Around the Bend: Miracles can happen on a budget

There’s a little something making me happy these days. I call it the TSM. And I’m not talking about the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. In my world, TSM is short for Thrift Shop Miracle. I experienced one just a couple of weeks ago.

I had been looking for a pair of dress shoes to wear to the office Christmas party, and my local searches came up short. It’s not surprising; dress shoes don’t lend themselves to this climate. I’ll never forget the time I saw a young woman in 4-inch heels trying to gracefully traverse a snow bank on Main Street. (I swear my giggling in no way negated my genuine concern for her safety.)

If Danskos are your idea of dress shoes — and in Vermont, they qualify — you have several stores to choose from. But formal dress shoes — the elegant, sexy and uncomfortable kind with heels, designed to look pretty but not to be used for dangerous activities such as walking — are harder to find, especially if you need extra width like me, known for my acrobat-like balance but my drag queen feet.

I had pretty much given up. But the day before the party, in a shoe shopping Hail Mary, I stopped by the nearest thrift shop. I trudged in, thinking, “What are the odds of this place having a perfect pair of well-proportioned black suede pumps with a high but not fetish-worthy heel in a 8.5W that aren’t so painful to wear that I confess state secrets with every step?”

Cue the TSM.

As I approached the shoe rack a chorus of angels sang and a shaft of golden sunlight beamed through the window onto the second shelf. There they were, the very shoes I had envisioned.

Despite the European sizing I knew they’d fit (the heavenly chorus had been a dead giveaway) but I tried them on just to be sure. Bingo. Cinderella had nothing on me. Plus the soles were barely scuffed, and they appeared to be quite well made. I handed over $15 and twirled out the door, thrilled. But it got better.

I didn’t recognize the brand, so when I got home I Googled it. Turns out, the shoes had come from the U.K. and could be purchased new online for £67, meaning they were worth a lot more than that in U.S. dollars. Or a lot less. I’m terrible with exchange rates.

With trembling fingers I punched numbers into an online currency converter and discovered that, on that day, £67 was worth $108. Tears of joy streamed down my face.

So that’s the TSM: when you have a very specific item in mind that you can’t find new anywhere and aren’t even sure exists and then you happen upon it in a thrift shop and it’s not just sort of the thing you were hoping for but exactly the thing you were hoping for, only it’s better because it’s a high-end brand that you wouldn’t spring for otherwise. And it’s ridiculously cheap.

Granted, such moments are rare; this was only the second TSM I’d ever had. But that’s the hit-or-miss nature of thrift shopping. And I still find great things all the time.

My designer botanical-print kitchen curtains were my first TSM; I still hear angels when I look at them. My kitchen cupboards hold numerous thrift shop treasures, like the nifty old springform pan I got for a dollar (on the same day I learned that shouting, “Yeah, baby!” when scoring vintage kitchenware makes other shoppers nervous). And I regularly find fixer-uppers, my current favorite being those hideous brass table lamps, the kind that went out of style with Swatches and Debbie Gibson. I spray paint them matte black and — bam — Pottery Barn chic for 3 bucks.

While I like thrift stores for their quirky selection and insane bargains, it’s the possibility of the next TSM that really makes my pulse quicken. When I first walk in, I pause at the door with my head cocked, listening for the heavenly song that will lead me to the one thing I seek, whatever it might be.

At the moment that thing is a pen-and-ink drawing, preferably a farm scene, to hang in our upstairs hallway. And money is no object; I’ll go as high as $5.

I’ll probably never find such a thing, but there’s always a chance. As much as the skeptic in me hates to admit it, I do believe in Thrift Shop Miracles.

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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