Refinement – apart from its industrial connotation (the removal of impurities) – is most often associated with people or things of elegance, which in turn betrays its cultured element and the insinuation of sophistication or urbanity. The elucidation does not however capture the subtle element of discrimination which is evident in the rendition of something – whether spoken, acted or created – with utter simplicity and unaffected. Indeed with time I have acquired a sensitivity to things of refinement upon that level, plain but appealing. It can for example embrace the easy beauty of a young child with porcelain skin and swimming blue eyes; or a single red rose in a Lalique vase; perhaps a white sailing boat in a spray of surf; maybe an elegant woman in a “little black dress”; even a weary athlete at the end of a race. Uncomplicated beauty abounds to the educated eye!
When I hadn’t my nose in a book or wasn’t unraveling a chain of real estate titles or administering the affairs of a deceased client, much of my leisure time was dedicated to the acquisition of things of refinement, whether oil paintings, musical instruments, Oriental rugs, mahogany and handmade furniture, millefiori and Murano glass, fine brass ornaments or custom made jewellery. I prize myself on having imbued my pursuit of personal obsessions with the same assiduity that I pursued my professional avocation. The goal was always to acquire or produce a quality product. In the same way that it is inaccurate to imbue refinement with the feature of exclusivity, so too is it mistaken to imbue quality with the feature of expense. Certainly much of what is either refined or quality is expensive and out of reach for many people either by choice or by design but it needn’t necessarily be so. Having exhausted my experimentation with alter ego trusts, complicated watches and extravagant pianos, I can attest there nonetheless persists a realm of experience which is notorious for both its simplicity and gratification. To the keen eye the understated pleasures of life include dining, travel, habitation, apparel, almost anything imaginable. And it isn’t always necessary to go First Class. Indeed my appetite these days is more along the line of steerage, frankly not because I haven’t the wherewithal but because I prefer to entertain myself with a really good find, an ambition which is oddly no less challenging than commissioning a work of art. I hasten to add this objective is not in the least equivalent to roaming about garage sales; it isn’t at all a question of luck. The “find” is the location of an occasion which offers the identical quality to which one is accustomed but in a different package or circumstance. It may perhaps be a distinction without a difference but what I am trying to urge is an avoidance of compromise in the pursuit and guarding against the persuasion of clutter and irrelevancy. Perhaps I risk losing myself on this one so I’ll let it go.
You may have gathered by now that I am warming up to a shopping event and if so you would be correct. So enthused am I about the result of today’s expedition that I feel compelled to record the trifling sequence of events which led to its fruition. Please do not imagine that I shall offer anything of intellectual stimulation or literary gratification in this account. No, no, it is a mere record not of illumination but of satisfaction, glowing fulfillment, the way a good ham and cheese sandwich with a cold glass of milk satisfies.
Speaking of provender, it is common knowledge that the best sauce for any meal is an appetite. It is likewise true that in the world of retail shopping there must at least be a hankering to propel the enterprise. Now that I am accustomed to using my iPhone to record whatever “Reminders” I may require, including specifically for purposes of this narration a grocery list, I can report that today’s Grocery list included aside from the usual things like celery and cherry tomatoes the rather odd enumeration of a pill box and glue. And although it wasn’t noted on the list, I had also resigned myself to the need for a cotton sweater in view of the cool wind from the north-northeast (so that too was effectively on the list).
Today is Saturday, traditionally a shopping day. It is also a day when we have normally gone out for breakfast. Last night we decided to go to Low Country Produce for our customary Fish and Eggs:
FISH & EGGS – omelet filled with smoked salmon, spring onions, asparagus & goat cheese – buttermilk cheddar biscuit or toast – stone ground grits,
skillet potatoes or fruit – $12.50
Parenthetically the coffee there is black and strong, just the way I prefer it; and – as a matter of honour – I did not have any glazed doughnuts which are indescribably yummy! The buttermilk cheddar biscuit was my concession to indulgence though I resisted contaminating it with butter and strawberry jam against the dismissive protestations of our server.
