Encounters | An occasional feature

Love between the booths at the Oldsmar Flea Market

OLDSMAR

The bride and groom were flea market people. So were the matron of honor and best man. So was the woman who pronounced them man and wife.

Flea market people: Their world is the 1,200 booths at the 30-year-old Oldsmar Flea Market. They've worked together there for decades. They call themselves family. Flea market people want for nothing.

You hungry? If you're flea market people, you just go over to Nicole's Groceries. They'll fix you up. No shirt on your back? Go see the T-shirt guy.

Ah, but you need love?

Flea market people got that, too.

Eddie Minks, 60, sold used furniture and worked on the maintenance crew. Aliene McPherson, 65, sold house plants. Each was involved with someone else. But as flea market people, their lives intertwined for 15 years. When both gave up their booths, they stayed on, working for the management.

Eddie offered support when Aliene's husband passed away. Aliene gave friendship back after Eddie's live-in girlfriend taped a goodbye note to the door. Three years ago, they each found themselves without anybody and that drew them to each other.

Aliene: "We were free."

They moved in together, but marriage was out of the question. Aliene had heard she could lose her widow's benefits if she remarried.

Her best flea market friend, bird lady Yvonne Garcia, didn't believe it. She has known Aliene for 37 years, and Aliene keeps a spare bedroom just for her. Yvonne called Social Security herself. She discovered Aliene's benefits were safe.

Yvonne had just told Aliene when Eddie got home from work.

"Will you marry me now?" he asked.

Why not? Aliene knew this flea market marriage would last forever.

"We have a no-return policy."

• • •

The ceremony took place Thursday evening after the booths closed. It was held between the Pizza By The Slice and White Tiger Tattoos And Air Brushing booths. Overhead, signs pointed to Oriental Rugs and Carpet Remnants to the left and Everything Birds to the right.

The bride wore old and new, borrowed and blue: her late mother's diamonds, a new dress, her daughter's hairpiece and a blue garter. On this special day, she wore nothing from the flea market.

Yvonne was matron of honor. Manager Ralph McWherter stood up as best man. Manager Babe Wright performed the ceremony. They've had funerals for flea market people over the years. But this was the first wedding among the booths in a long time.

More than 100 flea market people — most of whom brought platters of food — cheered them on.

This being her first wedding, Babe concluded the ceremony by ad-libbing, "And may God have mercy on your souls."

• • •

About the honeymoon: Eddie planned to report for work in the morning.

"We'll go home tonight," Eddie said, "and I'll say, 'Honey, here's the moon.' ''

Aliene rolled her eyes, just a little.

Attached to others, they shared laughs and heartaches. Married to each other, what will they share in the years ahead?

Aliene held her arms out, taking in the rows of booths and the dozens of flea market people crowded around them.

"All this."

John Barry can be reached at 727-892-2258 or jbarry@sptimes.com.

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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924.

Love between the booths at the Oldsmar Flea Market 10/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 1:46pm]

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