I criticize my parents for having no sentimental feeling for their possessions, but for once I’m grateful. The yard sale today and the move next Friday will be less traumatic.
Dad has already priced some objects, notably the furniture, but when Leslie and I swing by the night before the sale, she’s concerned about his prices. “They’re too high. We need to price them to sell.” Dad has never been to a yard sale, so Leslie explains that shoppers look for a bargain. “Set the price low enough to convince them to buy something they don’t need. You hook them because they can’t pass up a good deal. But mark it high enough to give the customer room to bargain for a lower price.”
“If we start with a low price, why should we bargain?”
“People never pay the sticker price. They enjoy negotiating.” Leslie points to a desk. “Take this desk. It’s in good condition, and worth thirty dollars—”
“Thirty dollars?” Dad’s eyebrows rise in shock.
“—we can let the customer bargain the price down to twenty-five.”
“Twenty-five?” His eyebrows are in flight. He looks to me for support. “Your grandmother would roll in her grave.”
“Look at it from the customer’s point of view,” Leslie continues. “Would you buy this table for thirty bucks?”
“Why would I buy it? I’m trying to get rid of it.”
Leslie shoots me a look that asks if I want to try and explain the concept.
“Dad, the idea is to sell stuff. You’ve had good use out of the table all these years. It doesn’t owe you anything.” I wonder how much money he expects to make today.
“I remember a jumble sale at church,” Mom speaks up. “Grandma donated a dozen dresses to the ladies’ clothing table. They were out of fashion and she was tired of them. When she came to ladies’ clothing, she looked through the rack of dresses. The church had tagged her dresses at ten cents each. She was so insulted she bought them all back.”
Dad has cleared a space in the garage to sell his lawn and woodworking tools. The boat is gone, already sold to a neighbor’s son. He asks me to help carry the table saw up from the basement. “I don’t want a stranger down there messing with my train setup. I haven’t packed it yet.”
“You’re taking the trains to the apartment?” I’d forgotten his trains.
“I’m not selling them until I decide what can be set up in the apartment.”
When did he last use them? They are the only possessions he can’t part with. Everything else in the house, except what’s needed in the apartment, is for sale. I convince Dad to make a sign pointing to the back door to alert customers that the table saw, and the washer/dryer are for sale. “If someone wants to see them, you go down with them and I’ll watch the garage.”
Leslie looks up from pricing a hammock, still in its original box. “Mom wants a sign for the curtains and drapes. They need to be cleaned so we can’t ask much.”
The sale is scheduled to open at nine, but by half-past eight, dealers hover around the picnic tables examining the vases, lamps, china, and seasonal decorations.
Leslie sets up a patio table with her calculator and a notebook to record sales. “See that woman over there. She’s got her eye on that ugly vase. Why is ugliness a collector’s item?”
“Don’t tell Dad,” I whisper, trying not to move my lips. “He’ll want to reprice everything.”
“I’ll guard the cash box.” Mom plops herself down on a lawn chair beside Leslie.
Dad comes over. “Are we ready to raise the curtain?” He sees Mom. “Leslie, let people know that lawn chair is for sale. Okay, let’s go. I’ll be in the garage.”
The dealers line up to pay for the items they’ve already picked up. In five minutes, they’ll be off to another yard sale. Leslie isn’t happy. “I should have done more research. Three dealers didn’t bother to bargain so you know I priced that stuff too low.”
Mom acts unconcerned. “I’d give them away for nothing.”
There’s a lull with only two women and a man looking over the tables. I prop up the signs about the draperies, the table saw, the washer/dryer, and the tools in the garage.
One woman claps her hands. “Can I see the washer and dryer?” I walk with her around the house to the garage. She tells me her daughter is getting married. “How old is the washer?”
I tell her that Dad has every owner’s manual in a binder with serial numbers and purchase dates. He and the lady go to the basement where I can see them through the basement window. On the way out, they settle on a price. “Let me call my daughter and make sure she wants them.” While she’s on the phone, Dad’s rubs his hands together, proud of his first sale.
“My husband and son-in-law will come by in an hour to move them.”
I return to the front of the house, surprised to find cars parked on both sides of the road. People line up waiting to pay. Mom helps to put the purchases into boxes or bags. She seems agitated by the rush of customers. Leslie handles the breakable objects.
I help a man load four chairs from the dining room set into his truck. My parents will keep only two of the six. The family arrives for the washer and dryer. While the son-in-law is in the basement, he decides to buy the table saw.
A woman stops me to say that she’ll give me thirty dollars for all the books. “You can keep the Reader’s Digests.” I pack the books and carry the cartons to her car. When I return I stack the condensed novels into a box labelled ‘FREE.’ An hour later, the manager of a retirement village takes them. “If nothing else, they’ll fill the bookshelves.”
Dad is gleeful whenever there’s a sale. He’s happier the less he has. Unlike clearing the attic by throwing everything out the window, he now makes money every time something is sold.
I’m depressed watching the familiar objects disappear. Our house is a theatre and one by one the props are removed from the stage. I’m ambivalent when a man takes apart my bed and loads it into his station wagon. For better or worse, the bed represents my childhood and is now stolen away.
Around lunchtime, the crowd thins, and Dad looks worried. Leslie reassures him. “People will be back around one.” He and Mom go inside for lunch.
“We’ll cut prices in half at three. Maybe earlier. That should clear out most of what’s left.”
Leslie counts the change and fills a roll with nickels. She puts an elastic band around the twenty-dollar bills and tucks them under the coin tray. “That’s $540 in twenties right there. I call this a success.” She closes the cash box. “Has Dad sold any of his train collection?”
“He’s keeping it.”
“All of it?” Leslie’s eyes are wide in disbelief.
“For now, yes.”
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