9. May Gray
It seems that “May Gray” does in fact exist in Valley Center, and not because of the weather. A dark cloud of disasters hovered over our property for the better part of the month, starting with the attic project. Benjamin dedicated his entire weekend to the mess that my dad and I started, with the painstaking job costing him two, 10-hour days on hands and knees. His poor back was shot for days.
With Israel acting as Benjamin’s wingman, the two cleared out the remaining insulation, vacuumed debris, patched holes, disinfected the area, rolled out new insulation, and set more rat traps. By the time they were done, the attic might have been the cleanest spot in the house.
But as we discovered, when one project ends, another looms in the cracks like a thief ready to steal our joy.
Fortunately the rodent militia was resolved, but now we were faced with all types of insects rising from their mounds, nests, and webs to greet the sun. Pinchers, spiders, beetles, centipedes, and micro-ants cruised our house like they owned the place. I felt Benjamin and I should be wearing nametags to sort of break the ice.
Within days I gave up and called pest control to do the dirty work. Ironically it turned out to be one little man with a jetpack of poison who quickly looped the house and left me with a bug border so thick, it could have pacified the republican party.
My poor vacuum was on life support, begging for mercy with every dump of the dusty filter . . . which brings me to my birthday. May 1st, an easy date to remember for those who want to celebrate your birth. I however, don’t particularly like to be celebrated, which for an Enneagram “Type Two” person like myself is completely rational.
So when my mother insisted we honor the day I burst from her womb some 40+ years ago — and shower me with gifts — I said, “Fine. Let’s order take-out pizza. Oh, and I could use a vacuum.”
It was my feeble attempt to make life easier for those around me and eliminate one more “thing” in my life, even if it was extracting blessings of self-worth. Due to our hectic schedule, we pushed the birthday celebration to the end of the month. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t deprived my family of loving me, especially when I needed it most.
Those past few weeks had been hell for Benjamin and me. Between balancing house projects, launching a business, marketing Brick n Barn, managing two rental properties, and working full time jobs, we were running ragged.
Our first solo antique show, themed “April Showers” was shaky. We moved as fast as we could to clear the front of the barn, and simultaneously build a tin-roof extension to avoid further damage to outside inventory. Any antiques that were salvageable were vignetted and eventually listed at rock-bottom prices.
Making abandoned furniture and knickknacks look attractive is about as challenging as it sounds, especially for a non-creative like myself. Decorating simply didn’t come naturally for me. When I called Benjamin for inspiration, he would roll his eyes and walk away. He’s an artist with a passion for clean, minimal design. Working with a jambalaya of antiques was right up there with doing his taxes.
Nowhere to turn, I went for it. I set dining tables in bedframes and stacked tables on top of tables, adding a pop of texture with lace doilies, velvet chairs, and creepy mannequin limbs ready to do the cancan. I spent way too much time in the barn, and in the end, nothing was remotely impressive about my work.
Somehow we made it through the April show, walking away with our meager earnings. We strived to keep spirits high for our team by ending with celebratory champagne and appetizers.
They drove away and Benjamin and I just hung our heads in defeat. This couldn’t be our Brick n Barn “normal”. We closed shop, and walked past the endless rows of abandoned inventory.
“What do we do with all this stuff?” Benjamin asked. “I want to be proud of who we are and what we sell. This just makes me sad.”
The thought of dumping antiques, albeit broken ones, seemed wrong. We believed in bringing life back to the neglected, but we didn’t have the bandwidth or finances to repair and repurpose every single piece.
“What do you think about having a massive garage sale?”
Those were my last famous words, an idea that flew out of my mouth without ever consulting my brain. Within days of our April show, we had converted the entire barn into a flea market setting. There was no theme, or decorating, or ounce of beauty to what we created.
Instead, the historic barn longing to shine was filled with card tables covered in chipped teacups, broken lamps, fake pearls, porcelain figurines, stuffed animals, and tools that no one could identify. I advertised on craigslist, Estate Sales, Facebook, Nextdoor, and even sent out an email blast called “First Dibs,” informing customers that every item was negotiable.
Benjamin hated every minute of it — the environment, the energy, and most of all the bartering with customers. It was the farthest we could possibly be from our dream. It was a sad day to witness pieces with a treasured past remain unwanted because of the changing of times.
Just hours after the show ended, the editor from the local newspaper arrived at our property. He kindly offered to feature us in the Valley Center Roadrunner. What I thought was simply an introductory meeting turned into a sit-down interview and photo shoot. Void of makeup, and my hair resembling that of a porcupine, I looked up at my unshaven husband and said “cheese!”
That shot, along with a photo of the “garage sale” barn are what made the centerfold of the city’s annual magazine. Worst of all, after that two-day garage sale, we were still left with 80% of what we started with.
