I summoned my courage and plunged into the shadowy abyss, gingerly picking my route. I knew the washing machine was down there somewhere amidst the rusty bicycles, half-empty cans of petrified paint, and boxes of clothing that I haven’t been able to squeeze into since the Kennedy administration.

I knew things had gotten out of hand when I had to wear a miner’s helmet and carry food and water before I dared venture into my basement. A person can accumulate a lot of “stuff” after living in the same house for several decades.

Balancing a laundry basket of dirty clothes on my hip, I eased open the basement door and flipped the light switch, illuminating the jumbled landscape of assorted detritus mixed with an occasional forgotten treasure.

“If I am not back in 24 hours,’ I called to my husband, “call 911 and send in a search party.”

The attic and closets were in similar condition. There was only one solution: a yard sale. After all, what buyer wouldn’t be thrilled to purchase my matched pair of giant lamps shaped like spark plugs?

I spent weeks sorting, washing, pricing, and packing my “treasures.” My sisters and niece decided to join the yard sale. We decided that Mom’s house in a large subdivision would make a good sales locale. I loaded up my car and on the way to Mom’s house mulled over how best to use my potential profits. Perhaps I would pay off the mortgage or maybe invest it wisely.

We set up in Mom’s yard and waited for the cash to roll in.

After several hours sitting in the hot sun watching cars whiz by, we were still waiting for our first customer. Finally, someone stopped.

I had forgotten that for many dedicated yard sale aficionados, the thrill is not just in the hunt, but in the dickering over prices. A yard sale is a humbling ordeal. It is depressing to find that no one will give you 75 cents for the blouse for which you paid $56 and wore only once.

The customer held up a decorative wooden item and said, “How much do you want for this? There is a piece missing.”

Mom, who had found the item in her basement and had no idea what it was or where it came from, said, “How about $5?”

The potential buyer snapped, “It is marked $4! If that is the way you bargain, I am leaving!”

Eventually, some buyers actually stopped and made purchases. At last I was making some money.

Mom sauntered over and asked, “How is it going?”

“My coffers are swelling rapidly,” I answered.

“That’s a shame,” said Mom. “Sit down in this lawn chair and prop your legs up. I think I have some diuretics with me,” she said as she rummaged through her purse.

“No, Mom, I mean I am making lots of money.”

Mom was a bright woman but was prone to malapropisms, that is, mixing words up with similar sounding words which have very different meanings. For example, she once returned from a visit with an out-of-town relative and told me, “We had a good time. She even took me to a pedophile.”

“She took you to a pedophile?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said, “You know, a place where you get your toenails done.”

On another occasion, I asked her how a recent visit to her eye doctor had turned out and she told me, “Pretty good. I was so afraid that it was guacamole, but it was only Cadillacs.”

“Mom, do you maybe mean glaucoma and cataracts?”

“Yes, isn’t that what I said?”

Back at the yard sale, as I dealt with a flurry of customers, Mom sprawled on an old sofa in the shade of a tree. My niece put her baby in a high chair and fed him lunch until I sold the high chair out from under him. I think I could have gotten a few more bucks for the baby but my niece seemed really fond of the little fella.

A potential buyer began circling the sofa. “Aha,” I thought. “A hot prospect.”

“How much will you take?” asked the customer.

“Seventy-five bucks,” I said. “As you can see, the sale item is warm and comfortable and in good condition, although the cover is a bit wrinkled. It is well-stuffed, but a little lumpy. The legs are not what they used to be and there are a few buttons missing, if you know what I mean,” I said with a wink.

“What about the dimensions?” asked the customer. “Will it fit on the roof of my car?”

“She is about 5 feet, 2 inches and around 130 pounds.”

“That sofa weighs 130 pounds?” the customer asked.

“The sofa? I thought we were talking about Mom. I’d have to have $125 for the sofa, but I will throw in Mom for only $50 more if you will take both. For another $2 I’ll provide the rope to tie her and the sofa to the luggage rack. For 50 cents, I will throw in this pair of earmuffs. Mom is prone to ear infections when she rides in the wind.”

Hey, where are you going, Lady? I was just kidding!”

Three or four customers later, a violent thunderstorm roared through and drenched everything. We tossed everything into Mom’s garage and called it a day.

By the time I paid my sister and Mom for the “treasures” I bought from them and chipped in for my share of the advertising expenses and paid for my take-out lunch, I cleared $7.50. I had to borrow gas money from Mom to get home.

Later when Mom tried to maneuver her car into her garage while dodging all the unsold waterlogged remnants of our venture into big business, she scraped the side wall of the garage. The body shop charged $1200 for the repairs, which put us all seriously in the red.

It wasn’t until several months later that we got everything sorted and back into our own basements.

Can I interest anyone in a collection of slightly mildewed eight-tracks of disco hits for only five bucks?







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