Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Joy of Yard Sales

My mother shared many things with me as I was growing up, and amongst them was her love of yard sales. Shopping was a vocation for her, a natural talent. I don't think she could have prevented instinct from turning the car in at every sign that proclaimed a yard sale event.

Yard sales fit perfectly with my mother's idea of interior decorating, the first rule of which seemed to be to cram as many items of furniture and objet d'arts into every available space as was logistically possible. But more than that, yard sales provided the excitement of discovery, the thrill of negotiation and the satisfaction of acquisition.

Those pieces of milk glass, the tiled wall plaques fashioned by some avid craftsman, and even the blue vase that I filled each spring with apple blossoms, all became part of our family's home – none more so than a kitchen table with a bench that she snapped up when I a teen. The bench was covered in a vinyl material in what once may have been a colonial pattern but was now faded, tattered and worn. Together we bought several yards of vinyl in a sunny orange and yellow pattern and reupholstered the bench ourselves. Over the years the bench and chairs broke and were discarded but the table continued to stand in our kitchen. When a niece set up housekeeping on her own, the table was ceded to her. When she replaced it with a new and modern dinette set, the table came to me. When I moved, I gave the table to another family member and so it continued to serve for many years. That yard sale table had become as much a family heirloom as any antique passed down for generations. It became more - it became a memory of days spent with my mother, poring over the discarded items of another family, looking for treasure.

My mother's love of yard sales taught me many things. I learned to look for the value in something that didn't arrive new in the box, to look beyond the worn exterior to find the shine from within. I learned the excitement of the hunt and the pleasure of the find. With a few dollars in our pockets, we were on an exciting adventure, an expedition that would uncover hidden treasures - furniture, books, toys - whose former owners had outgrown their delights.

That is the essence of a yard sale. It holds not just dusty junk brought out of the attic into the bright sunlight once again, it holds memories and stories, that having once been stored away, come out to live anew. Each item will be forever part of those who loved it or who loved a child that played with it. A table that has seen a thousand meals and heard the conversations of a thousand family dinners can also be that which carries the memories of days spent in joyful pursuit of the perfect purchase and a loving memory of one who understood the joy of life.

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