The Magic Drawer: Seeking Trinkets Worthy of Self-Reward

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I love the flea market in Sevierville. It smells like popcorn, attic furniture, and half-priced laundry detergent. My brother and I learned the mysteries of the flea market from our father. Every Saturday he would take us with him to the old public golf course early in the morning so that my mother could sleep in and enjoy some peace and quiet with her coffee.

After 18 holes and a blue-plate breakfast, we would hit the flea market. Daddy gave us each $2 and the charge to bargain for a treasure worthy of a mystical vault he called the Magic Drawer. The Magic Drawer was the letter-sized left drawer in his rolltop desk. Picking a treasure from the Magic Drawer was a ceremonious reward for outstanding childhood valor and achievement. Annual vaccinations without wailing like a banshee equaled one pick. Good grades on a report card? That was two picks.

The flea market treasure hunt taught me to stretch $2 farther than mortals thought possible. Yes I will give you 50 cents for the cat’s-eye marble, but only if you throw in Gumby and Pokey. On the drive home from the flea market, my brother and I were charged with deciding which treasures went to the Magic Drawer and which ones deserved to stay with us. I suspect my father found a trinket or two for the drawer, but he kept them hidden in his pockets.

The Magic Drawer was magical because of the ceremony our family gave to celebrating whatever achievements came our way. A pick from the magic drawer meant taking a moment to share a happy event or lesson learned and sift through treasures forgotten or lost in the laundry. Items up for reclamation included the Trader Vic’s keychain nestled alongside a coin purse in the shape of an alligator. And there was the glass eye from the medical school in Memphis that rolled into a Lone Ranger pocket knife.

There was one grave caveat about the Magic Drawer: If you opened the drawer without permission, the magic would run out.

I have racked up a spectacular litany of punishments in my life for poor choices. The “experiment” with the pipe made from a soda can, the right hook landed on a third-grade classmate, and the Christmas where I opened and badly rewrapped all the presents on December 10th. But I never opened the Magic Drawer without permission. No way in hell was I going to let the magic escape.

As my brother and I got older, trips to the Magic Drawer were not quite the same. Saturdays at the flea market were replaced with after-school jobs. But reasons to open it increased in importance. The day I graduated college earned me three picks from the drawer. The day of my first really big promotion at work, I called home to share the good news and Daddy said, “I am happy to serve as your proxy and see what the magic drawer has to offer while you are on the phone” To my delight, he found a tiny lighter in the shape of a locomotive in the back corner of the drawer. My train arrived by FedEx to my office the next day.

In 2010 I drove the very long road from my old life and job to a new one in Knoxville. During my first week of being the new girl at work, a FedEx package arrived with my name on it. A nest of paper shreds revealed the entire contents of the Magic Drawer inside the largest Ball jar I have ever seen. The note attached said,

“Dear Daughter, may you always find treasure in everyday corners and overlooked spots. And don’t leave the jar open, the magic will run out.”

So far, Saturdays at the Sevierville Flea Market have proven to be my greatest therapy for wicked days, lonely nights, and all that is in between. Some of my finds fit right next to the Lone Ranger Pocket knife and others are too big and precious to lock up in a jar. Either way, the search for magic is what makes this place wondrous.

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