t’s 8 a.m., another sultry summer Saturday in Cambridge.
But the blazing sun’s no problem for the yard sale faithful, eager to scavenge for “fresh stuff.” Most have been at it since 7 a.m. for first crack at the “best stuff.”
On this particular morning I rejoined their ranks, forgoing sleep for the guilty pleasure of foraging through castoffs.
I’ve also been on the flip side, scouring my own overstuffed attic, garage, and closets in hopes of releasing what no longer fits my body or lifestyle for however few dollars.
This time, though, I was trying to find out what drives otherwise normal human beings to succumb to the stuff-centric yard sale ritual.
After checking classified ads, searching street signage, and doing a Facebook “Cambridge Maryland Yardsales” search, fortified with caffeine and adrenaline, I headed out.
At my first stop, two white-haired ladies who’d just parked were already sizing up a handsome glass and wood cabinet. The homeowner, Nancy, called out that her son had displayed model cars he’d crafted inside.
My inner Mom voice immediately begged the question of how much angst was involved in selling such a storehouse of memories.
Between a lull in shoppers, Nancy invited me onto the shaded porch to share her philosophy about letting stuff go. “No,” she said, she wasn’t overly attached to material possessions.
“The older I get, the more I like to keep my life simple, and the less ‘things’ I want,” she told me. “Still, I would never part with this,” she added, holding out a ring on her finger which had belonged to her late sister. “And Gustav is not for sale,” she said, smiling and nodding towards an elegantly slouching bunny sculpture. Originally intended as Easter décor, Gustav is now entrenched permanently on his perch of honor by the front door.
Her daughter, whose clothing was draped across the porch for shoppers to browse, had graduated from Virginia Tech in May and headed to Texas soon for her first job. “It was time for a yard sale. Maybe the last one. What doesn’t go I’ll take to the Salvation Army,” she added. It’s a lot of work getting ready, she admitted, but afterwards its an amazing, cleansing feeling to let it go.
Searching for the next advertised address, my dormant yard sale radar clicked on while passing a fence festooned with purses, backpacks, and a lighthouse adorned afghan blanket. A huge landscape painting and framed photo portrait caught my eye next. Greeted by Geri Ann, I quickly learned the picture’s frame was solid mahogany, given to her by a woman whose home she cleans. The photo had been taken by her sister, who’d not been happy with the result. “A lot of stuff, people just give me,” she said. But hard work also brings things her way. “I just cleaned out an apartment two weeks ago belonging to someone’s mother-in-law, ‘a real packrat,’ and hauled 20 bags away,” she recalled.
A man pulled up in a white pickup truck and zeroed in on a stereo. “My brother gave it to me,” Geri cheerfully told him, “it’s great and it’s loud.”
“How much you want?” the man asked.
“Make me an offer. (No Reply) “8 bucks?”
“5 bucks!” he said.
“6, I gotta feel like I win, OK?” Geri Ann laughed, and the deal was sealed.
I asked about the wooden chest the landscape rested on. “Not for sale,” she firmly replied, explaining that her woodworker dad had crafted it. Disappointed, my eyes alight again on the lighthouse afghan and in an instant, I’m its new owner. Geri Ann asks if I saw the cute lighthouse tealight, but before I can answer, she’d scooped it up. I trudge to my car, $10 lighter yet elated, clutching my precious newfound stuff.
I next found the place I’d been looking for, and more. Two neighbors were holding adjoining yard sales and business was booming.
Neighbor No. 1, Margaret, was munching on a scrapple sandwich, so instead of chatting I checked out her treasures. A “Lucy Ricardo” doll depicting the classic Vitameetavegamin scene still packaged in mint condition seemed to wink at me.
Beside it lay a bevy of Coke memorabilia and garden themed kitchen items. Margaret explained that she’d lived in the house behind us for 52 years collecting stuff, stashing it in her attic but rotating it out to sync her home’s décor with each season. Now a widow, it was too much work to keep doing, so time to let it go. Still, she wasn’t about to take anything less than $30 for Lucy, she insisted with a smile.
Her younger neighbor, Shane, sat beside his mother Sherry at a table next door.
A stream of friends (it seemed) traded jokes and chatted while perusing items I later learned had belonged to Shane’s dad, who had passed away in February. In front of his childhood and current home was now displayed a multitude of “man stuff,” from crab pots to tools, hunting knives to sportsman books and decoys, coupled with law enforcement mugs and a Policeman’s Prayer plaque, reverently echoing a life well lived, and fondly remembered by those left behind.
Out of practice with stamina waning, it felt like time to head home. But yard sale fever never let’s go easily. I drove through town one last time, rewarded with a condo garage sale featuring foil wrapped hot dogs, chips, and ice-cold soda and water for sale. The enterprising couple, Jim and Kim Crowley, were conversing in Spanish with several female shoppers as I arrived, their well-mannered Rottweiler, Kann, lazily taking it all in quietly. The scene exuded an island vibe.
Despite the appearance of downsizing, theirs wasn’t a moving sale. In fact, the couple (and Kann) had recently returned from Costa Rica, where they’d run a hotel, learning some life altering lessons in the process from Costa Rican natives, who made do nicely with far fewer possessions than we do here.
Though their guests felt entitled to ‘necessities’ such as freshly laundered towels daily and endless bottles of water, the Crowleys adapted their own expectations to fit the cycles of nature. During the dry season, for instance, water was rationed, and laundry done as needed. Recyle and reuse became a way of life.
Often a challenging adventure, they’re nevertheless grateful for the experience. “Getting by with fewer material goods, it’s good for the soul,” Kim said, hospitably handing me a bottle of water, free of charge.
Back home again I reflected on my yard sale Saturday. I admired my afghan and lamp, but mostly felt enriched by the stories I’d heard, the lives I’d been allowed to peek into, if ever so briefly.
On Sunday, for some reason, I found the inspiration I’d long lacked to begin bringing the stuff out of my closet and plopping it into bags mentally marked give, sell and keep just a little bit longer.
Yard Sale Confidential: Cambridge edition
t’s 8 a.m., another sultry summer Saturday in Cambridge.