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My trip to the mother of all flea markets

Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say. I can only testify to a few examples that might prove that true, the first being Dallas traffic. After my oldest brother went to live in that city with his freshly-minted college diploma in 1978, my parents would sometimes load the rest of us in the Cutlass Supreme and venture there as well. I was amazed by the 10-lane freeways, always congested and slow.

My next experience with Texas bigness came on its western horizon. I was in a van of youth who had high hopes of making a dent in the number of unchurched Arizonans. Along the way, we were privy to one of the grandest, most stretched-outest sunsets I’d ever seen. 

Early this year I spent a week in Austin, holed up in a three-story house full of writers, all vying for their allotment of Wi-Fi. The bigness in that capital city? Hills. At times I doubted my rental car would make it up them — but that little roller-skate of a Ford did, passing by at least a thousand scrubby cedars as it went.

Most recently, my impression of Texas grew to include largeness on a different scale — the Canton flea market. For years, I had heard tales of its vastness and of the bargains to be had. Three weeks ago, I experienced its delights for myself.   

The monthly event, known as First Monday Trade Days, purports to be the largest and oldest continually operated flea market in the United States. The numbers underscore its Texas bigness-ness: 100 acres, 6,000 vendor booths, 100,000 shoppers on pleasant-weather weekends. We landed there on a sunny, mid-70s day, and walking through the parking lot we noted car tags from Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and California.

Within minutes of hitting the field of tents and trailers, my husband was doling out a quarter for a pair of wooden suit hangers. In actuality, they were projectiles that would affect shopping protocol for the entire afternoon.   

In time, we would see other projectiles (arrows, old swords, a case of discontinued umbrellas) and things of a more interesting nature, like jalapeno cookers for the grill, a carved, life-sized Indian, and a Sasquatch landscape fixture. (I texted a photo of Sasquatch to Son No. 1. Never miss a sighting.)

Some of the marvels were mobile, like the man and woman we spotted strolling their dog. All three had long hair of equal length. 

As I fingered items here and there and considered whether they’d sell in our booth back home in Wesson, Daughter No. 2 would weigh in. “There’s a thin line between ugly and cool, Mom, and you have to be careful not to cross it,” she told me at one point.

Once, with her approval, I wheeled and dealed with a guy hawking wares from an old school bus. He told me a $20 tea cart was calling my name. “Do ‘ya hear it? Keep on listening,” he said from his patio chair. When he found out where we were from, he let me have it: “If I knowed you be from Mississippi, I would’ve been sharper.”

A woman with wooden spools told me, “I just been selling stuff for nuttin’.” I wasn’t convinced of that fact, especially when I handed her my cash. A Mexican couple talked among themselves each time I made an offer at their lot. We finally came to terms: $5 for the glass jug, $15 for the antique tin frame, $10 for a basket crate.

About four hours into our adventure I spotted a lone flip-flop left in an aisle. My husband’s analysis was concise: “Somebody must’ve been chasing a deal.”

I quickly figured out he and our daughter were chasing something else — funnel cakes and fried Oreos.

Eventually they rejoined me in the ranks, which was important. There was stuff to haul. You can’t leave a flea market like that without a lot of stuff. You also can’t leave a place like that without some regrets. I wish I hadn’t succumbed at the coffee frothing device demonstration booth. I should have bought more of those $3 vintage aprons. When will I ever have time to redo those industrial carts?

One thing is for sure. The Canton flea market is a big deal. Really big. What else would you expect from Texas?��  

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.