I’m not sure how we got onto the subject when my good friend and colleague at the Courier, Ann Marie Somma, and I got to talking about the over-consumption of “stuff.” We share a philosophy of re-use, re-invent and recycle and we worry about the impact of stuff in our landfills and oceans.

To that end we’ve always been denizens of flea markets and yard sales. Most of our favorite possessions had previous lives in other people’s homes and closets. So when I told her I was pining for Corningware like my mom had when I was growing up, she said, “I know exactly where you can find it: Red, White and Blue in Waterbury.”

To digress for a moment, at my stage of life (old) I have been on a tear to pare down possessions that have accumulated over many years by making regular trips to Goodwill and other charities. Still, items buried in the basement include but are not limited to unwanted wedding presents (my husband, Larry and I have been married 43 years: It’s time.) We have a cool fake leather armchair that we have no spot for. There are flea market purchases made in irrational moments: plastic flamingo glasses, an oversized ceramic turkey, a bed frame I’d planned to refashion into a bench but never did.

I want to exchange these things for some simple, sensible used items that suit my lifestyle better. And ideally what I donate will in turn bring joy to others. In short, this is how both Ann Marie and I view the circle of life’s stuff.

“So where’s Waterbury?” I ask her. I’ve only seen signs on the way to someplace else. “I’ll take you,” she offers knowing how I hate to drive anyplace new. Let me just say that anyone who agrees to drive me anywhere earns a place in my heart forever. The drive is a good 45 minutes and I practically wheeze with anticipation at the prospect of old Corningware, battle scarred, but still serviceable.

The American version of a souk, almost anything imaginable can and likely will end up at “Red White and Bluein Waterbury.

Red, White and Blue is Goodwill on steroids. Donations of stuff in every category fill shelves and racks to the gills.

First, I’m struck by the shoppers. All ages, ethnicities, and nationalities. Ann Marie tells me some are dealers on the hunt for things they can resell at a good profit. This day we see young families buying necessities, and those who are not there to buy what they want; they have real need and new things are financially out of reach.

I look at the first aisle of merchandise and know that some things were treasures that belonged to people who have passed away. Their loved and well-worn china, flatware and even religious artifacts have ended up here because they were unwanted by their survivors, if they had any. There is a strong and immediate undercurrent of sadness. Ann Marie and I acknowledge it and then get on with the task at hand.

To cut to the chase, I’m now the proud owner of three pieces of Corningware that I’ve used nearly every night since I acquired them. A large box of pots and pans from my kitchen are ready for pick up by the Vietnam vets. The circle of stuff is complete.

But this is, as advertised, about the red chair.

On our next outing to Red, White and Blue, I wandered the store picking up a Pyrex bowl, a plastic dinosaur and several Richard Scarry books for my granddaughter. At the far end, a red chair and matching ottoman caught my eye. The shade of red reminded me of a diner booth in the 50’s. Insistently neon red, a shade I was powerless to ignore. Preparing to go to the check-out line, I instead beckoned Ann Marie over to have a look. She has a great eye.

She fingered the back of the chair noting a little damage, but she loved the set too. We both sat in the chair and put our feet up. Very cozy. Clearly a woman’s chair. Where had it come from, we wondered. A lounge? A hair salon? A lobby?

We left the store and headed home.

“I love that chair,” I sighed as we drove out.

“It’s a great chair,” she agreed, “and it’s Naugahyde made in Naugatuck. Naugahyde was invented there.” Ann Marie is a compendium of Connecticut miscellany.

I sighed again.

“I’ll turn around if you want it.”

I felt a sound in my heart but it hadn’t reached my head yet.

“Really. If you want the set you should get it.”

The chair and ottoman were tagged $39.

“Seriously, it’s no big deal. I’ll turn around.”

Ann Marie was facing another hour and a half of driving.

“Will you feel bad if you don’t get them?” She pressed. “Which is better? To have something you can pass along or to regret losing it?”

We turned around.

On the way home, chair and ottoman in the back of her car, she said, “I’m so glad you got them. I would have been really sad if you hadn’t.”

Sometimes friends know you better than you know yourself.

The red chair and ottoman transformed our living room into a much brighter space and occasioned an additional bit of home improvement. Now motivated, I will donate the armchair in the basement to brighten up someone else’s living room.

The chair is only an object, but the story attached to it speaks volumes about the joys of friendship and the value of shared adventures.

Ann Marie and I are going back to Red, White and Blue in a week or so.  And she’s cheerfully agreed to drive.

Photos by Jane Paley

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