Those who know me, know of my love for holding yard sales.
I rarely stop at someone else’s sale. I have enough stuff, thank you. But when it comes to having people hand me cash to shlep my junk to their car...pure joy.
I still fondly remember the first sale that I held at my parent’s home in Catonsville, Maryland.
Hayden and I were still young newlyweds, and it was clearly time to clean out my childhood “treasures”. Mom took the occasion to get rid of all of those back of the closet items that were rarely seen and never used. My dad wanted nothing to do with the whole enterprise and thought it was ridiculous.
Like most everything else that my mom did, this “store” was going to be neatly arranged and spotlessly clean. My parent’s two-car garage was the venue and long tables with mom’s white tablecloths were the display counters. Nothing was put out that had not been thoroughly washed, polished, or dry cleaned. The unsightly shelves with grimey-garage stuff were also covered with white table clothes, giving the venue a temple-like vibe.
No tacky signs were to be posted in the neighborhood, so the only notice of the sale was a tiny ad in the Catonsville Times classified section.
The sale was to begin at 8:00 am Saturday morning and of course the eager beavers rang the doorbell at 7:30 am while we were still eating breakfast. That was my dad’s cue to get up, throw down his napkin, and head for his car with a “harumph”.
I have four brief memories from that maiden retail voyage.
The first was my mother’s reaction when she saw that I had placed the parched lower jaw of a deer (with all teeth in place) on her clean white tablecloth. “Get that off the table!” was her immediate reaction.
“But I know it’ll sell…trust me.”
“Off!”, with an accompanying finger point was her response.
I had found the jaw attached to the skeletal remains of an eight-point buck on a walk through the woods with my father-in-law. I mounted the antler rack on an attractive wooden shield, but had no real use for the jawbone. I thought it was unique enough to attract attention, so had put it out in the first place. I had also joyfully predicted my mom’s reaction.
Well, when the first wave of folks started milling around in the garage, I took the opportunity to grab the jaw off of the shelf and place it back on the table. Not one minute later, I heard a guy ask, “What’s this?” My mother and I turned around simultaneously to see a man in his early 20’s holding the jaw aloft for us both to see.
“It’s the jaw of an ass, just like in the Bible”, was my response and before Mom could say a word, the guy asked, “Cool, how much?” I responded with a two dollar price, and he handed me two one-dollar bills. I smiled at Mom as I pocketed the proceeds of the first sale of the day.
The second memory is associated with pain rather than joy. It involves baseball cards.
I did not have a huge collection of cards, but it was unique in several ways. Our sportswriter neighbor Doug Brown of the Baltimore Evening Sun got a free complimentary serial set of cards each year from Topps. They came in a nice set of boxes and while they lacked that distinctive smell of bubble gum, they were an amazing collectible. Doug’s kids were tiny, so he would give me the cards each year.
These full sets were among the collection that took up three shoe boxes packed with cards. One early customer in his late teens rummaged through the boxes and asked me what I wanted for the full collection. As a rookie at the fine art of negotiation, I gave the first number, and he took it immediately. In fact, he accepted it so fast that I have regretted the transaction to this day. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but it was less than $50.
So, we’ve covered joy and sorrow, let’s move on to shame.
Hayden and I were late adopters of Color TV. I had purchased a Panasonic 19” black and white while in college and it had followed us into our first apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. One year later, it became our condo TV in Greenbelt, Maryland. It was there that some of its noteworthy features were added.
A violent thunderstorm one night sent a lightning bolt into a nearby transformer and the power surge fried the on/off switch on the TV. No problem. We plugged it into the outlet that was controlled by a wall switch and that became our on/off device.
Then, our cat “Spooky” thought it would be fun to bite the retractable external antennae, thus rendering it no longer retractable. We had rarely put it down anyway, so its new intractability was not a problem.
Spin the clock forward to the Catonsville yard sale. We had the TV nicely displayed on one of the long table-clothed spaces. Mom had thoroughly cleaned it and I had plugged it into an extension cord connected to one of the two outlets in the garage. The picture was crisp, and I knew it would sell.
About an hour into the sale, an attractive young woman approached me and asked the price of the TV. I gave her a number slightly higher than I thought it was worth, but she immediately agreed and pulled out her cash. While it had a handle attached to the top, it was pretty heavy and a bit ungainly with the antennae in the permanent up position. I told her I’d be glad to carry the TV to her truck.
As I carried it up the driveway, she gushed with excitement over her purchase and told me that it would be a surprise birthday gift for her husband. She said that they didn’t have a lot of money and had been saving for a new black and white TV. When she saw the ad in the paper, she thought maybe they’ll have one for sale.
With what little self esteem I had left, I hoisted the TV into the truck and turned to the young woman. I explained the “unique” features of the set and how we had worked around the problem with the switch and the antennae in our home. While her bubbly excitement was gone, she still seemed OK with her purchase, thanked me, and drove away. I’m still embarrassed about that sale 47 years later.
But let’s end on a humorous note.
You’ll recall my dad’s disdain for the entire concept of our garage sale. Well, early on the next Saturday morning, Dad was over at our next door neighbor’s having a cup of coffee in their kitchen. He looked up on the shelf by the sink and saw a bright shiny porcelain shaving cup with a red antique fire engine displayed on the side. Pointing up at the artifact, he said, “That’s funny Bud, I have a cup just like that at home.”
Without missing a beat, Bud responded, “No you don’t, I bought that at your yard sale last week.”
Mom described the sound that the screen door made when Dad came bellowing in like a freight train.