Tuesday, February 26, 2008

641. Deeper than words

I was saddened to read about the bankruptcy and possible demise of the Lilian Vernon catalogue. As a kid I spent many Saturday evenings at synagogue bazaars, a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to exist any more. (I think churches held them as well, but we never went to those.) At a bazaar, which took place in the empty Sanctuary or basement of a house of worship, you’d find used clothing, new leather goods, all manner of tchotchkes, overstocked softcover books with their covers ripped off, boxes of Barbie doll outfits, Bingo and raffles, and elderly people playing strange Wheel of Fortune-type games. We could well afford to shop at actual stores--I never wore hand-me-downs--but I think my parents enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. A leather belt was so much more satisfying to own if it was found at the bottom of a big pile of wallets. And I could go to any library I pleased, but books were somehow more exciting if discovered in a cardboard carton, which is why I read The World of Star Trek, got hooked on the show, and became proud to be a geek.

Bazaars disappeared from Flushing in the '70s, but were soon replaced in our household by catalogue shopping. We had no need for L.L. Bean, though—Lillian Vernon and Harriet Carter were more our speed, much closer to the bazzar concept. We browsed far more often than we bought. I spent Sundays at my father’s house after my parents divorced; we often didn’t have much to say to one another, but many games of gin rummy and hours of flipping through catalogues filled the gaps. This sounds kind of sad, but was not at all--there are languages deeper than words. I remember the day he agreed to buy me a funky, 60s-style beaded shoulder bag from Lillian Vernon—who would have imagined!—I was overjoyed and proud of his unexpected embrace of popular culture.

So I guess I'm writing about the same phenomenon as in my last post—celebration of the ordinary. With the loss of Lillian Vernon will come fewer and fewer places to buy items like Countertop Seam Covers or Jewelry Organizers, both of which enhanced my life at various times with their sleek utilitarianism and complete lack of style. Rest in peace.

4 comments:

Regina Clare Jane said...

Oh, I loved this post! I remember those catalogues as well- dreaming of one day owning anything from a catalogue was a hobby of mine as a youngster. Nowadays, I'm into Signals and Wireless (amount to the same really) and buy stuff now, not for myself, but for others...
Yes, sad news indeed... was Lillian a real person? Hmm...

alto artist said...

Thank you!--and Lillian Vernon is very much a real person and very much alive (even if her company may not be for much longer):

http://www.cwhf.org/hall/vernon/vernon.htm

--aa.

Claire Joy said...

For some reason I thought Lillian Vernon had died. She must be in her 90's... amazing woman! I personally always wanted one of her monogrammed items... but would never spring for the additional fee. Thanks for this particular memory :)

alto artist said...

You're welcome! And according to that link I posted in the above comment, Lillian Vernon was the first woman to own a business that was publicly traded on a stock exchange. Amazing indeed.

--aa.