Pioneer Lady

Every year I drive to Oakland for the most awesome day at the White Elephant Sale.  The women’s board of the Oakland Museum own a warehouse in Fruitvale, and they fill it up for their annual event.

If you know someone who works the sale, they can give you passes so that you can get in on workdays. Barbara is my neighbor and gave me passes years ago when I had a shop in town. The irony was that I could never go when I had my antique store because I had to run the shop.

Now, mostly retired, I can go during their bankers’ hours of 10 to 2.  A friend called me up and asked for me to take her, so we went yesterday.

Parking is tough, the warehouse is unheated, and the floors are hard on old legs. Little blue-haired ladies run the whole thing, and one in particular was hard of hearing. She asked me my name three times. But it’s part of the experience. You have to just go with it.

I did my usual departments:

  1. Accessories to buy a cheap rolling suitcase to save my back ($5.00).
  2. Sewing for cotton eyelet, tons of it ($65.00).
  3. Children’s for old-fashioned dresses and vests ($20.00).
  4. Toys for costumes and hats ($17.00).
  5. Linens for aprons ($28.00).
  6. Men’s for small vests ($3.00).
  7. Bric a Brac for oddball stuff ($36.50).
  8. Patio for garden stuff ($5.00).
  9. Tools for a car dog bed ($0).

I didn’t find the dog bed, but I found all the other stuff. By the time I was done, I had ten bags at check-out. My friend had two.

But here’s the kicker – when I went to the children’s department and asked if they had any pioneer stuff set aside for me, they had a whole box marked pioneer lady.

I’ve been coming to the sale for several years, and I always want the old-fashioned cotton dresses.  A worker showed me my box tucked under a shelf. It was filled with Gunne Sax/Jessica McClintock type dresses and one ugly bonnet. I picked the bigger ones to fit 3rd and 4th graders.

“How much?” I asked, since they weren’t priced.

“$4.00 each,” the volunteer said.

I paid twenty dollars for all of it.

In years past, the accessories department has held back crocheted shawls for me. I might still get a call. The sale goes on for another month. The big public sale day is in March.

I don’t mind being called the pioneer lady. I’ve dressed more kids for their history field trips than I can count. I just reread the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I know what year gold was discovered in California, and no, it’s not 1849.

I know why the skirts didn’t touch the ground and why women wore boots (to hide their ankles).

I know that bonnets were little umbrellas for the face to prevent sunburn and freckles. It also kept the hair from bleaching out. Being blond wasn’t cool back then.

Women wore gloves on long wagon rides to keep their hands from tanning.

Pioneer clothes are not the same as colonial clothes. They are over one hundred years apart.

Helen Keller came from a well-to-do family and only looked like a street urchin because she didn’t understand the world until Annie Sullivan came along.

Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t wear black all the time.  Yes, it looks that way in photos, but the photos were taken in black and white.

People from past centuries weren’t unhappy. They just looked that way in photographs because cameras needed a long exposure time, and it was too hard to hold a smile for that long.  Think about it. It all makes sense.

Take it from the pioneer lady.

What else do you want to know?



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