Kitschy Kitschy Ya Ya Da Da…Flea Market Finds



Head Case

All photos and text by Shelley Powers
To escape the world of laundry, dishes, and vacuuming, I decide on Saturday to venture into the valley of bad ideas and forgotten fads.

I decide to go to the flea market.


I get in my car and drive 15 minutes south of Jackson, past Wrights Fruit Stand with its vibrant display of mums and pumpkins…past the last Wal-Mart for 40 miles…past the Crawdad Hut…past a herd of cattle grazing on a hill whilst a lone bull saunters amongst his ladies.

I soon pull up to the Hwy. 49 Flea Market and Antiques…a commune of five connected buildings made out of corrugated sheet metal and packed with the best collection of crap this side of the Mississippi.

One could spend hours in these buildings…and still not see everything.

I walk in and am greeted by two baby grand pianos, which look to be from the 1940s. They sit in the entryway, draped with an old couch throw and topped with a spray of silk flowers shooting from a chipped vase. I can’t help but feel I’m in some parallel universe to a decadent metropolitan hotel lobby. But a breeze from the nearby oscillating fan and strains of Skynyrd from some hidden radio bring my thoughts quickly back to this roadside market on a rural Southern highway.

As I pass the pianos, I plunk a key or two…no reason…just compelled by their presence.

Almost immediately I spot a 1930s-style antique oak sideboard…complete with missing front doors and a beveled mirror that has more than its fair share of silver chipped away from the back. It’s only $75, and my torment begins.

I want it, but absolutely don’t need it. Plus, it will require a good deal of elbow grease to make it even remotely presentable.

I snap a couple of pictures with my phone and e-mail them to my mom…whom I then call so we can discuss.

She gives wise council…and I decide it’s best to move on.

I scale my wanton thoughts down and half-heartedly resign myself to searching for a metal butter dish…one with a handle on top. I could really use a new butter dish…though it’s not life-shattering that I find one.

As I meander through the maze of clutter, my eyes grow wide with wonder at how all this stuff came to reside on these dusty shelves. How many people have touched these trinkets and baubles and pots and pans and clocks and books and…and…and…and…?


Crumbled Hummels

This seems to be a land of things once treasured that are yearning to be treasured once more.

I spot a well-worn baby doll half asleep in an upside down lampshade. From the patch of missing hair to the left eye that has broken free of its weight and is now permanently open…it’s obvious this little one had been loved to death. Is it possible that she’ll ever be loved again…or is she simply destined to spend eternity in her musty lampshade cradle?

I ache for her a little…but I move on…as I suspect most folks do. I ache a little more.

I wind around through to the second building and spot a shiny display of old equestrian trophies lining a top shelf. I can’t help but think of all the hours and years of practice that went into winning each of them, as well as the joy that surely came when they were awarded.

They are now $3 each.


Moon Trophies

The walls of the market are covered with a gallery of artwork made up of pieces that, I suspect, were at one time selected and hung above various living room couches simply because they matched the curtains. It’s a painful collection.

Interspersed in the cacophony of uninspiring artwork are the real treasures…original pastels, charcoals, water colors, oils, needlepoints, crewel works, etc. Some are quite good…but so out of date and so niche that, I’m convinced, they will never leave this place. Such is the fate I fear for a $20 charcoal I find of “Growing Pains” star Joanna Kerns. I wonder…who will share in the laughter and love with Joanna now?

It’s obvious that, while pieces like the Kerns’ portrait were crafted with real talent…other original works have a more…um…strained…sense about them. These masterpieces may have been meticulously toiled over in some horrid community college art class…but I venture to guess that not even the artists’ mothers would offer encouragement by sticking one of these to the ‘fridge or hanging one in an upstairs guest bath. So, these works have made their way to this lonely spot in Mississippi, where, I’m certain, they are now a part of the Hwy. 49 Flea Market and Antique Gallery’s permanent collection.

Scattered here and there throughout the entire market are lamps of every size and shape and style. I pass one that is made out of burnt matchsticks and fashioned into a pump well. I marvel at its craftsmanship…and I marvel at how much I don’t want to buy it.

One lamp phenomenon that has always amazed me is the practice of having a lamp socket shoot out of a figurine’s head. I can’t imagine how anyone ever thought this looked good. Seeing a socket protrude from the noggin of some serene statue always makes me think of the halo braces used after spine and neck injuries. I’ve always found it to be more disconcerting than stylish.


Lamp Head

By now I’ve wandered halfway through the market. As I bend and stoop and stand on tip-toe to see what I can see, I find myself smiling and frowning at the all the comedy and tragedy around me.

Every so often, my ears perk to the sound of a new patron entering the market…who, like I, couldn’t resist plunking a couple of keys on the old foyer pianos. Most folks are timid, hitting a key or two as they pass. Others gingerly play a bar or more of something they probably memorized back when their mother made them take lessons.

