We drove home from that first swap meet on a cloud of hope and good cheer. We were six weeks away from the next event and all aquiver with creative excitement. For the next few days we texted, pinned, and instagrammed ourselves silly, sharing ideas for new things to make. The big challenge was to come up with cool items that we could make without having to invest in a ton of expensive raw materials. We gleaned from our wardrobes. The boys donated old oxford cloth shirts and ratty denim jeans for making rolled fabric roses, while I found some moth-eaten angora sweaters that I figured we could use for something.
I was reluctant at first, but I finally phoned my mom, told her about our project, and asked for donations. I didn't want her to know how excited I was about it so I played it off like we were just having a bit of fun. She didn't have to know that the money I'd made a few days before allowed me to pay my cellphone bill on time and that the five bucks I saved by doing so actually mattered. A few days later I got a large fedex box crammed with her castoffs - junk jewelry, old belts, extra buttons in tiny plastic bags that had come with nice clothing. There were some other oddities like a bunch of tiny plastic princess style phones on ballchain that the phone company used to hand out and an ancient box of pipe cleaners that had belonged to my dad. It was stuck in the bottom of the shipping box and I had to shake it hard to dislodge it.
When the pipecleaners dropped out I caught a wiff of my father's pipe tobacco blend. It was like being suckerpunched. I started crying.
After I calmed down I began sifting through my mom's jewelry. That was really weird. There were some pieces I'd remembered from when I was a kid, like the jeweled peacock pin that I used to think was so elegant. There were also things of more recent vintage, much of it fairly hideous. I put a few pieces away, like the peacock pin, and a little goldtone dachshund on a chain sporting one blue rhinestone eye. I'd given that to Mom for Mother's Day when I was twelve, the year we got our dachshund puppy. Everything else was destined for the craft pile.
We kept to the category of fashion accessories. The neatly packed plastic containers began to fill with hair clips, jewelry, cosmetic bags, handbags, belts, hats, fascinators, and upcycled items..
Looking back, I see all that glorious stuff, so full of promise and hard work, and I want to cry all over again when I think of what happened next.