I grew up going to the Shipshewana Flea Market in Northern Indiana, located in the heart of Amish country’s rolling hills and dairy farms. It was a tradition each year, at least once a summer. The trip involved an early morning drive in order to get to the market before the summer sun became too hot and the crowds became too thick. My mom, sister and I would stop off and get coffee at McDonalds drive-thru and off we’d go with our oversize, straw bags to stash our anticipated treasures, passing the buggies on the two-lane highway along the way. We loved the hunt, the variety, the thrill of a hidden, timeless bargain, passed over by most for the cheap T-shirts with slogans such as “Get ‘er done!” or the boxes full of $1 markers or chip clips. We knew what to look for and what to pass over. We walked the rows of dusty dirt, no shade to be found, perusing tent after tent of “junk” to find the rusted French iron planter or the weathered silver tray. We would stop for fueling and eat the Amish-made chicken sandwich or a piece of fresh rhubarb pie. We’d buy the carmel corn. We’d laugh at the tiny, fluffy dogs in strollers (why?) and the wooden signs with phrases carved into them for everyone’s lake house about peeing in the lake and blessing the mess. Sometimes we found amazing deals. In fact, a French wooden chandelier from that flea market currently hangs in my office as I write this post. Sometimes we didn’t find anything at all and we’d grumble about it being “the worst year for the market yet” – but we always had fun. It was the experience, the heat of the summer, the wandering and sifting, the people-watching and the anticipation of rummaging through a bin in a hidden corner and finding “the best deal ever”, the piece of junk that one of us could see the potential in, the possibility. Isn’t that the fun in life? Seeing the potential in the junk, searching for the tiny treasure in the mess, even if you never find it? It’s the hunt we all enjoy. Finding something at the end of it is just icing on the Amish cake. My love of the flea continues. I’ve been to markets in London, Paris, Florence, Australia, the Old West, the dirty South, upstate New York, Peru, South Africa and beyond…but nothing will be the same as Shipshewana. I’ll treasure those summer memories as much as I do my findings. And I’ll always stop to take a second glance, a closer look, at something I think has potential.
Favorite flea market finds: inspiration for the “hunt”: