In My Own Write: Second-hand, first-class

The value of something that used to belong to someone else.

judy montagu 88 (photo credit: )
judy montagu 88
(photo credit: )
I'm wearing second-hand hats Second-hand clothes That's why they call me Second-hand Rose - As sung by Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl' A dear, late aunt of mine was a proud and rather shy woman, so to say that she would rather have gone naked than wear anything second-hand would be inaccurate. But you get the idea. To earlier generations, the whole idea of cast-off clothing or other items was a reminder of a time when they themselves, or others like them, were cast off and set adrift, not knowing whether they would be thus marked forever. For these people, the concept of second-hand had "uncertainty," "poverty" and "charity" stamped all over it. And another painful word: stigma. If they couldn't afford to buy new, they'd save up - or go without. THEIR daughters and granddaughters have a very different view: Many of them were happily rooting around at yard sales and in second-hand stores long before the current recession hit. And since then, a diverting hobby has taken on a persuasive economic rationale. "Our customer volume has doubled," an assistant at Tania's Shop (K'hadash) in Jerusalem's French Hill told me last week. Economizing aside, for these women the uncertainty involved in the hunt for second-hand bargains is part of the thrill; it's not knowing, as one put it, "what you'll find on those racks and shelves - it could be something exquisite that you'd never see in a regular store, for a fraction of the cost." And forget about stigma. A May 17 story in the Chicago Tribune named actresses Julia Roberts and Penelope Cruz as being among the "stylish people" for whom second-hand is "the height of chic." Or, as a recent In Jerusalem headline declared: "Old is the new new." SOMETIMES I imagine the Western world, in all its acquisitiveness, as one massive dump, with more and more goods of all kinds piling up until it seems as if only people's heads will be poking out. That is when I reflect on how great it is that some of these things are being "recycled," that their new owners - instead of going out and purchasing yet more stuff to add to the already choking mass - made a conscious decision to "adopt" someone else's unwanted possessions. There is, too, a definite mystique. "When I buy things second-hand," a friend said, "I wonder about their past, about who owned them, what sort of people they were. This history, though it's shrouded in mystery, gives them a richness, a kind of glow. "It's so good that these things, ownerless for a time, found someone to cherish and care for them. It feels so right." 'THE WORLD is full of children who need to be loved," a talkbacker calling himself Rick retorted to an article detailing the success of IVF treatment. "But this 'me me me' generation just can't be bothered with second-hand kids." And yet, as a piece in the New Yorker noted: "Both the courage and trust of those who decide to place their babies for adoption and the enthusiasm of those who adopt them are overwhelmingly vindicated by the tens of thousands of successful adoptions that take place in [the US] every year." In the long-running debate over whether nature or nurture is decisive in how a child turns out, the answer is most likely to be a combination of the two - leaning sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other. There is thus surely no firm basis to the claim that a biological parent will necessarily rear a happier, more well-adjusted and more productive member of society than an adoptive one. "A baby is a miraculous gift from God, no matter how one receives it," mused a woman about to adopt, adding with an endearing acknowledgment of reality: "Some are given the ability to bear them, others the ability to rear them." Added Michigan child welfare supervisor Jim Gritter: "We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child." THE DESIRE for a child who is "flesh of our flesh" and carries our genes is natural; it's a way of perpetuating ourselves long after we've gone. And we're understandably ecstatic when the new arrival is deemed to have "Mommy's eyes" or "Daddy's chin." But there is also an egotism, perhaps even a narcissism to it. When we see our features reproduced in our offspring, we feel validated. Our sense of self gains substance. Those who take on children who aren't biologically theirs must, I think, have a particularly independent, solid and rooted sense of self; even more so couples who adopt children that are older, disabled or "different." One woman to whom the New Yorker would give a standing ovation is Jana Wolff. She and her husband not only adopted a child, but did so interacially. "To go for a baby that not only came out of someone else's body but out of someone else's culture... all I could think of was that we were too White to be the parents of someone this Black," wrote the Jewish author of Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother. But "since that unfathomable start," she said, "our lives... have grown to feel exactly right. Though no one will mistake the boy sitting next to me as my offspring, he certainly feels like my son." Even Jake the plumber, he's the man I adore Had the nerve to tell me he's been married before HERE'S A question: If, as Oscar Wilde (and Samuel Johnson) put it, second marriage is "the triumph of hope over experience," couldn't that be turned around and second marriage termed, with rather less cynicism, the triumph of experience over hope? First marriage is a trek into the unknown, with only rudimentary maps in hand. Begun with a great deal of earnestness and good will, it can become clouded with unrealistic expectations created by frothy films and novels and undermined by silly mantras like "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Second marriage follows one of two events: widow(er)hood or divorce. The first may leave a person with happy memories; the second generally doesn't. Either way, however, second-timers have the undoubted benefit of "been there, done that." Which means - if they're perceptive - that they've garnered a fair idea of what's important in a relationship, and what isn't; what's worth making an issue out of, and what's better left alone. "When I first began married life," a friend recalled, "my husband favored a pair of navy blue pants worn with a dark green sweater. I hated seeing those colors together, and we had surprisingly heated arguments about it. "He felt I was invading his autonomy, bossing him around and telling him how to dress; I was hurt by his anger and unwillingness to give in over such a small thing." She smiled ruefully. "Of course, I was the one blowing it out of proportion. "Today, I see how stupid I was. I should have gritted my teeth over those clashing colors and instead of locking horns, gone out and bought the man a new outfit that was a more pleasing match. "If I remarry," she said, "it'll be with a higher tolerance level and more appreciation of the things that truly matter." A second marriage that's guided by firsthand emotional awareness and seasoned with the wisdom of experience - now that sounds like a recipe for success. THE NEW, the shiny and the never-been-used have undoubted appeal, and will continue to do so. For some people, it's the only standard they'll accept. But those whose vision is a little broader know there's a lot more out there. For them, the words "previously owned" can signal inestimable value.