But every note I hear…be it one or one of many…makes me smile. And I decide that at least one set of hands that touch those keys today belongs to a secret virtuoso…who, himself, doesn’t even know of his capabilities. I make a wish that one day he’ll reach his full musical potential…and the wishing makes me feel good.


Lost Keys

“Can I help you, hon?” A “saleswoman” breaks me from my wishing trance.

I hesitate..but then remember the butter dish…which I had forgotten about nearly five shelves back. I explain what I’m looking for to see if she’s spotted one amidst the insanity.

“I haven’t, but let me ask some of the other dealers to see if they have.”

“Oh…really…don’t go to any trouble…seriously,” I say, suddenly feeling guilty for having asked her to locate my needle in this haystack.

“It’s my job, darhlin’,” she says with a smile, then scurries off behind some shelves…never to be seen again.

I assume she didn’t find one…either that or she bumped one of the many tediously stacked racks of knick knacks and is now buried somewhere under the rubble. I hope they find her…and that when they do…she’s clutching tight to the found butter dish.

I move on to building four, where I spot something I desperately want to buy for Gray Charles…an unopened Planet of the Apes costume (circa 1960-something). It’s awesome. But, I decide a) it wouldn’t fit Gray, b) I wouldn’t know where to mail it, and c) it’d be a creepy gesture. So I snap a picture to give him instead…an early Halloween treat.

So much of the beauty of a flea market to me is in the dichotomy of the objects that share the nooks and crannies.

I don’t know if it’s because I live in the Bible Belt, but much of what is on these shelves are or feature religious symbols. I can’t help but think that, at one point, these items had to bring comfort to someone…at some time. Seeing them now, scattered among kitschy displays seems absurd and, at times, obscene…as testified by Jesus seated at the Last Supper underneath the shadow of Dolly Parton’s cleavage.

I want for these items to not be here.

Even they seem to not want to be here.


Jesus Head



A Fan of Jesus

I’m almost to the last building when a gaggle of older ladies pass me by…oooing and ahhhing over a clunky old candelabra one of them has found. It’s being carried by a prissy little red-headed guy to the front for purchase. But the ladies stay behind and bicker over whether $30 is too much to pay for a 12-place setting of silver-plated tableware.I chuckle quietly. Only at flea markets does so little money take on such value.

It seems a decision like whether or not to spend $5 to purchase a set of vintage plastic glittered tumblers is approached with the same caution and discussion one would typically expect at the refinancing of a home.

Five $1 bills never hold more potential or promise than at the threshold of the flea market doorway. And, funny enough, never are those five $1 bills so hard to let go of. Is it the thrill of the hunt…or just that vying for my $5 can be anything from the ridiculous to the sublime?

Whatever it is…those five $1 bills are a heck of a lot more fun to spend at a flea market than one $100 bill in a department store.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I finally reach the end of the market…just 10 minutes before closing time. I didn’t find my butter dish…I didn’t spend a single cent…but it’s okay. I’ve had fun.

So I climb back in my car, roll down my windows, drive back past the cows and Crawfish Hut, the Wal-Mart and the fruit stand…and I slowly creep back into town.


Cherubim and Marilyn



Betty Oops



Purple Bottles


Bell Ringer


Dog Dishes


Naked Laugh


John Deere Head


25 Responses to “Kitschy Kitschy Ya Ya Da Da…Flea Market Finds”

  1. jenniesaunt Says:

    Enjoyed your comments about the flea market expedition. In all of my trips to antique malls, I have missed out on noticing the juxtaposition of items. (Usually I avoid fancy-smancy words, but this one seemed to fit. Wikipedia: ” A juxtaposition occurs when two images that are otherwise not commonly brought together appear side by side or structurally close together…”)
    Anyway, if you ever spot a dish, planter,or anything with a cocker spaniel let me know. I’ll keep my eyes open for the butter dish.

  2. Mind Doc Says:

    Shelley — thanks so much for the tour through the flea market. I looove ’em. This was very nice to come across — restorative after a long week. If you ever come out this way, you have a standing invite to hit an LA flea market with me.

  3. Rowan Says:

    Shelley – really enjoyed reading this post. Understand completely the feeling you describe of the articles once treasured, waiting to be treasured again. Love the vibe of anticipation, tinged as it is with the poignancy of the old photos and objects once dear to someone and now discarded. Still, flea markets are totally fab.

    I really like your photos – wow! And Shelley…how could you resist those dog dishes? Awwww. I know I would have succumbed to these for my four year-old daughter…and well..if I am being honest, for myself! Very very low fat apple-pie yoghurt which normally tastes as though it has been flavoured with a dunk from a strip of litmus paper sat next to a stick of cinnamon in a dark cupboard, would taste wonderful from one of these. Awww. Those dishes would change my life, I am sure…(Slap.) Phew! That was close. Still…I really yearn for them, and am going all blurry-eyed peering at the monitor to see how little I would have had to have paid for them…and the pink heart plates resting alongside. Sigh.

