The small, faded railway label on the battered 1900s trunk resting on the worn floor of the antiques store bears the name of its once-upon-a-time owner: "For H.C. Stillman," it says. "Pueblo. Value - 100."
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Its brass hinges are tarnished, its leather straps stiff from age, its oak-and-canvas sides scuffed from wear.
Its story, too, is old, so forgotten it was a dying whisper - until Bill and Cindy Pierce uncovered the vintage piece in an acquaintance's storage unit.
"He was a music teacher at Central High in Pueblo in the '30s," Cindy says of the name on the label. In those days, "they didn't allow girls in orchestra or band, so he created an all-girls marching band - which I thought was totally cool."
It is. Totally cool.
Just imagine H.C. Stillman's courage in defying society's notions, the difference he made for a group of music-playing young girls, the path he paved for those who came after.
"There's a story inside the trunk," Cindy says, the kind that connects you with history. "We're going to look him up and see what we can find."
I happened to be browsing recently in Olde Time Antiques, one of several such stores on Pueblo's historic Union Avenue, when Cindy and Bill - excited about their discovery - brought in the trunk. They rent space in the store to sell old treasures they find.
The trunk's label indicated its destination back to Pueblo on a train in June 1930, possibly, Cindy thought, from a marching band competition. As I listened, and looked around - at the dainty porcelain teacups that once graced a familiar table, the lace wedding dress someone once wore for love, a deco cabinet that once stood in a family living room - the air suddenly seemed crowded by stories waiting to be heard, testaments to fragments of long-agos buried by the passage of time and the hurry of life.
That glimpse into the past is what motivates antiquarians such as Cindy and Bill, and Gary Price, who helps man the counter, and Johnny Baayen, who owns the store.
"I'm just fascinated by old things and disappointed by things that are new and wear out quickly," Gary says. His gaze sweeps around the store. "Some of this stuff is over 100 years old. ... We've become such a disposable society. I cherish things that last this long."
Cindy does, too. She loves old things so much she rarely buys new.
Her Pyrex dishes and cooking utensils date back to the 1930s. She uses old-style watering cans in her garden.
"I give them another life," she says.
Cindy and Bill have been collecting old things for at least 35 years from estate and garage sales and auctions. Bill likes to search for car parts and beer signs, Cindy for her dishes and utensils.
Sometimes, they find unique treasures, such as the trunk, or the 100-year-old saddle, also sitting in the store.
"It's pretty darn worn," Cindy says. "But 100 years ago, you could see a guy riding around in that saddle. It makes you think ... I just find it all fascinating."
The glimpse back in time can even hook some of today's younger generations.
Cindy recounts a conversation she overheard as a boy looked at a typewriter from the 1800s. "He asked his dad, 'What is that?' He had never seen a typewriter."
Or a rotary phone.
Or cameras from the 1920s and '30s.
"They just love them," Cindy says of young people, with a laugh. "They've never seen anything like that. They pick up a camera and try to figure out how the picture was taken ... and they're just kind of in awe."
Most of the stories inside Olde Time Antiques are unknown, the objects brought in by dealers who simply aren't familiar with their origins, proprietor Baayen says.
"You can only imagine the history if you were only able to follow it back in time ..."
A walk among the thousands of pieces waiting for new life allows you to do just that:
A 1930s metal toy squirt gun that probably still works.
A worn, chocolate-brown R.T. Frazier saddle made by the famed Pueblo saddlery from the turn of the 20th century.
Lawyers' filing cabinets, nearly 100 years old.
A cream-colored 1946 Belmont radio. The tag says it works.
A vintage 50mm camera case.
A wooden sewing machine table from the late 1800s.
A display case of knives that includes a pen knife, a Turkish Mauser bayonet and a Sudanese arm dagger.
Even the two Pachinko machines, the 1960s Japanese-made pinball-type machines used where gambling was prohibited, and which in the end prove age is in the perception of the beholder.
"I got those three, four weeks ago," Baayen says. "I'm amazed at how many people come in and say how they played them."
Objects from the 1970s are particularly popular at the moment, he notes.
"In my terms, that's not really old," Baayen says. But "young people, they love it - they say it's so cool and it's old."
H.C. Stillman's trunk sold in just a few days for $125.
The Pierces were unable to uncover any more of his story.
But the sale - to an owner who appreciated the history - felt good.
"It's nice we can pass the story on," Bill says, "keep the story alive."
The story in the trunk reminded me history is a living, breathing entity that accompanies us wherever we may be.
And whether they are from yesterdays long ago or just being created today, the stories are ours.
Let's try not to lose them.
Ann Macari Healey's column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. Her column earned first place in the 2013 Colorado Press Association Better Newspaper contest. She can be reached at email@example.com or 303-566-4110.
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