The rummage. (Definition: an unsystematic and untidy search through a mass or receptacle).
As a child growing up in a very small town on an Indian reservation in Montana, like most of the residents in our valley — we didn’t have much. My dad was a logger, working in neighboring towns at logging camps. He would come home on weekends. Mom stayed home with us kids – cooking on a wood stove and washing clothes on the back porch – no matter the season. They owned their home, such that it was, and one vehicle. Money was very sparse – but they made do. Everyone did.
I don’t have a lot of specific memories of those days. As children, we really had no idea how “poor” we were. As far as we knew, we were royalty living in a castle. Though the castle was always cold and the roof leaked when it rained. We did have an indoor toilet, however!!! That was an improvement from the modified granary we had been living! My mom and dad were very proud to have their own place and unbeknownst to us, they had plans for further improvements as time and money would allow.
Meanwhile, we lived in the very old house and entertained ourselves as children do. My mother’s companions were the few family members who accepted her, her sisters-in-law (who were also considered interlopers within the family); and the women from the Catholic church. Mom belonged to the Altar Society – a group of women at the church who performed some sort of service – making quilts and helping the needy. They had bake sales and meetings. To be honest, I don’t really know what they did, I just know she attended the meetings and made friends with the other members. In helping those less fortunate, they had an old building at the church filled with discarded clothing, shoes and other items. I do remember that Tuesday was Rummage Day.
The building was called “The Rummage”. It was an old Indian agency building right next to the church – I’m not sure what it was used for initially but it was full to bursting with OLD stuff. Shoes, clothes, a veritable treasure cove for little children. There were old bras to stuff, clothes for dress-up (including high heel shoes!) and some jewelry – but that was a rarity. The Rummage was open every Tuesday for drop-off or for shopping. Each item was sold for a dime. Most of the clothing could be washed and would be in relatively good condition. Some of it should have bypassed the rummage and gone directly to the dump. There were boxes of old shoes, old coats, old dresses, old hats. Truly, it was a fire hazard but there were no restrictions in those days and many were served by The Rummage.
The building and the contents therein smelled old and musty. My mom and Delores would smoke and sort through the clothes, trying to keep them in some semblance of organization. We kids would gleefully look through the piles trying to find something to buy for ourselves. It wasn’t until we were a little older that we realized shopping at The Rummage was not an adventure for everyone. The stigma became much more evident as we approached puberty – that glorious time when you become aware of comparisons, judgments and ridicule.
In those days, hand-me-downs, used clothing, “rummage” as it were, was very common. It wasn’t just a fad, it was a necessity. I wore hand-me-down clothing until I was in high school. We didn’t have to shop at the rummage very much as we had other resources for hand-me-downs. And I was really lucky because my mom could sew and, in my wardrobe, what wasn’t hand-me-down was sewn by my mom. Although, I could never figure out why she always chose such wild and bold colored material. At the time, I thought she was a little eccentric. I now know that she bought whatever material was on sale – it was never her intention to “choose” that wild and bold material – it was affordable. Still, she sewed some beautiful clothing. Our prom dresses were lovely!
I think I was lucky to live when and where I lived. Most of us in the Jocko Valley (my home) were in the medium to low income range. Many of us had hand-me-down or home-made clothing – it was bad form to criticize or judge. And most of us knew The Rummage was there if we needed it.