When Kate first moved into my two-room cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains 32 years ago, she came with a rocking chair, a framed print, and a lamp. The rental included dusty, worn furniture from the 50s, so my own belongings didn’t amount to much more. We’ve managed to collect a few things since then. Mostly, wonderful things that bring rich character and hominess to our otherwise bland 1960s house. Treasures from travels and family heirlooms. But honestly, a lot is not even displayed or in use. Just stored. And when we looked around the house at all the things we’d have to pack and store before we could rent the house, a garage sale was clearly in order.
For weeks in the summer, Kate and I tackled closets and cabinets and drawers. We used as our mantra something I’d read in an article on de-cluttering: Do you love it? Do you use it? If not, then lose it. With the carrot of RV life ahead of us, it was easier to let go. Kate, who normally fights with me over every Goodwill run, was amassing impressive stacks of clothes, linens, books, and knickknacks. By mid-August, we’d filled the family room with garage sale booty.
Kate hates garage sales. Having them, anyway. It’s hard enough for her to say goodbye to things, but the idea of strangers rummaging through her personal items, tossing discards aside, offering a pittance for treasured objects… She couldn’t bear it. She promised to help with the sorting and the setup, but when it came to running the sale, it was up to me. So when our longest friends, Claire and Marsha, offered to drive down from Whidbey Island (seven hours including the ferry) and help us, I didn’t even pretend to not need them.
Our friends arrived Thursday before the sale, and the three of us worked all day Friday while Kate was at work. Claire put her graphic artistry skills to work and produced a large stack of eye-catching signs for the neighborhood. Marsha set up tables, hung clothes, and arranged items in attractive displays. I sorted, priced, and stickered everything. Got bills and coins from the bank, and even dug up my old coin changer from my cab-driving days in the 70’s.
On Saturday morning, I was on setup duty before dawn, and just before 8:00, the first customers arrived. Claire and Marsha took turns at the till, and I answered questions and bargained. We kept Kate and her potential misgivings inside, where she rummaged through the last of the closets for additional stock.
Customers came in a steady flow all day. We had to eat and take breaks in shifts, and Kate kept us supplied with ice water. Alone, I would have been overwhelmed and distraught, but Claire and Marsha brought just the right mix of enthusiasm and calm. We all three found ourselves engaging with people in the most enjoyable way.
When I was a teenage cab driver in Ann Arbor, I loved that people would enter the intimate realm of my cab for the length of a ride and share snippets of their lives. (You’d be surprised what people reveal to cab drivers.) Then just as I was drawn into their story, out they would pop, and I’d never see them again. I’d be left ruminating about what really happened to cause that divorce, or why that woman’s children don’t talk to her anymore. It was what first inspired me to write, drafting short stories while parked at the cab stands.
Interacting with garage sale customers reminded me of that. Some people came, bought an item or two, paid and left. But many others lingered and talked. There was the woman looking for baby clothes for the her first grandchild, born to the baby she’d given up for adoption and had just been reunited with. A woman collecting yarn had started knitting to help recover from a stroke, and now she supplied hospital patients with caps and scarfs. The man who was raising his young daughter alone after her mother died. An old woman who remembered me from when she’d worked at True Value. She’d just lost her husband and had moved into the nursing home down the street.
I was touched by people’s stories, and it was so gratifying to see the delight that our cast-off treasures brought to others. A woman who had gone to Holland on a shoestring and hadn’t been able to afford the wooden shoes she’d wanted was thrilled to take home the pairs our kids had bought there. A woman with a walker bought Kate’s dress form for her new daughter-in-law who was a seamstress. Our neighbor bought the Pee Wee Herman doll for her brother who is a comedian in Portland and a huge Pee Wee fan. A teenager gushed over the softness of an alpaca sweater we got in Peru. A woman too young to have ever heard of the Dionne quintuplets was fascinated by the scrapbook Kate’s mom had put together as a child. A young boy talked his grandmother into buying him an entire box of National Geographics from the 50’s. A mother who espoused the benefits of fantasy play raved about the elaborate costumes Kate had sewn for our kids over the years.
By late Sunday afternoon, we were giving most of it away, and that felt good, too. A kindergarten teacher took wicker baskets for her classroom. An old guy on a motorized easy-rider bike hauled away more than we ever thought could be safely carried for the apartment he’d just gotten. And Dan, the newly widowed father, came back with his daughter and hauled all the rest away for us.
When it was over, we were exhausted beyond words, but we showered and dressed and took ourselves out to King Estate Winery to celebrate. We reveled in our success and enjoyed just a bit of the spoils. In spite of my aching back and shoulders, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. With the help of good friends, we’d done it, and we are one step closer to our nomadic dream.