Thus came the birth of the “graveyard.” Those few items we considered worth salvaging made their way to the heap behind our carriage house. By the month, that mound dwindled with each item either repurposed, upcycled, sold, or tossed.
The graveyard was our attempt to clean out old inventory and make room for the new, which was easier said than done. We had no truck, no time, and sadly no audience to buy our investments. We were grasping at straws, literally, just two weeks later when we picked up six bales of hay for “Hay Hay It’s May.”
This would be our second show in one month, specifically themed to tie into Valley Center’s Western Days event. We hung flags, built a display with a deconstructed airplane, and created a Western “saloon” at the entrance. It was my way of making backless chairs and rickety tables look somewhat presentable.
In the end, the show was just “okay,” and we didn’t get the crowd we hoped for. We made more money than the garage sale, but we were hardly covering our utilities.
By day two of the show, we all scratched our heads wondering if we were blacklisted as the new kids in town. It was the weekend before Western Days, which made our team wonder if locals laid low in preparation for the big annual event.
And so, we opened the following weekend, making it three shows in one month, only this time Benjamin and I weren’t there to open the barn.
“Why?” one may ask.
Oh, because we were in the parade. Yep, that little flyer asking us to support the Western Days event lured us in as the newbies. We registered late in the game, which meant we were last in the parade line. Benjamin was at the wheel of our 1971 Karmen Ghia, putting along and praying it wouldn’t stall on us. With snaggle-toothed Chucho in the passenger seat, Lola and I sat on the edge of the convertible top waving at locals.
I threw out candy, screaming “Brick n Barn is open today!” and hoped it might draw a few new patrons. From the sidelines I heard one couple shout, “We love you Brick n Barn! Welcome to Valley Center.”
That single comment encouraged me that we just might make it after all. It also eventually introduced us to our neighbors, who to this day, are some of our closest friends in town.
Between my high energy in the blazing sun, and three shows in one month, we were exhausted. As if that wasn’t enough, we vowed to demonstrate our town loyalty by joining our vendors at the rodeo the night before. They thought it was hilarious when we texted them, “On our way! Where is the rodeo?”
They replied: “LOL! It’s the only thing in town!”
Clearly, we were out of place as the only non-truck vehicle in the parking lot. The rodeo was eye opening to say the least, hitting me with flashbacks of my days in Dallas as a child.
From the rodeo to the parade, we found ourselves in quite the predicament. Brick n Barn opened at 10 AM. The parade ended at noon, and the roads were closed until 12:30. That wouldn’t have been all that horrible had someone else known how to operate the register.
So, at the farthest point on the parade route, I hopped out of the car with Chucho and Lola in tow, and ran two miles back home in my cowboy boots. Rushing through the barn, I saw our very first line of customers. There were only three of them, but still, it was a line. Sprinting behind the counter, I smiled with sweat dripping down my forehead and asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
May was rough; three shows in one month, and really not succeeding at any of them. Most of all, I desperately wanted to appease our team but felt I was failing everyone in the process.
From the start, they wanted us to save the day and make things better with a new vision and energy. Leading with the mind (vs the heart), Benjamin told them that the barn was merely a fraction of our to-do list.
Still, they asked us to invest in advertising and signage, and begged that we bring back Sunday — a show day that was eliminated two years before because of dwindling customers.
Benjamin explained we needed an audience before we could add business hours, and that marketing would be organic vs paid. Our signs would be branded and easy to read, and the barn would be clean instead of cluttered. But most of all, none of this growth could happen until we pulled the weeds.
It was that evening — after a month of May (mental) gray — that my family birthday celebration was scheduled. I was tired and cranky and had no desire to blow out candles on a cake I didn’t deserve. I felt I was failing miserably at everything I touched. Yet there I was, sitting at the table with my family who just wanted to love me.
“Open your gift,” my mother cheered.
Ripping open the cardboard box, I looked at the vacuum that I had asked for, and assembled it for a test drive. Unlike a normal vacuum, it tipped over with no ability to stand on its own. It sucked up a few crumbs in its path, but frankly it was powerless.
Suddenly I felt like that was me, weak and unable to function like I was intended. And so right there at my birthday celebration, I burst into tears. Embarrassed by my exhaustion and failure, I ran upstairs, plopped on the bed and heaved.
Benjamin came upstairs, followed by my sister, then my parents, and eventually I was surrounded by everyone.
“I’m sorry you guys,” I sniffled. “This is why I didn’t want to have a party. I knew I was on the verge of cracking. And look at me, I’ve cracked.”
In her motherly wisdom, my mom softly said, “We have vowed to be an authentic family, one that is real, and honest, and far from artificial. This moment right here, right now IS family. We stand for one another in our brokenness.”
Next story on "Channeling Betty" coming soon.