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By Staff | Sep 7, 2012

Try as we might, my wife and I cannot escape the fact that we both will be forced to endure birthdays this autumn. We have striven mightily for decades to avoid becoming a year older each annum, but have met with little success.

We have learned that growing older each year has its advantages. The main one is that antique stores are becoming more and more interesting as time goes by.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, is an antique? How old does something have to be to be officially categorized as antique?

For instance, a stone that’s been around a million years is a mere fledgling when compared to rock that’s a billion years old. On the other hand, all the members of the Rolling Stones seem impossibly ancient.

I have learned that old things are generally classified as being “antique,” “vintage,” or “collectible.” An antique was once defined as something that’s a hundred years old, but this demarcation has inevitably evolved.

Take personal computers, one of which is currently being used to write these words. Personal computers first crawled out of the primordial ooze of transistors and cathode ray tubes back in the mid 1970s. This means that a PC that was manufactured 35 years ago is among the oldest in existence and should therefore be declared an antique.

This relativistic approach, I’ve learned, cannot be applied to everything. Back when I was a bachelor, I found a carton of cottage cheese that had gone missing in the deep, dark recesses of my Frigidaire. By the relativistic yardstick, that cottage cheese was beyond ancient and should have thus been a highly-salable and extremely valuable antique.

My joy proved short-lived when a cursory investigation revealed that the cottage cheese contained more life forms than the floor of a boys’ locker room. On the plus side, I discovered a new and exceedingly potent source of emetics.

Which brings up another hazard of antique shopping: how do you tell the difference between things that are invaluable antiques and items that are just old junk? And what does it say about a person when he or she visits an antique shop and encounters items from their childhoods? Everything in the store is, by definition, antique; does this mean the former users of these items are also thoroughly antiquated?

During a recent outing my wife and I stopped at an antique shop. Within moments of entering the establishment we espied some familiar-looking dishes.

“My mom used to have a set just like this,” said my wife.

“We had these, too,” I replied. “But we were so poor, we had to get ours for free from boxes of oatmeal.”

“That’s where ours came from too!”

This led to a cascade of reminiscing about such things as S&H Green Stamps, hula hoops, Keds sneakers, popping popcorn without a microwave, and service station attendants checking the air on your tires while filling your gas tank for less than 25 cents per gallon.

We finally left when the store’s proprietor approached and asked if we would like to work in her establishment since we seemed to have encyclopedic knowledge about what she called “the really old stuff.” We briefly considered telling the clerk that things might have gone better had she simply let us be, but there’s no point in explaining the obvious to the oblivious.

Another advantage of advancing through the actuarial tables is that you are no longer reminded of your age with the matching number of candles on your birthday cake. Doing such a thing would require a special burn permit from the government – I’m thinking a presidential declaration here – and would create a blaze that could be seen from space.

A disadvantage of experiencing a large number of birthdays is the conundrum of finding an appropriate birthday present. Once you’ve hit a certain stage of life, you’ve pretty much have every knickknack and gewgaw you could ever want. Or at least you should have.

My wife and I have been together so long, we no longer tiptoe around things. Subtlety and nuance are for the younger set, people who can afford to waste time on such nonsense.

The other day my wife quite frankly asked, “What do you want for your birthday?”

“I already have what I want,” I replied, trying to sound meaningful. “She’s a late-1950s model that has sporty lines and a timeless design. Just hearing her purr is enough to set my heart to racing!”

“You’re so sweet,” she said as she patted me on the head. “You know what? Just for that, I’m going to upgrade you from vintage to collectible.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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