First Monday Second Chance

Cover Story

Vendors and shoppers alike have been coming from all around to the First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas.  It all began, 150 years ago, as a result of a circuit court judge stopping in Canton to hold court, every first Monday of each month. Wanting to watch the court proceedings, locals used their trip to Canton to manage their affairs and replenish their pantries. Many also brought their own goods to sell or trade at the courthouse square, and thus “Canton” was born.  

Eventually, First Monday, outgrew the square and the City of Canton purchased 6 acres, moving it a couple of blocks away. Since, it has grown immensely as a result of individuals purchasing the adjoining properties to develop their own First Monday sales areas. Though it now takes place Thursday through Sunday, the one thing that remains unchanged is that people uphold the same traditions and keep coming back for more. One such person is Rebecca Ballard.

Ballard has been working the rounds of Canton for nearly 30 years. Back when booths were $40, she and a partner  would make things to sell. “It’s funny the things that we did. We made these jumpers, and my boys laugh about it but I remind them that it was the 80's fashion. My baby that is going to be 30 was five months old at the time, in a snuggly, so we’ve come a long way since then. Now he likes to go to Canton himself,” Ballard reminisced. This happily married mother, of three boys, now has three daughters-in-law, is a grandmother of four with another on the way, and her home, with its many collections, is a reflection of her First Monday finds throughout the years. “I really use it all. It does make some people nervous to see all of that stuff all of the time, when they visit, but it makes me happy.” And she means it when she says she uses it all. Whether it is for her home, as a costume in one of her husband’s theatre productions, as part of the decorations for an event she is volunteering for or helping with, used as a thoughtful gift or to create something completely new from one of her finds, Ballard isn’t “wasting money,” as some would think of her hobby.

I just had to see it all and Ballard was gracious enough to allow me to tag along with her to First Monday. I was excited to say the least. I love antiques, and the older section surrounding the Canton Civic Center Antiques & Collectibles Market is my favorite place to shop. 

Ballard prefers to go on Thursdays because it isn’t crowded and things have not been picked over yet. I arrived at her home on a cold, Thursday morning, and after loading the shopping cart, complete with hand sewn bags for purchases, into her SUV, we headed out. On the way, we made a quick stop by the bank to get “change.” Seeing my bewildered look, she began to share a little of her wisdom with me. “You want to make sure you have small bills because it is hard to negotiate a $2 item when you have a $100 bill. You need to look like that is all you have. Always have small bills,” Ballard explained. For all that change, one must need a purse right? Not Ballard, who only wears outfits with pockets. “You do not have to carry a big purse because you can carry lipstick in one pocket, chapstick in another pocket, money in another, your keys in another, and your phone in one. A phone is important so that you can take pictures of things your friends want you to find, when they don’t want to get out of bed and go.” However, after our trip and two fabulous additions to my own collections, I am quite positive her friends want her to find things for them because she is the “Canton Whisperer.” If it is there, she will locate it! 

It stands to reason that Ballard would have a knack for negotiating the purchase of these treasures as well. “My thing about negotiating is that you never want to insult people. I have had people say ‘well it’s not worth that,’ and you never want to say that. There have been some items that I look at and I am perplexed as to why that is so expensive. I never say what I’m thinking. I say ‘now tell me why that is so expensive,’ because the last thing you want to do is insult someone about their item. The negotiating part isn’t always someone’s favorite, but everyone expects. You just don’t have to be rude about it,” Ballard shared. 

Our first stop of the day was the Civic Center. While I have shopped there countless times, it was an adventure with Ballard. Her husband, Glenn, is the Director of Fine Arts and Drama at The Brook Hill School. With a very limited budget for their productions, Ballard creates all of the elaborate costumes using fabrics and materials found at Canton and other places. Right now she is working on costumes for their production of Cinderella this May, so we stopped at a booth with $10 wedding dresses. There were all types and sizes, and their styles ranged from vintage to fairly new. She explained that sometimes she purchases a dress for the lace alone, because she can not buy it for $10 at a stand alone store. During our trip, not only did she find a wedding dress, she purchased a bridesmaid’s dress that will be used in the production as well. Along with dresses, the same vendor had fabrics, all kinds of linens, blankets and even a rack of dresses that Ballard referred to as “the place where the ‘mother of the bride’ dresses come to die.” She showed me a vintage piece of fabric called bark cloth, named because tree bark was actually used in the milling of it somehow. Originally, many of these fabrics were used as curtains. Because typically they were not lined, the sun would rot the fabric over time. Before using, she has to wash it to see what survives. Previously, Ballard had purchased the same fabric twice, and used some of it as the pockets and sleeves for pocket tunics she made to sell in her Junior League of Tyler’s Mistletoe & Magic booth, last year. 

As we looked around more at the same booth, Ballard spotted a wool blanket, with a multi-colored stripe print, that she ended up purchasing due to it being a great find and deal. She currently uses one, previously purchased, at the foot of a bed in her home. Although her only plans are to use this one for its intended purpose as well, Ballard showed me that it can be used as fabric for other creations. Throughout the day, we saw the fabric being used as a pullover jacket for sale, and another vendor was wearing a coat, of the same fabric, that was made for him by a lady at Trade Days. 