Before leaving the breakfast venue I want to add that, on the recommendation of Nancy who works at the Café and whose brother is I believe intimately involved with its management or ownership, we afterwards dropped into LeSpa of Sea Pines to book an appointment for a haircut and pedicure. Locating a place that suits me for this purpose has not been without its challenge. Years ago the stylist was too goofy to pay attention to what I told him; last year the place of business was pleasant but out of the way. This year I initially made an appointment at a charming but congested mall nearby the place where I get my car detailed but this morning I reversed that arrangement in favour of this new place which of course I have yet to try. In any event the decision sits well with me because I like the mall where it is situate and the airy feeling of the salon is agreeable.
I mentioned the breakfast outing as a mere preamble to the thrust of my story. Though I hadn’t divulged or paraded my yearning for a new cotton sweater, I was privately tickled by the thought. The place to get cotton sweaters on Hilton Head Island is Belk Department Store at Shelter Cove Marina. They always have sales at this time of year as the fashions transition from summer wear to winter wear. I have learned that the remnant stock flies off the shelves so one must be alert and prosecute the undertaking with diligence.
After breakfast – as we had previously agreed – we went to Fresh Market to expend a Gift Card which had been given us and afterwards to dip into Phillip’s Shoes to check out the latest in deck shoes. Both ventures were an entire success. Fresh Market distinguishes itself as an upscale grocery store where one can find prepared macaroni and lobster in a fluted white ceramic dish and oysters Rockefeller. The seafood salad and artichoke salad are divine.
Now let me get back to the kernel of my little tale. I mentioned the pill box and the glue. The pill box was required by my partner for evident purpose. Earlier this week we had visited no less than two jewelry stores in search of a pill box. One proprietor promised to check her catalogue and get back to us; the other (who is in the process of retirement) mumbled something about investigating what he had stored at home to see if he could find anything. As a result we had pretty much abandoned the idea of locating a pill box in the near future. The other matter of the glue arose because I was informed that a finial on one of our lamps had dropped and broken. In my mind I had determined to replace the hunt for glue by the quest for a replacement finial.
Let me begin however with a description of my venture to Belk. Belk is a large department store similar to what Eaton’s used to be in Canada. The local outlet is enormous and clearly divided between provisions for women, men and household. I ran into this store several years ago serendipitously. As I mentioned previously Belk has terrific sales. More importantly for me it has large sizes, the so-called “Big and Tall” department. My search today was for a crewneck XXX cotton sweater. Although it doesn’t matter a fig to anyone, I insist on noting that a XX would fit me fine but after it has been washed several times I have outgrown it. Besides I like a comfortable fit, it engenders the fiction of sylph likeness.
When I initially began going to Belk it was located on the outer edge of the new mall. Now, several years later, it is embedded within a busy area (there is in particular a new outdoor café and restaurant which we intend to frequent). Belk has preserved its pleasing expansive entrance, surrounded by park benches, wide sidewalks and well-maintained greenery. The parking is importantly also very convenient. My years of trolling the Belk haberdashery has afforded me the science of finding precisely what I want. I know by now that if it isn’t in the Big and Tall section then I won’t find it anywhere else in the store. The brands are duplicated between the B&T section and the regular section but there is nothing in the regular section above a 42 waist or XX size. The dividend of shopping at Belk is the discovery that its own in-house brand “Saddlebred” (I have no idea where that robust appellation came from) is astonishingly substantive and well-designed. For everyday textiles like cotton sweaters, cotton shorts and the like the selection is nonpareil. And the sale price is the clincher. I paid about $22 for my sweater and $21 for my shorts. The shorts by the way are not only large enough to fit (44″ waist) but they also have the courtesy to be long enough (10″) to suit someone of my age. I should add that when shopping at Belk it is dangerous to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by the attraction of the deals. They are everywhere but prudence must be observed as it is all too easy to succumb to the temptation of price to trump the desirability of colour or precision of fit. One must remain vigilant and avoid being greedy at any price. Clever retail shopping is after all an aptitude not to be squandered upon indiscriminate whimsy!
