By Rod Lee
There is only one way to fully appreciate the thousands of antiques and collectibles that are amassed on the floor of the Douglas Flea Market on Northeast Main St. That is through the eyes of a dealer like Paul Ward. Without the backstory—the provenance of the items you have been examining that Mr. Ward and his fellow dealers are able to offer—the experience is far less fulfilling.
Sixty-eight years old, tall as a beanstalk, mustachioed, wearing jeans and a “Brimfield” T-shirt (he was a vendor at the first of the famous Route 20 venue’s three shows scheduled for 2017, last month), Mr. Ward probably would have been content to continue watching a Boston Red Sox-Seattle Mariners game from the sofa near the entrance to the Bosma family’s historic Dutch Hoop barn on the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day while taking a break.
Instead he was rousted from his spot by a visitor who wanted to see the space he occupies. With that, after divulging that he had grown up in the Boston area but now lives “right next door,” that his early interest was in “cartoon and character glass, jelly jars, peanut butter jars and such (like old Archie glasses, if you were blind you could tell because underneath there was an imprint of the character”) and that he has been at the Douglas Flea with Marlene Bosma and her daughter Amy for fifteen years now, he rose and with long legs ambled toward the section where his inventory is displayed. It occupies an entire corner in the northwest part of the building.
In explaining his attachment to the flea-market life Mr. Ward said “I’ve always liked certain old stuff. Miniature plates [depicting] New England like you’d find in a five-and-dime store.” Now, he said, he has cut back. “I semi-collect.” He has a preference for old miniature trucks bearing the names of “companies that don’t even exist anymore,” he said, pointing to a “Carl Buddig Food Products” tractor trailer and a “Bank of America” truck as examples.
Once prodded, Mr. Ward does not hold back in talking up his merchandise. A thick “Who’s Who” book from 1924-25, for instance. A tin bearing the image of The Lone Ranger (“Hi-ho Silver!”) that is actually a target game for darts (he doesn’t have the darts that go with it). A showcase sign for a 1950 Pontiac. An old “Kellogg’s Krumbles” poster. A fire bell, which he explained was “manufactured in Newton.” An ancient kaleidoscope. “Railroad stories” magazines and “Time” magazines. A hand-painted “Gen. Jack Pershing” bank. A Pony Express tin. A “U.S. postage-stamp machine…kids think it’s a slot machine!”
Asked about a “Yaz’s Last Day” photo of Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski” he said, obviously now fully engaged in satisfying a visitor’s curiosity, “that was taken by John Blanding of the Boston Globe. He went out with my sister Sandra who is an editor at Barron’s.”
Any mention of the Red Sox is likely to get Mr. Ward reminiscing about Red Sox teams of the past going all the way back to 1967 when he snagged tickets to the World Series. “Fifty years ago, doesn’t seem like it,” he said. In those days, he said, “after school we’d get on a train and go to Fenway. They’d let you in the Yawkey Gate free after the seventh inning. Any kid could. Then if you were found out you’d give the usher a fistful of money. That’s how it became known as the Jimmy Fund Gate. I used to get in Bruins games too, with tickets from Sam Silverman’s agency. After Bobby Orr that stopped.”
Mr. Ward’s affection for Boston sports knows no bounds. “Do you know what they call Brad Marchand (of the Bruins)?” he asked, referring to one of the most physical players in the game. “The Little Ball of Hate!” He smiled at the very thought of Brad Marchand smashing an opponent into the boards.
Asked how he obtains information about the antiques and collectibles he has for sale, he said “some stuff it’s a mystery but you have a clue if you talk to other people.” Asked how it goes for him and he says “some weeks, real good, other weeks it’s quiet. Comic books and CDs” help bridge the gap when things are slow.
Why he maintains an allegiance to the Bosma family and the Douglas Flea Market is easily answered.
“I like this because flea markets are like drive-ins. You can’t find them anymore.”
The Douglas Flea these days is much more than the barn, with clearance trailers, outdoor sheds and “The Old Goat’s Shoppe” in a building that abuts the barn. “It’s a memory store and it always makes me feel good,” Steve Bebo, greeting customers with Cindy Sullivan, said. Complimented on the space, Mr. Bebo said, nodding toward Ms. Sullivan, “that’s her. She has a good eye and is always rearranging.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.