It was the end of the day, and I’d picked up my girls from volunteering at Something Good in the World, a small school that, among other things, teaches kids to garden and enjoy the woods. My girls were happy, having spent the hours planting flowers, organizing a shed, helping children swing or seesaw (the seesaw doubles as a water pump).
After I picked them up, it was on to Mariandale, where I did a photo shoot for an upcoming retreat. We could have ended there, gone home and rustled up a little supper. But the day felt like a summer day—the kind that keeps expanding lazily and delightedly. So instead of turning up the hill towards home, I decided to spend my birthday money and take the girls to Melike’s Turkish restaurant down on Main Street.
“I want to take a few pictures of downtown,” I said, after we parked and Sara found quarters to put in the meter. My girls are used to making their own fun while they wait for me to do something or other. They wandered down the sidewalk.
“It’s a market!” I heard.
I was thinking market, like colorful vegetables and maybe a few delicious cheeses.
Then I wandered to the doorway they were peering through. It offered a view of a long hall, the length of the old brick buildings (some on this street date from the 1870s), and it ended with what looked like French doors. Sure enough, over the glass panes, a painted sign said “Market.”
“You can go in. I’ll wait out here,” I said.
But as I watched my girls go down the long hall and then heard them exclaim about old furniture, I was drawn in.
In a phrase, that’s Melita (the owner). And it is Melita’s Home. She draws you in. And so does her “market.”
Within minutes of entering the shop, we’re in conversation. I’m snapping pictures, and she is wishing the store was more organized (they’re adding a sprinkler system to the building, so it’s caused some rearranging). But I tell her that her store is so beautiful I can’t believe I never knew she was here.
And she’s been here for 20 years.
Best kept secret in Ossining, I think to myself.
I learn that she and her husband first came to America and ran a grocery, where they lived at the back, because they couldn’t afford housing elsewhere. “It was hard. We had not much money for anything.” Melita’s eyes momentarily move towards tears, but then she steers into her story, in a way that makes you understand that stories have made Melita’s life, much as beauty has. She lives through them. She runs her market from a storied place of old things rescued, people redirected to happier lives, and small artists making their way in the world.
This is why we find fair trade earrings from Vietnam (silk threads, she tells us), earrings made by a French artist who works in glass, and more earrings that are made by a Japanese designer who uses origami paper for each creation. We find necklaces with antique buttons at their heart, bracelets made with bees as inspiration, and gorgeous nature-inspired hand towels printed on flour sacks. There are black and gold mirrors created by former prisoners who were taught a beautiful craft. Furniture that people tossed has become furniture refurbished or painted with aged style or unusual and beautiful designs. One cabinet in particular has fresco style fronts on its doors, made with plates that Melita accidentally broke. (She wanted to cry over that, too, she told us. But then, she says, “I got an idea! I can make something with these broken pieces.”)
Over twenty years ago, when Melita was still living in the back of the grocery, a school teacher came to visit her small home. When the teacher came in (expecting poverty, perhaps?), she was in awe. “Melita, your home is so beautiful!”
And it was. This memory brings the story of Rosa, who threw out a piece of furniture that Melita rescued. “I cleaned it up. I used shoe polish on it. Then I got some gold leaf from the store and worked it onto the corners. Rosa came to my house soon after and she said, “Melita, is that my piece?! Is that my piece?!”
Melita was afraid in that moment that Rosa was unhappy. But, no, Rosa told her she had something here. Something that others might want. The making of broken things into wanted things.
So Melita and her husband made a bet on Ossining and bought the building she’s now been in for 20 years with her market. “People said we were crazy buying this building then. But look at Ossining now. So vibrant!”
One wonders how much of that vibrance was built, story by story, through Melita herself. She knows everyone, talks to everyone, has boundless energy and joy. “I think so many people see only the negative. I say, ‘If you see a negative, do something positive then!'”
And this is what she herself does.
My younger daughter breaks in, after we’ve heard about countless artisans, about the prisoners who made the amazing mirrors, about Rosa. “Everything has a story…” says my daughter.
“That’s the point!” Melita laughs, like a precious secret has just been divulged.
And maybe it has. Maybe if the world ran this way, the way Melita runs her market, with a story on every table and wall, and in every drawer and pitcher, things would stay (and become) as vibrant as Melita and the Ossining I feel sure she’s helped build.
My daughters each buy a set of earrings, after all the stories. The ones from Vietnam go to Sonia. She feels entirely beautiful wearing them immediately, putting them on for the restaurant we’re about to go to. The vintage sterling silver roses (screw-on, which are the only kind she wears) go to Sara, who tucks them gently into her bag.
An hour and a half later, after I’ve spent my birthday money on hummus and falafel at Melike’s, we’re back on the sidewalk. The sun is just beginning to get low in the sky, and I can see it over the water of the great Hudson River. “Sara!” someone calls out. It’s Melita, and she has still remembered my daughter’s name.
“I want to ask you something,” I say, after we laugh together at this second happy meeting. “Why do you love nature so much? I mean, why do you design and buy all the beautiful things that mirror nature? Why does it matter to you?”
“I was born on the coast. The Atlantic,” she tells me.
“In Portugal, yes?”
“Yes, near the surfing. And the green. Flowers. Birds. It’s part of me, it’s…” she pauses.
“In your heart?”
“In my heart. It is in my heart.” She touches her heart lightly. And I wish the whole world could be made beautiful by a touch of conversation and beauty from Melita.
Visit Melita’s Home at 125 Main Street, Ossining, NY 10562 • 914-923-0351
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00AM – 6:00PM