Janet Sheridan: Garage sale skills
In my early 20s, with a job and readily available spending money for the first time since starting college, I succumbed to my mom’s genes, and became a collector, buying inexpensive items that appealed to me. Marble eggs had an attractive heft in my hand. Antique kitchen gadgets spoke to me of the timeless task of women preparing food for their loved ones; and small, handmade, wooden boxes of intricate detail made me wonder who crafted them and why.
Being a collector soon led me to flea markets, thrift shops, auctions and antique stores: places that smelled musty, had too many items in too small a space and held the promise of treasure.
Then, on a breeze-tossed, sun-sparkled Saturday, I walked across the street to a neighbor’s garage sale. Within minutes, I spotted a white wooden egg standing on sturdy legs and huge chicken feet with a rectangle of wood emerging from a slot across its top. When I experimentally pushed down on the egg, a sign emerged from the slot with a one-word message: “HELP!!” In that moment, my egg collection expanded to include eggs that made me laugh, and my Saturday mornings acquired a new tradition: garage sales.
Two friends and self-proclaimed experts, Shirley and Eileen, mentored me in the fine art of finding bargains at garage sales. Shirley could simultaneously smoke, sip coffee, give me helpful hints, critique Eileen’s driving habits and make a split-second decision about whether or not a sale merited our attendance. “Keep driving, girl,” she’d often say, “Keep driving.”
Eileen had an eye for unusual items, incredible finds and fatal flaws. She expressed disappointment as she pointed out stains, tears, cigarette burns, absent buttons, glue-repaired bric-a-rac and costume jewelry with missing rhinestones. While Shirley and I wondered how a family of two accumulated 13 plastic hospital pitchers or puzzled over the sign, “request more items inside,” Eileen spotted the odd: two sets of false teeth, a stuffed antelope wearing Playboy bunny ears, a velvet painting of Jackie Gleason and a cremation urn with no indication of whether or not it price included ashes.
I soon developed the garage-sale skills my friends deemed essential, except for haggling. They habitually offered sellers half of any asking price. When I tried to do the same, and my offer was rejected, I felt embarrassed; if it was accepted, I felt guilty. Worse, when I fell in love with an overpriced treasure, I’d approach the owner and blurt, “Oh, I have to have this. Will you take less?” No one ever did.
I was hungry after a couple of hours of bargain seeking, but Shirley and Eileen refused to eat until we checked out every garage sale on their list. So to avoid becoming irritable, I carried a banana in my purse. One morning, while they looked through a box labeled “Grandma Gert’s Fine Linens,” I decided to eat my snack. I was enjoying my banana in the backseat of Shirley’s car when an angry, red face appeared in the window and a fist rapped sharply against the glass: “Young lady, what are you doing eating a banana in my clean car?” I froze mid-bite and gazed in horror at somebody’s irate grandfather.
From then on, Shirley and Eileen wouldn’t let me out at the first sale until I told them the make, model, color and condition of the car we were in — even when it was my own.
As autumn gained control over summer, the weather turned surly and garage sales dwindled then disappeared. The excitement of my rookie year ended. But I had a dream that kept me warm through even the darkest days of winter: during the coming garage-sale season, I would enter the big leagues by having a garage sale of my own. But that’s another story.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.
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