    I wanted to get to my local flea market yesterday, but circumstances conspired against me. This was just as good, if not far better! Thanks for describing all the sights sounds and feelings so beautifully. (Fingers attempt one last scrabble at the monitor as the dog dishes recede.) Ah well, can always come back and admire them again, and they would only have got broken…

  4. Banda Says:

    Ooo, Shel. I love flea markets. I love that stuff so much, that one of the main characters in my book is a “picker.” I’m a gonna have to come out Jackson way and make some runs with you.

    How oh how did you resist the head in the first picture? That is without a doubt, the tackiest tacky I have ever tacked. Deserves some kind of medal for sheer atrocity. šŸ™‚

  5. Leroy'sSharon Says:

    Thought provoking flea market report.

    Shelley you are a “teacher”.

  6. shelley Says:

    Rowan and Banda,

    Used to be that years ago, I would have bought the “head” or the dog dishes without thought.

    Now, I just like to admire such things.

    I’ve never taken a camera with me to a flea market before and, I have to say, it was very satisfying to be able to come home and see all the fun stuff again…plus it helped me to let go of items I would normally impulse buy.

    Trust me…there were several things I considered…a broken rocking chair…green milk glass…clocks…but I tried to show restraint, which is not my strong suit. šŸ˜‰

  7. Theresa Says:

    Shelley! That Chinese woman lamp was a keeper! I wish I could have it! Seriously. I already know the lampshade I would use.

    Why is Marilyn Monroe humping a lamp post?

    I LOVE the blue glass!

    Oh, now I’ll need to go find a flea market this week.

  8. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Wassup homeys??!! I missed y’all!

    Girrrl you gotta know that flea-markets are among my fave-o-rite places to shop in the wholewideworld!

    I’m just like you in the sense that I get very invested in the story of each object. I, fortunately or unfortunately, find myself emotionally attached to inanimate objects. I don’t really know what that’s about…

    Anyhoo! I rarely will buy anything useful…like the butter dish you were looking for…unless it’s furniture. But, I love buying pretty little trinkets. I have started so many collections: Teacups, old candy tins, amber glass, ruby glass, etc. My newest venture is any vintage pretty-pretty I find in the color “aqua”. I found a little ceramic deer the other day…so cute.

    Gah…I’m still typing. Sorry. I’ve been so cut-off, for so long!

    Well, I have some reading to catch up on!

  9. shelley Says:

    Bama…your mention of amber and ruby glass makes me think of my mom.

    She has always LOVED colored and/or glass.

    I used to kid her about it when I was younger…and had the pallette of a child.

    Now I find that I’m drawn to glass, too.

    There’s something almost mystical about it…once sand…now transluscent…trapping bubbles and colors and swirls.

    Glass pieces are definitely among my favorite flea market finds.

  10. claire Says:

    I used to HATE flea markets and antique shops. My mother used to drag me into them whenever went to the nearest big town, and I just HATED the musty smell, the rickety dusty furniture, the chipped ornaments… Now of course(having since turned INTO my mother, LOL,) I love browsing around them (and not buying anything, or course.) Ceramics are my current drug of choice. On a recent holiday in Europe with a friend, she had to literally drag me out of the little pottery/ceramic shops along the promenade. (Of course, we both came home with our hand luggage stuffed with ceramic dishes and jugs as presents for our families šŸ™‚ )

    My name is Claire and I’m a ceram-aholic. Thank you.

  11. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Hi Claire!

    Shelley-My Mom gave me almost all of the amber glass that I own…Most of the ruby glass came from my other mother. That started me looking for the glass. It’s so pretty but I’m running out of room!! I either need to quit buying it…or get a bigger place. šŸ™‚

    Claire- I’m confused. Is Ireland not Europe? I’m jest wonderin’ cuz I’m kinda stoopid.

  12. shelley Says:

    is jellis of bama’s vintage amber glass collection

  13. claire Says:

    LOL Bama, you’re right of course. I should have clarified – MAINLAND Europe. Bulgaria to be exact. It’s a habit of mine to just use the word “EUROPE” to distinguish the rest of mainland Europe from Ireland – we’re the only part of the continent with no physical link to any other country. Confused?

    And Denmark is the place to go for amber.

  14. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Claire- I seriously was just confused for a sec. I’m not that great at geography and I was thinking…Hmmmm, I thought Ireland was in Europe. Well, where the hell is it then?…So, I’m glad I’m not as stupid as I look.

    In Texas, we like to say we’re our own country…so I suppose I could say I’m going to visit the U.S. if I go see Shelley in MS. šŸ˜‰

  15. nolagirl Says:

    What, no Kirk Cameron charcoal?? Robbed!

