The story goes that when I was a little girl of about 4 or 5 I went next door to a neighbor’s house and asked if she would sell me two pieces of bread for a nickel. The woman of the house was worried that we had no food and my mother was mortified. I think I was just practicing my future yard sale skills. Although I would never insult anyone by asking them if they would take a nickel for Grandma’s old serving dish.
When I serve my 20-pound turkey today, it will be on a large white platter I purchased for $1 at a yard sale. My turnips will be in a bowl the color of a harvest moon with sheaves of wheat imprinted on its front that also cost me $1. Tagged for $1.50, I bargained with the owner, which really made me feel like a cheapskate, even though I’m usually not. But yard sales tend to bring out the worst in people.
My holiday wineglasses, a set of eight, are rose-colored goblets that I bought from an old Montauk family many years ago at the exorbitant rate of $10 for the set, the most I’ve probably ever paid for something at a yard sale. I still pull them out on every special occasion, so they were worth it. I probably would have paid $12 for the set, which is what they were selling for, but my bargaining chip kicked in.
I enjoy going to yard sales and used to go more frequently when my mother lived in Montauk. She was the original thrifter and dragged my sister and me when we were young to thrift stores all over the Bronx every weekend. In Montauk on Saturdays, my sister, my mother, and I would set off and make the rounds of those advertised in this paper. But my mother was embarrassing — everything was too expensive for her and she had no problem proclaiming that loudly as my sister and I slinked back to the car, pretending that we weren’t with her.
My sister and I even made the mistake of having a yard sale — once at her house in the harbor area and once at mine out near the Lighthouse. They were both disasters, and a lot of work — a lot of work. At yard sales people don’t expect to pay much, even for really nice things, like the pair of wool gloves in perfect shape that one woman offered me a nickel for. I found that really insulting. I mean, I knew they were itchy, but she didn’t.
And then there was the pine hutch with cupboard doors that my sister was selling for $50 at a driveway sale in the spring. One lady kept asking her if she would take $10 for it, and even stalked her house when the sale was over, peeking in her windows and doing drive-bys as if she was going to swipe it. Hours later, she returned and knocked on the door to offer her the measly $10 again, as if she were doing her a favor and taking it off her hands. By then my sister had decided to keep it and give it to a friend who was furnishing an apartment.
On a really nice fall day last year, I decided to clean out my garage a bit. I say a bit because to really clean out my garage would take months. We’ve raised three children in this house and my husband is a fisherman and you know what type of junk they collect: buckets, nets, fishing reels and poles, squid jigs that I’m sure are going to spring open and attack me, heavy rain gear, and slimy boots that are not allowed in the house.
Things have gotten eaten up in our garage, never to be seen again. Like our chain saw that is somewhere under the Barbie Dream House, which is covered with the Mexican blanket that was given me. Next to them are three metal garden tables that I bought at a yard sale for refinishing that are still not refinished and chipping paint all over my Mexican blanket. There are endless bags of clothes, either outgrown or no longer in style, and all of this is on top of my husband’s go-cart, which we’re trying to get out and fixed by Christmas for our grandson.
But I digress. The day I was cleaning out the garage, three cars pulled up in front of my house, thinking it was a yard sale — on a Wednesday? No one has yard sales during the week. I didn’t say anything and let them look through the junk I had pulled out and ended up making $2.35 and had less stuff to put back in. But I’m telling you, yard sale shoppers can sometimes be vultures, picking over your things and offering measly prices.
Maybe this long holiday weekend will be a good time to attempt to clean the garage and have another yard sale, but I’m sure we’ll all be too full of turkey and stuffing to do much work. Besides, it’s Black Friday, and though I don’t go near the stores, I hear it’s a good weekend for yard sales.
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star.