Buying the Past

Janet Coburn
3 min readNov 19, 2023

No, you read that right. It’s buying the past, not burying the past. (Unless you read it wrong, of course. But it’s still buying the past, not burying the past. But I digress.)

Dan and I went on a brief vacay to Gatlinburg this week, and commerce was committed. A wonderful time was had by all, particularly the local merchants. We only had a few days in town, so we had to really focus on where we wanted to shop and what we wanted to get.

Dan is something of a history buff and loves antiques. He collects old bottles and clocks in particular. Once he even brought a large clock (I’d say about two feet by 1 1/2 feet) home from England, packing it in his luggage with clothes wadded up around it. It made it home safely. (What was ironic about it, when we got home, he looked more closely and found that the clock was made in Massachusetts. Somehow, this poor wandering clock had made it from the States to England and back again. But I digress again.)

So, when we got to Gatlinburg, he was all fired up to visit the same antiques shop we went to the last time we were there. Alas, we weren’t staying in the same place, but a number of miles away. Even with GPS, I couldn’t reconstruct how to get back there. I couldn’t even remember the name, except that it had “antiques” in it. We did find another shop, though, and Dan happily puttered around it, coming away with a beautiful cobalt blue decanter set and an old, framed print of an iris. He was satisfied, and I was satisfied that he was satisfied.

Another shop we visited was one of my favorite kinds, a rock and gem shop. Dan likes them, too, but he mostly buys tumbled rocks and carved statues, while I go for semi-precious gemstone jewelry. Dan found a vase carved from diaspore and black onyx, and I got a set of earrings and a necklace made of tanzanite, a very pretty blue mineral, set in silver.

Anyway, Dan’s interest in the past is primarily in the last 100 years or so, while mine is in the millions of years. My tanzanite was formed 585 million years ago, at an estimate, and has been waiting ever since for me to dangle it from my neck and ears. I have plenty of jewelry of similar vintage.

Now that I think about it, so has the diaspore that Dan’s newest vase was carved from. (Been around millions of years, that is. A carved diaspore vase is heavy and would both give me kyphosis and rip my earlobes off. But I digress yet again.) (Kyphosis = widow’s hump. I was showing off.)

There’s nothing wrong with new things. I have an e-reader and buy digital books all the time. I have a collection of plushies. I have souvenir mugs and shot glasses from wherever we visit. I have a Lego orchid that I’m still putting together. Dan has power tools and hand tools. He has kitchen gadgets like an egg cooker. He has modern glass and ceramics. We both have t-shirts that commemorate various people and events. (Our latest is a Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers t-shirt.)

And we don’t forget about the future, either. The time we’ve spent at science fiction conventions has resulted in the acquisition of glass sculptures blown as we watched, prints such as the one of a cactus taking off into space, and posters of the covers of sf novels. NASA juice glasses (past and future for that).

But, in many ways, our hearts belong in the past. Not the rest of us, of course. Dan and I would both be functionally blind without glasses, and I would likely have been burned as a witch. Maybe Dan, too. Plus, there would be smallpox and bubonic plague to contend with. No, I think we’ll stay in the present and buy our pieces of the past. Safer that way.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.