If you have lost track of the glue/finial project, I return to it now. While there is of course more than one hardware store on Hilton Head Island we have found a nearby store (Coligny True Value Hardware) which has the appearance of having been around for years, a recommendation which imparts a museum quality to a hardware store. The staff has that welcome trait of being uncommonly helpful to those of its patrons who are looking for some special item, a treasure hunt not extraordinary in the hardware business where there have to be literally millions of items in stock. I confess that while my expedition to the hardware store was prompted by the search for a replacement finial for the lamp I also knew that the store was located adjacent or nearby another store I had visited in the past which housed an array of wearable trinkets including sport watches, always an enticement to me. Though I hadn’t resolved in my innermost mind to visit the novelty store it nonetheless buoyed me in my dutiful enquiry for the pedestrian finial.
Picture my surprise upon entering the hardware store and careening down the middle aisle in search of a clerk to discover a display of what I jokingly call “accoutrements”, cheap jewellery accessories. In particular I eyed an expandable dark brown leather wrist band decorated appropriately enough with sea shells. How positively maritime! You won’t believe me when I tell you that for months the thought of the very item had been simmering in my mind! I mean really, what could have been more à propos! In an instant – avoiding almost pushing the young girl at the same task out of my way – I rummaged through the collection and all but stuffed the prize into my pocket.
As I made my way to the front of the store I noticed there was a crowd of people standing at the counter waiting to be served. Accordingly while I waited for someone to say “Can I help you?” I puttered aimlessly about the aisles, idly searching the shelves. I hadn’t a clue where I might find finials. During my purposeless glances I stumbled upon an improbable locked display case containing what appeared to be tarnished items of silver. Without meaning to be haughty I can tell you that my acquaintance with precious metals was sufficient to inform me that I was looking at a collection of sterling silver paraphernalia, money clips, key rings, baubles and – yes! – pill boxes! And not just one pill box, several! Upon what fortune had I staggered! Could this be! Well it required little motivation to get me into the line of people waiting at the cash. Suddenly I was consumed with the fear that someone would jump the line and make a claim to the secret I had discovered like a tomb in a pyramid. Gratifyingly the crowd of people ahead of me at the cashier dispersed like a cloud of gnats being waved aside; apparently they were all part of the same family making one or two purchases only, some toys for the children. As I eagerly advanced to the cashier I could hardly contain my excitement. The enquiring eyebrow from the proprietor elicited my request to see the contents of the locked display case which I knew instantly he hadn’t been asked to open for years. In fact when I posited that there appeared to be pill boxes in the case he was tellingly uncertain how to respond and he mechanically moved to the case, withdrew his collection of keys and opened it as though awaiting further instruction. As we both honed our scrutiny of the contents of the case we revealed that there were at least three pill boxes, one heart-shaped (which I dismissed outright), another ornate with engraving and a third round and plain. They were all made of sterling silver, a fact the proprietor confirmed almost as an afterthought by recollecting that “we used to own a jewellery store” (so the stock was obviously left-over from a previous day). I picked up the round number and satisfied myself that it was sterling silver. It was tarnished with neglect but its $30 sticker said all I needed to know. I assured the unwitting proprietor that he had succeeded to catapult me to the status of an unqualified hero!
As the proprietor re-locked the cabinet I proceeded to inform him (admittedly with renewed gusto) of my next enquiry for a finial, a project which now assumed the dimensions of a veritable mission. Again he hesitated upon learning of my subsequent exotic exploration. He seemed to ponder the issue for its patent irregularity but then, gathering himself, he moved with deliberation to a small drawer among a collection of others which he pulled outwards and displayed a choice of brass finials ranging in price from 75 cents to $2.99 (no wonder he had been so detached upon hearing of my quest). He understandably left me to my cause. It required a measure of analysis for me to decide upon the exact item I would purchase. I momentarily considered buying more than one as a precaution but deferred instead to restraint and opted for the 75 cent model which ended fitting perfectly.