Garage sale allure hard to resist

Yard sale time is here. I can’t wait to spend the change I’ve been saving all winter to purchase stuff I don’t need and will most likely never use. If you’re like me, you rarely leave a garage sale empty handed.

The thrill of rummaging through junk belonging to strangers is too magnetic to resist. There’s always the possibility of finding a lid for the sugar bowl you lost five years ago, or a matching slipper to replace the one Rover chewed while you were out Christmas shopping.

Sometimes people do find treasures. A lost Renoir might be discovered hiding behind a cheap dime store print or a secret stash of forgotten $50 bills found rolled inside a teapot. But the chances of such good luck are rare. I remember the days when yard sales were unheard of because people never threw, sold, or gave away anything. Regardless of an object’s value, it was stored in the attic or basement or an outdoor shed.

Men were as thrifty as their wives. The backyard was often the resting place for rusty cars, piles of tires, and stacks of used lumber. The fields around the barn were the only places large enough to hold worn out hay balers, toothless rakes, broken mowers, enormous canvas tarps, old wooden seeders, and heaps of coiled barbed wire.

Every farmer had a hoard of iron from bits and pieces of broken machinery. Tradition and economic circumstances dictated frugality in all areas, whether it was the house or the barn. Everything stayed put because you never knew when you might need it, and there was no running to Walmart or Menards for a bit of string or a bag of sixteen penny nails.

Things have certainly changed. Now most of us can’t wait to rid ourselves of our heaving shelves of knick-knacks or closets teeming with outdated clothing. No more trinkets or rag bags for us. Cedar chests are relics of the past as are the lovely crocheted doilies that once graced every end table. Farms with their myriad piles of miscellaneous junk have all but disappeared.

When we’re not hosting a yard sale, we’re often found at the sales of others. We get there early and pick out the best items. We look forward to the weekly treasure hunt not because we need something, but because the thrill of the chase is too strong to resist.

One morning a number of years ago, I came across a box of dishes, and dishes are my weakness. It doesn’t matter if they’re made in Japan, England, or Ireland as long as they’re free of chips, cracks, craze lines, or obvious wear. In all, my dishes were in three boxes of various sizes. I put them in the trunk of my car and continued my yard sale search. A real trouper spends all her coins before returning home. That last quarter must be spent to satisfy the addiction. After all, it could be the one to purchase a priceless Hummel figurine.

When I got home and unpacked my purchase, I was delighted. The dishes were made in Bavaria, a region in Europe known for its fine porcelain. I had found something worthwhile. There were 20 dinner plates and varying amounts of cups, saucers, soup bowls, dessert bowls, and serving pieces. What a find! I searched e-Bay until I had a complete service for 14.

I live alone and never invite anyone to dinner. Why would I collect so many dishes? Was I planning a party? Who would I invite? I don’t know 13 people who would accept my invitation. Even if I invited strangers, where would I put them? As I carefully wrapped the pieces and packed them in sturdy GFS boxes, I wrote short notes and tucked them in explaining my reasons for the purchase.

Some notes said I hoped my daughter, Stephanie, used them. Others said my nieces could divvy them up if my daughter didn’t want them. One note said I bought them because collecting dishes is my hobby. The real reason I wrote on the last card and put it in the bottom of the last box.

“I collect pretty things to leave for the people I love. Although you never had time to get to know me, maybe these dishes or my other collections of classic books and Stiffel lamps and ceramic chickens will give you a peek into my world. I guess I always hoped I could share them with you, but you were busy with your lives and that’s okay.”

When I’m gone, I hope Stephanie will actually look through my stuff instead of just dropping it off at the Goodwill. We never know, do we, what will become of our prized possessions. Either way, I guess it really doesn’t matter.

Do you ever question why you haunt garage sales and never pass by a yard sale without stopping? Do you ever wonder what you’re really searching for? Maybe the answer is as simple as frequenting such sales is a pleasant way to pass a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe that’s all there is to it. I hope so because searching for something intangible will never be found in someone else’s belongings. It’s right there in your own heart, and it’s not for sale at any price.

Editor’s note: Sharon Kennedy of Brimley has earned a graduate degree in creative writing from Northern Michigan University. At 67, she calls herself a humorist and hopes readers connect with her observations on the monotony of daily life and the witty mental gymnastics humans practice to impress each other.