Monday, September 7, 2009

Yard Sale-ing

As a kid in rural southern Indiana, I was told that we lived in the second poorest county in the state. And I guessed it was probably true; houses in my northern Indiana relatives’ neighborhoods were bigger and newer, and it was harder to find trailers with couches on the porch when driving through their towns.

Yard sales were common on hot summer weekends, and sometimes I’d jump in Grandma’s big green car and we would go find the sales she had circled in the classifieds of the Paoli News-Republican. I loved going to yard sales and always saved up change to spend on little glass trinkets or new toys. Yard sales meant I could buy whatever I wanted, because it was so cheap, giving me freedom and responsibility and childish excitement.

My inner snob, however, had already begun to develop back then. After all, we lived in a town of 3,500 people, and you never knew if the sale you drove up to belonged to someone you knew. In that case, I walked around the tables embarrassed, not wanting to feel like a poor person who treasured someone else’s trash. Sometimes after we held a garage sale under Grandma’s carport, I would see a classmate wearing an old coat or dress of mine, and I felt sorry for her.

The best sales, I found, were at my aunt’s in northern Indiana, when her community held its annual sale. There, we walked from house to house incognito, and all their stuff was newer and nicer. I couldn’t help but notice the difference.

I’ve thought a lot about these sales lately, because my friend Laurie and I have initiated Yard Sale Saturdays every six weeks or so. They begin as early as we can stand to get up (usually 8am) when I jump in her bright red pickup and with a squeal of tires, we’re off. George is always left at the front door, pissed that he wasn’t able to go, too. The back seat is filled with water bottles and Ziploc bags of treats, and we follow every Yard Sale sign we come across.

We take Laurie’s truck for a reason: we often fill it up! But we don’t buy junk; we’ve found like-new patio furniture, lamps and bookshelves, novels to read on our next beach getaway, jewelry, and even brand-new shoes, still in the box, from a family whose shoe store closed. An example of what I buy, from this Saturday morning’s adventure: a book of Emily Dickinson poetry, an outdoor lamp to install under our patio, a concrete sundial & stand to put in our yard, an unopened 4th of July tablecloth, yards of fabric to make into a table runner for the dining room, and a cookbook.

I used the word “adventure” to describe our Yard Sale Saturday for a reason. It’s more about the fun we have than what we buy. High on Starbucks coffee, we suddenly swerve at random for every sale sign we see, yelling remarks to the signs we pass. “Crappy sign!” we yell at one that is written in pencil and tiny 16-point type. “Good signage!” we yell to the one that is painted on yellow cardboard with balloons attached. “Bastards!” we yell to the signs that lead to nowhere. We’ve discovered that half of the people who have sales never take their signs down afterward, leading us on many a wild goose chase.

These sales also give me the sense of community I’m always searching for in Las Vegas. What other opportunity are we given to walk up to strangers’ houses and be welcomed? And we’ve met some real characters, like the elderly man who was convinced that we needed to buy his fishing poles, and the deaf man who playfully pretended that we hadn’t yet paid him. At one sale, a woman gave us a tour of her oddly-shaped octagonal home after we complimented it. She explained that her roommate had passed away, and she gave us some of his potted plants, glad to give them to someone who cared. At another sale a group of kids sold Rice Krispie treats and a smiling chubby boy handed them to us with his sticky bare hands. Another time we went inside an Air Force pilot’s house to see a table he had for sale, and we stood in his kitchen for thirty minutes - his wife with a baby on her hip - and talked about his upbringing in rural New Jersey after I commented on a framed aerial photo of his childhood home.

Sure, my inner snob sometimes kicks in at these sales. I still can’t bring myself to buy clothes, and I’m often astounded by what people think has value. (Why on earth would I buy someone’s old electric toothbrush???) But you can’t put a price on the fun Laurie and I have, out in the sunshine, talking and laughing, filled with the freedom of a weekend morning. And by the way, if you’re in northwest Vegas on a Saturday morning, you might want to watch out for a little red pickup truck!

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