I started writing this post at 10:00 last Sunday morning while sitting in my sun room surrounded by the junk of six households. It was day three of what I was calling my Farewell Yard Sale. It was the last sale I expect to do even though my mean friend (Tim) smirked when I said it to him. The sheer magnitude of stuff mounting up over the past year has been oppressive. And it didn’t help that I was geared up to have all that stuff gone by early June and then it was too hot all summer long to have a sale. Every time I went in my cabin out back to get a chair or folding table, I had to wade through piles and boxes of human detritus.
It’s my own fault, really. First of all there’s my stuff. Then there’s the stuff from my parents’ house that is still here after five years. It’s my (mis)fortune to have the storage space. My neighbor Gwen gives me all kinds of stuff. It’s all high quality because Gwen knows no other—and she knows something about just about everything. Then there’s my neighbor Bill. I’ve been trying for years to interest him into doing a sale with me but he dreads all the work of sorting and deciding. He managed to get together 5 or 6 boxes to unload onto my sale.
My friend Kay went on a serious house clean last year and took a layer off her 40 plus years’ accumulation. For months I got periodic phone calls that began with “Can you use. . .?” followed by a carload of stuff delivered by her partner Jerry who always had a patient if sardonic look on his face. He says he gets nervous when Kay and I get together.
And finally there’s my friend Nancy who has really classy stuff and I actually asked her to treat me like the Goodwill. It wasn’t much farther to come to my house and there was no wait to unload.
It seemed like a good idea at the time but it got a little out of hand. When it came time to set up the sale, I felt overwhelmed. My friend Sue came over at 7 AM on Thursday and did a bunch of heavy lifting. She moved all my plants out of the sun room and set up tables. She put the saw horses and a sheet of plywood outside. Then she piled all the boxes of junk in the middle of the sun room so I could start unpacking and setting up. Bill brought over another set of saw horses and plywood. Thirteen tables full of stuff. Full. The plywood was bowing in the middle.
It’s now been a week since the sawhorses went up. I have taken two carloads of stuff to Value Village. The last of the sale is sitting outside my house with a free sign on it. My sun room is looking spacious and empty and ready to fill up with my watercolor class, which starts next week. My back hurts. These are signs that this probably is my last sale.
I used to do a spook house every year in the cabin. A few moms of my students helped black it out and arrange some scary tableaux. It got quite complicated as the years went on. We had a fog machine and a full size coffin that Gwen volunteered to lie in and raise up from. It got to be so much work that often it was still up in April. Eventually I had to go back there, fight through all the fake cobwebs, and dismantle it. Finally it was enough and I sold the coffin.
I’ve been doing some species of yard sale every year since the late 80s. My Farewell Sale ran for four days, Friday through Monday of Labor Day weekend. I had nice little pile of cash at the end, half of which was made by noon on the first day. But the money is only part of the appeal. There’s the Playing Store aspect. I get a huge kick out of that. Then there’s the fact that people actually pay money to take large, hideous, and awkward items off my property. And there’s the entertaining parade of humanity that troops in and out.
My friends dropped by with coffee in the morning (Nancy) and soup in the afternoon (Nina). Gwen popped over before I had time to hide the things she has given me that weren’t necessarily meant for the sale. Bill was in and out a few times. My nice friend (Tim) came to say hi and collect all the apples that had fallen off the tree. He makes the most succulent apple butter imaginable. He helped me collect my cardboard street signs at the end of the second day because it was expected to rain that night.
The first shoppers to arrive are always the retired men and women looking for gold and silver jewelry. They know each other from yard and estate sales all over the area. I myself have a fair number of Regulars, people that come every year to see the garden and to see if I am selling something they can’t do without.
“I don’t see anything I can’t do without,” they say.
“You’re missing the whole point,” I say.
Book dealers and book lovers spend a lot of time in the book room and often come out and ask for a box. Besides walls of mystery, fiction, history and humor, I have complete sets of the World Book Encyclopedia, the colorful Golden Book Encyclopedia, and a partial set of Funk and Wagnalls’ Encyclopedia. It’s partial because I started using its pages to light my wood stove when I stopped taking the New York Times. Yes, that’s right: I burn books.
I love the middle aged women who slowly collect an enormous pile, commenting all the while on what lovely things I have. The retired men looking for tools usually leave disappointed although thanks to Bill there were a few Guy Things this time around. Young couples come in trying to appear above it all and sometimes they succeed.
There is another kind of couple that shows up. The most polite way to describe them is Retro. On Sunday one such couple appeared to have wandered in from the set of Perry Mason.
“Oh Albie, buy these for me. I have to have them. They’re only $8!” She picked up one of five differently fashioned and colored aperitif glasses blooming on a tray.
Albie who was ready reeking of whiskey at 11:00 in the morning growled, “They aren’t worth $8,” earning him my undying disgust.
“Then buy me this. I want this.” She pounced on something else but I was keeping an eye on my aperitif glasses so I don’t know what it was.
“We’re supposed to be on a budget and now you’re wanting all this stuff,” Albie grunted.
“Oh have we started the budget?”
Nancy had come with coffee and was wandering around the sun room when a young man came through the door. He was black and spoke with an accent. I asked where he was from.
“Viet Nam,” he told me.
I was thrown into white, middle-class confusion. He was black. He couldn’t be from Viet Nam.
“You must know a lot of languages,” I said.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Nancy trying not to laugh at me.
The young man was full of energy. He bought the bottle of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose wine that I had been trying to get rid of for years. I had attached a little disclaimer to say that the label was vintage but I could not vouch for the liquid inside. I couldn’t vouch for anything about it except that my mother had hidden it in her closet while it was still two thirds full so no one would know her lips had touched liquor. That could have been any time since the 70s. Kay took a swig of it last year and hadn’t died from it.
The Black Vietnamese man bought a lot of dishes and plates. He bought five cups. He bought my bong that looked like Merlin, the extra filters and a pack of Zig-zag cigarette papers. He bought a suitcase that I would have paid him to take away since it was too big to be a carry-on and it would take all my yard sale earnings to check a bag that size these days. My new favorite customer said he goes back to Vietnam every year and likes to take gifts to everyone.
Nancy held it in admirably until he left, then she laughed that thank god I had finally calmed down about where the man was from. Nancy herself was born in Lebanon, lived in the UAE, and went to school in India and Pakistan. In addition she teaches at a community college. CC campuses are hot beds of multi-culturalism, trigger warnings and political correctness these days. She was very nice about explaining the obvious to me: the man’s father could have been an African American G-I. Nancy fields a dozen faux pas like mine every day before second period.
Clearly I don’t get out enough. I’ve been living in a world of Wild Irish Rose wine, Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia and the cast from Perry Mason. See you next year at my Second Annual Farewell Yard Sale.