That summertime ritual, the yard sale, reached its seasonal zenith with the start of the weekend's annual, named-by-committee Lincoln Highway Main Street Across America Buy-Way Yard Sale. Fourteen businesses and homeowners in the village of Ada are participating this year, including me.
It feels awkward and liberating to have your junk, formerly known as treasures, laid out on the front lawn under a pale blue sky. Liberating, because most of this stuff was seeing the light of day for the first time in years, pulled out of drawers and boxes and closets. Awkward, because you get to see these items through other peoples’ eyes. nd it's not a stroll down Comfort Lane.
“What do you want for this?” a blond woman with bangs and big black sunglasses asked, holding up a small clock made of cut glass that used to belong to my late mother-in-law.
“Five dollars,” my husband said.
“Five dollars?! It has a chip in it!” she said. She set the clock down with a little wave of her hand, as if to banish from her sight, and turned toward her SUV.
“Will you take it for two?” I said quickly. She stopped, and pivoted on her high-heeled sandal. Deal.
“You drive a hard bargain, lady!” my husband laughed. She laughed, too.
“I know, I’m terrible!” She smiled. “I don’t need a thing, I just like garage sales."
At 308-310 S. Simon Street, at the big garage sale hosted by Erwin and Catherine Nelson, three-year-old Savanna Myers found something she liked AND needed: a pair of grey suede boots with silver stars on them for two dollars.
“She ruined her winter boots,” sighed her mom, Courtney Myers, 23, of McGuffey.
The Nelsons’ prodigious stash was an eclectic mix of clothing, old farm implements, antique tools, small appliances, toys and bottles. Lots and lots of bottles.
“We’re old, we’ve been collecting things for a long time,” said Catherine, 65. “He got real bad with the bottles.”
Letting go of the bottles has come in stages. “When I first started out, I put too high a price on stuff,” said Erwin. “I discouraged people.” He suggested it was a defense against regret for letting a once-prized piece go. “Now I know you can always find it again if you want to.”
At Zee and Dan Pauff’s garage sale, at 806 S. Gilbert St., Zee said it was hard to put out her daughter’s stuffed animals. “She’s 23, so it’s time to let go,” she said.
Time, too, to let go of past fishing triumphs. Dan was selling a taxidermied fish for $20.
“I caught it in Canada, many moons ago,” he said.
Next door, at the home of Village Administrator Jim Myer and his wife, Jackie, ten people were pouring over boxes of plastic travel mugs, cassettes, old maps and several chairs. “Each year, we say we aren’t going to do this, and each year, we do,” she said, surveying long tables filled with things and memories that stretched from their garage to the curb.
“You think, ‘I’ll keep this for they kids, and when they have kids, they’ll like it.’” She shook her head, arms folded across her chest. “Things like Star Trek figures. Ninja Turtles. Then you find out your kids don’t want it. They say, 'Why’d you keep that stuff?’”
We seem to keep no-longer-useful things because we are waiting for someone to also see value in them and remind us that, yes, we made a good choice back then. Our needs were understandable; our reasoning, sound. When offspring don’t provide that validation, garage sales can.
Heather Collyer, 26, of Marysville, walked away from the Myers’ house with an armload of objects now newly-desired. “I found some old washboards and an old barber’s set,” she said. She held out the set for inspection: a pair of scissors and an antique hair clipper.
“The scissors are useful because I can cut things with them,” she said. She paused as she considered the hair clippers. “This…." she shrugged. "Well, it’s a set!"
At the Nelson’s garage sale, Catherine had told me about feeling a flush of identification with one customer. “There was a girl who came in here and said, ‘YOU HAVE BURLAP BAGS!!’ I got such a kick out of that. It reminded me when we were collectors. I sold her some, and she’s coming back for the rest."
Back home at my garage sale, a thick-set little boy spent five minutes digging through a big plastic bin of Beanie Baby stuffed animals. My mom had collected them, like everyone else in the 1990s, until sanity returned and the Beanie bubble burst. He was looking for a Pug for his grandmother, a Pug owner, and he found one. He held it up high for her, just like Dan Pauff probably did with his prized catch those many moons ago.
The woman squealed with delight. “You just made your Gran so happy!” she said to the boy as she handed me a dollar. The validation was priceless.
This story originally appeared in the Ada Icon.