    Sorry, I am not a flea market frequenter, so I have nothing valuable to add to this conversation. šŸ˜‰

  16. bamaborntxbred Says:

    What only like new stuff??

  17. shelley Says:


    You live in New Orleans…the origin of kitsch! How can you not like flea markets, girl?!

  18. heyhowyadoin Says:

    i’m actually one of those “dealers” shelly was talking about….i’ve had a space in an antique flea market for about 7 years now….i deal mostly in pottery, mid-century modern stuff…old 50’s/60’s kitchen items…i collect McCoy pottery and mid-century modern furniture….i pretty much have the space to make money to feed my habit….

    i go to a lot of auctions….one of my most frequent thoughts while sitting there is a feeling of sadness as i watch family photos, vintage baby clothing, personal items, etc. get sold to the highest bidder….it makes me sad to think someday my children’s baby photos will be in a box lot somewhere…

    i really enjoyed your entry, shells…

  19. shelley Says:

    Official Prize of the Day goes to heyhowyadoin for bridging the gap between lost treasures and new owners.

    How I wish I could see your “booth.” I love all the stuff you listed.

    (The “prize” photo is special to me because my mom has this exact McCoy cookie jar. šŸ˜‰ )

  20. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Awww! Heyhowyadoin is such a lucky baby ducky! I wish I could see yer booth too!

    I don’t always feel sad per se for the things I see in flea markets and antique stores…more I get a rush of feelings, like memories, that come over me. Almost like the object is imparting all that it’s seen over the years to me. There are times when I see something, or hold something that makes me feel intensly sad…and I think that maybe that object was witness to some tragic moments.

    (Like I said, y’all…I have a weird relationship with inanimate objects and, no, I don’t mean in a gross perverted way. I have the same relationship w/many non-human beings/objects too…like animals and plants….I’m really weird…I think I need to go back to my corner and think about what I’ve said here today…)

  21. heyhowyadoin Says:

    shells…thanks for the prize! ahh, the old potbelly cookie jar…i’ve bought and sold quite a few of them…

    i’ll take some pics of my booth sometime and send ’em to ya….

    bama…have you considered you may be experiencing some kind of paranormal activity with these “strong feelings” ?

    i’m being serious…..

  22. jenniesaunt Says:

    nolagirl and shelley a.k.a Eudora,
    Last Oct I was in an antique mall and found a painting that had muted colors with a New Orleans feel about it. Of course, it was high up on a wall downstairs in a dark corner of the building. Being short and nearsighted, I had to holler upstairs for a shopkeeper to come and help me. It is a good thing that my voice is loud and that this was the type of mall where hollering is OK.
    Anyway, the lady was not much taller than me, but she was familiar with the picture. She told me that her husband had purchased it in New Orleans 50 yrs ago from one of the street artists. I held the ladder while she climbed up to get it off of the wall because I knew I had to have it. An up close examination showed the title as “Pirate’s Alley.” I cannot say that I have ever walked that particular street. But given the condition of New Orleans at the time , I wondered if Pirate’s Alley was under water or wiped away.
    Needless to say I purchased the painting with the original frame that day and a hand painted purse from the same vendor for $35.00!!!!!!!!
    All I needed to do was dust off Pirates’ Cove and hang it on the wall. It looks great. Boy it feels good when you find a bargain.
    On a different subject, Shelley, I was really disappointed that you did not pick juxtaposition as the “word of the day.” Here I looked it up in Wikipedia and all. Then my mind started racing that the other readers knew that you were writing about the juxtaposition of objects and that it was totally unnecessary for me to say it. But no, I’m out there hollering JUXTAPOSTION, JUXTAPOSTION. Like saying, “Look at me, look at me I have a Southern drawl and I know a fancy smancy word!!!”

  23. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Heyhowyadoin- No, I don’t believe in “paranormal” stuff. I believe in God and demons and angels…but not ghosts, etc.

    No, I just think I’m a little imaginative. I’m the Anne Shirley of my generation!

  24. Ash Says:

    “i’m actually one of those “dealers” shelly was talking about….i’ve had a space in an antique flea market for about 7 years now….i deal mostly in pottery, mid-century modern stuff…old 50’s/60’s kitchen items…i collect McCoy pottery and mid-century modern furniture.”

    No way, hey!!!

    I collect MCM Pottery and Furniture.. and my design business is almost entirely based around mid-century modern or mid-century modern inspired design. I would love to see your house. I bet it’s lovely.

    I just bought the most gorgeous heywood wakefield sofa and coffee table set as well as a knoll credenza yesterday. The hunt is so much fun but nothing beats a good find. šŸ™‚

  25. heyhowyadoin Says:


    we need to compare notes for sure!

    drop me an email sometime, ok??

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