When I was growing up in my haunted house over on the north side of Chicago, there was a double room in the basement that we used for storage and that always made me sick. Literally. Our basement ran pretty much the full length and breadth of the house. When you got to the bottom of the stairs and into the main room, there was a hallway to the right that led back to the laundry room and the more disturbed part of the house-- in that house, a little like observing that rattlesnakes are more poisonous than, say, scorpions. At any event, if instead of turning right to go into that hallway, you continued across the room, you would arrive at a door (always kept closed) that opened into a double room. On the right was a large, musty, fairly dark space where my family stored bigger unused objects like stuff in boxes and old vacuum cleaners and other uninteresting things like that. On the left was an arrangement of shelves built into the walls that were used to store the toys we didn't play with often but were not ready to give away, and also the books that were collected by a family of child readers.
Sometimes I needed to go into that basement room to get a book or to look for something I wanted that had been carted down during the last upstairs purge. And I always dreaded it. Within about five minutes of going into that room, my stomach would start to hurt. And I mean hurt. Sometimes, if I tried to ignore it and stayed longer -for whatever reason: what was I thinking??- this pain would progress to actual, er, digestive tract adventures. Let's leave it at that. Anyway, the point of the story is that the room made me sick in every sense of the word and I avoided it unless I couldn't.
Fast-forward to earlier this month. Jim and I went north to our beloved sanctuary in Door County, and spent a long weekend with some really good friends, hanging out and doing adult things. One of those adult things turned out to be antiquing.
There should have been alarm bells going off in my head when they suggested we go exploring the antique collections of northern Wisconsin, but instead I said, "Sure, why not?" and off we went. And there are A LOT of antique stores in Door County. Go up Highway 42 a ways north of Sturgeon Bay, and if you are into antiques, you would be in pig heaven. (Jim has always inadvertently saved me from myself by taking Highway 57 north instead.)
Now, first of all, there is one antique store I actually like. It's north of Bailey's Harbor and is an antique barn attached to a farmer's market called Koepsel's. We go there every time we go north. And that antique barn is where I found my beloved writing desk, which is guessed to date back to the late 19th century. I love my desk. Here's the thing: this antique barn is completely open on one side, since it seems to have been an actual barn. There are doors that the owners roll shut when the day is done, but during the day, the entire east wall of the place is a large entrance and exit. God bless them.
The other antique stores were just that: stores. There were regular doors and then you were in a shop, some of them big as barns, but completely closed off. The first one we went into was airy and spacious enough that I was okay. But the second emporium started to bother me. As my older daughter puts it, there's a feeling of stuffiness in those kinds of shops. And not just from having so many old things in an enclosed space. The longer I stayed in that store, the twingier my stomach started to feel. Uh-oh. Fortunately, my companions decided that they had seen enough of the place and so -on to the NEXT antique store.
I managed to handle that one for about ten minutes before I could feel the pandemonium building up in my gut. And although I hadn't been in the basement storeroom of my childhood home for more than 16 years, I recognized that feeling when I got it. Okay, time to go!!! my brain was singing at me. And so I got. Jim found me sitting on a bench outside taking deep breaths of Door County air, trying not to lose my breakfast. (Sorry).
Some people may try to tell me this was due to allergies to dust. I am a very indifferent housekeeper - I KNOW allergies to dust and this wasn't it. Maybe mold? I have been in other enclosed stores in Door County that do not come close to affecting me this way. And when you're on a peninsula with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, sure, there will be some dampness. But the kind of visceral reaction I have being around the old items of lots and lots of dead people (how do I know they're dead? When you're looking at grandma's stuff from the 1800's, I'd say it's a pretty fair bet that the folks who owned these items are dead) says to me that I am walking into a web of something else.
There's a reason some of us smudge antiques or used items we bring home. We want any items we acquire to be new and fresh for our own homes; we don't necessarily want anyone who might have loved their possessions to come into our homes along with our purchases.
Sometimes when I enter a museum or historic site, I'll get a mild feeling of being crowded by the unseen. Definitely a feeling of not being alone. But nothing compares to the sensation in an antique store. There are crowds in antique stores, veritable mobs, and they have nothing to do with the shoppers.
Next time you go antiquing, stop and listen, focus, pay attention to what's going on around you. And see if you don't get a little bit of that feeling yourself.