Next up, we made our way to the accessories. As we walked through the Civic Center, we spoke with a vendor who sold all types of vintage jewelry. While her jewelry was pretty, the vintage jewelry boxes displaying it were the real treasures. Next Ballard spotted a set of vintage glasses that went perfectly with dishes she already had. Being such a bargain shopper, she even negotiated a lower price. She was quite pleased with her find because each time her family gathers for a meal in her home, the table is always beautifully set. While we waited for those to be wrapped up, we looked around the booth at several vintage hats on display. “Of course I love all the hats … with all the flowers,” Ballard commented. “There are not many millinery places left in this country anymore. All the stuff like this is all we are going to get because the new stuff they are making just doesn’t compare. So sometimes you buy an old hat to get the flower off of it.” 

As we headed out of the Civic Center, Ballard checked her watch to make sure we weren’t going to be late for Dollar Bill’s drawing. Did you know that at 10:30 am, one of the vendors, Bill, has a drawing for three $20 gift certificates to his booth? Well I didn't but I do now! The only requirement is that you must be there on time to receive your ticket. “He has dollar tables too. He has a name. His name is Bill, but I call him Dollar Bill,” Ballard said laughingly. Although neither of us won, Dollar Bill did have 2 large vintage Sherlock Holmes books waiting for Ballard, because he knew her husband Glenn loved them. As we browsed up and down the rows at Bill's booth, she found a stack of vintage National Geographic   Magazines, turning each one over to reveal the ad on the back cover. “I have a set of 12 that are Santas and they're all framed. The classic ones had  a Coca-Cola ad on the back, so the December issue would have a Santa on it. I love paper stuff like this because it wasn't intended to last. So when it does last, it's so special.” 

While walking around and shopping some more, but this time at the outdoor booths, Ballard pointed out past purchases as she came across them, and we talked about the “second chances” they had been given. Not too far from Dollar Bill’s booth, a vendor had vintage windows, and it was there that she bought the windows Glenn used to create the Greenhouse in their backyard. You would never think it was built from windows found at a flea market, but is a masterpiece that has been used as the focal point for two separate events in town.

I have been to Canton many times, but this time was different. Ballard is a creative mastermind and taught me tips and tricks that only an experienced bargain shopper would know. For instance, did you know you can ship items through Greyhound? As we strolled past a rod iron outdoor rocking chair, Ballard pointed out that she had shipped a similar one to California on a Greyhound Bus. In disbelief, (but knowing the answer), I asked, “You sent it on the bus, like a Greyhound bus?” 

“Yes if it is something big like that and is an odd size, I put it in a box and they ship it under the bus. It is a lot cheaper and gets there faster than other shipping options,” Ballard explained. “One time Brady (Ballard's son) left his tuxedo somewhere, and that next morning his friend's mother put it on a Greyhound Bus and we had it in Tyler that afternoon. That's how I learned about
the Bus.” 

In another booth Ballard showed me a basket, referring to it as a “funeral basket.” She has a collection of about 30 white ones. Some of those can be found displayed in her home, but she also uses them for different events and at Easter time too. As we continued to walk, we passed an antique wood burning stove that resembled one she had bought for her husband. In several of his theatre productions, there has been a need for one. No one had anything like it, so when she came across a good deal, she took it. “If I can afford it, I like it and I think it is interesting, then I get it, and invariably the next production we end up using it. That has happened more times than I can count. We are always looking for things to lend authenticity to the stage. I don’t like to have fake things on stage, and because I approach theatre as a history person, I like to teach kids along the way about the kinds of things we used to use,” Ballard shared, after talking about the countless hours she spends creating costumes and using her “junque” as props in Glenn’s productions.

After paying for my shiny new, well new to me, treasure that Ballard located and negotiated a better deal on, we headed to our next stop. As we were walking  out of the booth, she pointed my attention to a darling display of miniature glass hen dishes and various antique salt cellars with salt spoons.  Sometimes things are not displayed correctly, for instance there were several vintage eye wash glass cups with salt spoons displayed as salt cellars. "You see the shape of it? So if you had something in your eye, you would hold it open and put this on there. Your lid will not close and you can wash it out. I have an old milk glass one and we use it. We've used ours," Ballard explained as she demonstrated. 

Close to the end of our shopping, she took me to a booth with an impressive display of neatly pressed, vintage handkerchiefs. As she showed me several different ones, she said that she buys them to give at weddings for the bridesmaid gifts. Beforehand, she came across a white one with mother embroidered on it, so at the last wedding she found the Mother of the Bride and asked her if she had a hankie. It turns out she didn’t. “So for a dollar you can make someone really happy,” Ballard said.  

If there is one thing I can take away from my trip and experience with Ballard, it is her best quote. “A house should evolve, not land. If you just go in and buy everything the first day then there’s no story … everything should have a story,”  Ballard shared. Although she may not realize it, Ballard exemplifies this in everything she does, by giving it a story. As our day trip, treasure hunt came to an end, I realized that while I have been to Canton many times, I had truly never done Canton until tagging along with Rebecca Ballard. 

Photo By: Mark Martin


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