The green fruits on the winter berry holly outside my window are now a deep red. It’s their way of announcing that we’re in the midst of the last days of summer, a time when I reflect about our recent travels, Rita’s(t) seasonal water ice flavors, and… our annual summer yard sale.
While my spouse, (let’s call her Viv,) can barely contain her unbridled enthusiasm when she thinks about having a yard sale, I react to the idea with the same emotions I experience when I’m in the dentist’s office awaiting a root canal. Over the years we’ve learned that humor, patience, and compromise are the keys to this particular project. Viv tempers her desire to be a whirling dervish and I minimize my complaints about a wasted Saturday.
What follows are examples of our verbal exchanges before and during the annual neighborhood yard sale.
Two months prior to the sale:
V: “Let’s have a yard sale!!”
Me: “Uh…didn’t we just have one?”
V: “That was last summer. We’re always part of the neighborhood yard sale.”
Me: “Why can’t we be different this year?”
One week before the sale, in the basement making “merchandise” decisions:
Me: “There’s a lot of stuff down here that we don’t need. Let’s get rid of as much of it as we can carry out to the driveway.” I turn 360 degrees and point haphazardly at various dust covered objects. “Let’s get rid of this, that, and this.”
V: “No, not this. We might need it someday.”
Me: “But it’s a set of pillows that matched the love seat we gave away fifteen years ago.”
V: “My mother sewed the pillow covers. I’m not ready to see them go.”
Me: (Aware that I can’t compete with this.) “How about this round plastic tube? What is it anyway?”
V: “I don’t remember what that is, but we’d better keep it just in case.”
(Note: ‘Just in case’ is said so frequently in our household that it’s become one word, justincase.)
Me: “In case of what?”
V: “In case we need it someday.”
The morning of the annual neighborhood yard sale:
V: “Look! The neighbors across the street spread a blanket on their lawn and posted a sign that says “Free.”
Me: “What a great idea. Let’s do the same thing. We can lay a tarp at the entrance to the driveway and then put that mystery round plastic tube on it.”
Our first customer arrives at 7:45 and immediately points at an item.
She: “Is this only two dollars?”
Me: (in sotto voce) “Actually, I’ll take a dollar fifty for it.”
V: “Renée, it’s too early to reduce our prices.”
Obviously my voce wasn’t sufficiently sotto.
Now that we have a freebie tarp in place, I peruse all of our sale items and silently calculate about a dozen things I’d transfer there from their present locations. If we have a slow day, maybe I’ll offer to pay customers to relieve us of a few items.
Over the years, each yard sale has had a slightly different flavor. When we began our jumble sale empire we learned to spot the early birds seeking gold or silver jewelry. They’d arrive early in the day, take a quick survey, and barely make eye contact with us when they saw our jewelry stock was low to nil.
During the 1990’s and early 2000’s we experienced an onslaught of buyers in search of guns. On the advice of one such buyer, we learned the wisdom of answering, “Got any guns for sale?” with, “Nope, none that we’re selling.”
This summer’s sale brought the most talkative buyers ever. With one exception, a woman who bought half a dozen jazz CD’s, all of the long-winded shoppers were men eager to chat about their politics, past careers, retirements, and surgeries.
One older guy sporting a long, white ponytail told us he was a retired Philly cop whose son was a Republican DEA officer and daughter a radical Democrat student at Brown University. He told us ever since he’d survived colon cancer he’d made it a habit of distributing health-related pamphlets to black people who, in his estimation, distrusted cancer screening procedures. He thanked us for displaying our yard sign (“Hate Has No Home Here,”) and for giving him a chance “to talk with like-minded people.”
Another guy strode toward Viv and pointed at her leg. “Look dear,” he said to the woman by his side. “She’s had her knee replaced too.”
His keen-eyed observation led to a protracted question and answer session between Viv and his wife, a two month veteran of the procedure. She told us she’d done well with her post-op physical therapy. We didn’t doubt that, having watched her emerge from their newish Fiat Abarth Hatch, as if she’d had springs inserted in her knees.
Then, there was the man who bought Viv’s late stepfather’s American flag. He told us he “likes to give them to poor people whose flags are old and tattered.”
I thought that was a wonderful gesture until later in the day, when our neighbor ambled down our driveway to tell us one of our customers had given him the flag he’d purchased from us. The flag donor told him about his m.o., and added, “You became a U.S. citizen after emigrating from Haiti? Life must be very hard for you.”
My eyes spun like the cherries and apples in a slot machine. I wasn’t sure if I should think well of this man’s generosity or pity his holding on to stereotypes. You see, dear readers, along with his new flag, my Haitian born neighbor owns several properties. His wife is an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the MSW Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and his son and daughter are college educated professionals. He doesn’t have an old and tattered flag.
We didn’t make much money at this summer’s yard sale, but we lightened our load of unneeded possessions and added new branches to our “experiences with people” tree. Maybe all of those conversations with strangers validated the work it took to sort through our stuff, haul it up from the basement, and drag it out to the driveway.
One month after the yard sale:
Me: “Viv, do you think we can use that round plastic tube thing to repair the broken pump in the garden pond?”
Viv just smiled and said, “I told you we’d better keep it justincase.”
I usually post my author info in this space, but I’d rather add a message here instead. November 6th is Election Day. Be sure you’re registered. Be sure to go to the Polls and vote. If you live in an apartment or condo building, consider posting that you’re willing to transport a neighbor in need of assistance to the Polls. Make the same offer to your older relatives who no longer drive.
PLEASE VOTE ON NOVEMBER 6TH! THIS MID-TERM ELECTION IS CRUCIAL FOR THE SURVIVAL OF OUR DEMOCRACY.