When we moved here about eight years ago, I asked Albert to build me a little egg shop and he did it. He’s a sport, that Albert, because he knew I was much more interested in embellishing it than in keeping it stocked with eggs. It’s as much a canvas I use to display and enjoy a few relics I’ve acquired from fifteen years of yard sale snooping, auction picking and thrift store rummaging than it is a business. They range from semi-valuable to endearingly kitschy but each one is a treasure to me.
Still, I keep my end of the bargain by keeping a coop full of hens that turn out a basket full of eggs by noon every day for me to sell to the neighboring folk. I count on them to do it. Without them, my reason for keeping a sweet little egg shop would cease to exist.
In the farthest reaches of my memory stands a double-sink cement laundry tub in my mother’s laundry room against the north wall next to her wringer washing machine. Before I was old enough to remember much more they were replaced by a white plastic tub and an automatic washer so when I found this one complete with raised cement ridges forming a built-in scrubbing board at a Shackleton’s auction, it was like a lost piece of my childhood dropped out of the sky and landed upright with a k-chunk before my very eyes. I paid $10 for it, hauled it home and now it stands on the egg shop porch as a haven for garden gnomes, petunias and other trailing things.
Albert and I went to see a man about a motorcycle last summer. We ended up buying it along with an old gas pump I found rusting in the weeds beside the garage that housed the more fortunate motorcycle. I sandblasted as much of the rust as I could, covered the pump with the most joyful shade of red I could find and fitted it with a few choice accessories from a website called Gas Pump Heaven.
I’m not sure why it’s called that – is it where old gas pumps go when they die? Or does it describe the euphoria felt when vintage gas pump enthusiasts discover that not only are we not alone but that there are enough of us to merit a whole website dedicated to uniting lovers of these rusty shells of yesterjunk and supplying us with everything we need to restore them to their former glory? Both are apt. I haven’t spent as much time and money into my gas pump as some have but it stands a bright and cheery greeter to folks round about who buy eggs from my little store. Albert never did take to that motorcycle. He likens it to a Chevy Cavalier – it’ll get you where you need to go but the trip is pretty boring. I like my gas pump very much.
This old bell hung from the exterior wall of the workshop at our first farm until just before we sold the place. I made Albert scramble up a ladder, remove the screws that held it fast and yank it from the wall hours before signing a contract that stated everything bolted, nailed or screwed down was to remain as property of the new owners. It’s clanging can easily be heard from the barn and clear to the next farm.
Let’s go inside.
It’s odd that my most precious childhood memories formed in my mother’s laundry room. Or maybe it’s mostly those that come back to me in the form of vintage treasures like this arborite table in classic chipped ice pattern. My mom’s was grey and littered with homemade lye and beef tallow laundry soap and a bottle of Fleecy to cover the smell of the soap on Dad’s work clothes. Mine provides a spot for customers to set their eggs and make change in the tin that collects their money.
The heavy slate chalkboard above the table comes from the farmhouse where I grew up. It’s only through providence (and a bit of shameless begging on my part) that it remains in the family today. You can read that story here. Now it’s a shop sign and medium for my best friend Suzy’s artistry.
The fan and heater come from an old camper we bought years ago but I only ever use the heater. The fan comes from the time when a safe environment was forged less through built-in safety features than common sense: anyone who stuck their fingers in the fan blades whether accidentally or otherwise would almost certainly never do it again. I can’t be sure all of my customers would agree with this reasoning though, so the fan serves only as an ornament.
From the north-facing wall, Heintje looks past us to an unseen plane of perpetual childhood joy and incorruptible innocence. There’s something wholesome and reassuring about vintage boys so I surround myself with them like a safety blanket. Contemporary choirboys have the same effect.
Next to him, Felix the kit-cat clock keeps near-perfect time with his rolling eyes and pendulum tail. I can’t tell whether those eyes convey lunacy or the most knowing smirk I’ve ever seen but they’re definitely benevolent.
A surprising number of children and teenagers accompany their parents into the shop. Anxious lest they be deprived of an equally satisfactory purchase as their elders, I brought in a new but classically appealing Beaver candy machine. Parents leave the store with the best-tasting free-range brown eggs in the county, youngsters leave with handfuls of sugary sustenance and we’re all of us gladsome.
In another corner, customers drop off their empty cartons for me to reuse. Sometimes, it looks as though I’ve filled one carton with larger eggs than the next but I really haven’t. It’s just that some cartons are designed like a Wonderbra – tiny compartments force their contents upward making them look bigger than they really are.
The old radio on top of the fridge is set to AM 980 news talk London, the only station it’s able to receive. Depending on the hour and the day, my customers can hear the news, learn to take a proactive approach to their health, weigh in on current affairs or take in a rousing gospel message.
The Essex County milk bottle is a present from Bob, who lived next door to our first farm. Bob was a retired nurse from Hamilton with a yen to farm in his golden years. His farm consisted of two goats, three pigs, a few hens and a dog on one acre of land. It provided plenty of physical work for a man his age but little excitement for someone used to the diversions of urban life. He became my laid-back, witty travel companion anywhere I decided to go on a whim, whether exploring flea markets or tramping through St. Patrick’s cemetery in two feet of snow the day I wanted to see the Donnelly gravestone. Bob was also an invaluable fashion guru who was never afraid to proffer an opinion about my clothing, including a pretty pair of heels I could not make up my mind to buy in the shoe department one day. “My dear”, he sighed, his impatience barely contained, “you cannot spend your entire life in rubber boots.” My decision was suddenly simple. Whether or not those heels see the light of day more than twice a year is another matter. Some years later we moved away and Bob returned to the city.
I stitched my seventies-inspired curtains from a piece of fabric left over from a skirt. If I’d known my waistline would expand six sizes in as many years I might not have spared material for curtains but that’s another story.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely finished outfitting the egg shop. There’s too much wall space begging to be filled, too many yard sale and flea market treasures still pining for a second chance at life in dim and dusty corners of the barn and garage.
I’ll show them to you sometime.