We didn’t travel a lot when I was a small boy. All I knew of the Interstate highway system was that it passed over the Red Bud Road just beyond the Golden Gallon, but sometime before I went into middle school, Gary Blalock invited me to go to the flea market in Alabama. I say the flea market because it spread over acres and acres of stalls and tents and tables making it the Holy Grail of all flea markets.
Gary’s cousin played football at Jacksonville State, and they routinely went to see him play. How that connected his family to one of the world’s largest flea markets located in North Alabama, I have no clue, but it did, and I got invited to go one weekend. That’s all that really mattered. Gary and I sprawled out on a blanket in the back of his parent’s station wagon and we hit the interstate doing 55 mph, which amazes me still today. We counted out of state license plates and pumped our arms at truckers until they ached.
We would have probably faded in and out of sleep had it not been for the sugar of a pecan log and divinity candy bought at a Stuckey’s somewhere across the Alabama line. We parked in a pasture and walked a half a mile before we began the scavenger hunt of a lifetime. It was a redneck paradise – a lair of new and used everything, including chickens, guineas, donkeys, goats, cats, dogs, televisions, lamps, plates, window-fans, and lawn mowers. If you could imagine it, it was there, and a lot of things you could simply not imagine; some things you didn’t even want to imagine. Patrons sought a bargain. Merchants demanded a profit and everyone hoped to go home feeling good about a deal.
Depression era men and women threw away nothing and believed, like they believed the Bible, that one man’s trash was another man’s treasure. “Don’t throw that away,” they’d scold. “Might be worth something one day.” So it accumulated in basements, carports, sheds and utility rooms, until the flea market opened and brought opportunity to the hoarder. Trading, or swapping as many of them called it, negated profit, but an unused churn traded for a set of knitted doilies meant a happy wife and that was priceless in any home.
Still today, there’s just something about another man’s junk, but the market has slowly migrated to the Internet. EBay and Craig’s List bring flea markets to your living room, expanding the bazaar to those who would not be caught dead arguing over the price of a vintage six-pack of 1980 Georgia Bulldog National Champion Coca-Cola. You don’t have to feel bad about haggling with an old crippled man over his homemade fly swatters or smell the stench of hogs while trying to settle on a price for practically new silverware. Still, I feel a bit of remorse when I pass a Stuckey’s today and my mind floods with memories. Memories of a mouthful of sugar so thick only the acid of an ice cold Coke would cut it, and giggling boys on a road trip waving to girls on the highway and singing Daydream Believer with Anne Murray. Memories our boys have been cheated out of.