorated with remnants of her former life (elegant Danish modern furniture) and funked up with eccentric finds. As I recall, the living room was shiny black and red. She said "I only like junk now." She had a fabulous eye and was an excellent artist.

Her live-in boyfriend, Jim, was about my age. He was getting a PhD in astronomy. He slept all day and worked on his thesis all night. Occasionally, he would come greet us when we returned from a yard sale. He would always wear a brocade robe supplied by Naomi.

Well, Naomi was a little crazy at times and became totally obsessive about finding things to resell (which she learned about from yours truly). So obsessive was she that instead of consigning at the Eye of Osiris (where she also started working), she opened her own store. She did almost no business because she priced everything too high. She also befriended a waif, who repaid her kindness by robbing the store.

One day she turned to me in the car. She said, "All the women in my family are self-destructive. Don't be like me. You need to finish your thesis."

She was right. She was--with great kindness and perhaps even with some love--telling me to end my relationship with her. She knew I was easily distracted from my work. Our weekend jaunts ended. I got a teaching job. I never saw her again after I left that summer. I am so grateful to her: she pushed me to my true vocation.


Shelley said...

I love colourful people! Mom and Dad attracted them like a magnet, as did my Grandmother. I must be too boring, I don't get many in my life these days.

Duchesse said...

A fascinating story. If you focus on picking quality things but forget to pick quality people, you end up getting messed over by some of them.