A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The purge I discussed in ontological detail awhile back? Well, it came to fruition with the Epic Tag Sale.

After an ignominious semi-rain out on Saturday and Sunday, Monday dawned beautifully and full of promise. It took me 2 ½ hours to get everything out and set up, but by nine I was (almost) ready for the first customers who began wandering by. The town I live in has a Memorial Day parade every year. Even though it no longer goes past my house (more’s the pity), I knew there would be some significant traffic through town as people parked and walked to prime viewing real estate.

So this blog is about some of the wonderful people who stopped to buy, or just to look, or just to talk. Or a combination of the three.

Deirdre was my first customer. A tall, soft-spoken woman of about 65 or 70 who speaks with a German accent and walks with a cane, Deirdre came before I was done putting everything out. She meticulously examined every item I put on display, some seemingly insignificant and yet oddly specific. A never-before-opened oral hygiene tool, price still affixed, being sold at a 500% reduction. She bought that – clever shopper. Picture frames. Just a few. Small ones. A basket. She looked at all 10 of the baskets on display and selected one she said was “just the right size.” Deirdre lives across the street, she told me. I had not seen her before, a fact that bothered me more and more as we talked. Why had I not noticed her? Where she lives is a big house divided into apartments, and she has the one in back on the first floor, she explained. When she talked, she looked right into my eyes. She thought about what she wanted to say and often paused for a long time between words. This is a quality I admire. I don’t have it.

Deirdre bought about $6.00 worth of wares and said she would come back. She did. The second time she collected some more, carefully selected items. She looked at a clock radio and asked, “Can I just use this as a radio? You know, for some music around?” I ended up throwing that in for free. “You are my best customer,” I told her. “Repeat business is worth something.”

She returned three times, and on the third visit, she asked about a man’s suede jacket hanging on a ladder in the driveway. Someone had just looked at it a few minutes before and rejected it for a tiny hole the size of a pin head on one sleeve. I told Deirdre I would reduce the price from $10.00 to $7.00. She tried it on. Her face lit up. “It fits perfectly,” she said, grinning.

I knew, because of where she lives, because of how carefully she shopped, that Deirdre is alone, lives on a fixed, very low income, and that she is lonely, smart, a lovely person. Okay, I did not know all that because of where she lives or how she shopped, but I knew it. Each time she walked across the street to me, I greeted her warmly by name. I wanted her to know she was a person to me. That I had seen her. Finally.

After her last purchase, she went home to put it away and returned one more time. She told me she was going to the church thrift shop down the street. I said, “Well thank you for shopping here first!” She explained that she was not going there to shop, but to work. As a volunteer, helping the women sort, sell, organize, display. Deirdre explained, “I see things as they come in and sometimes get some great stuff!”

After 25 years in this town, I have not once stepped into that thrift store. Frugal shopper that I am, this fact speaks volumes. Deirdre shopped at my tag sale because she a. has no car and b. can’t afford to go to Walmart or Macy’s or Sears. Deirdre is in danger of becoming invisible. I don’t want that to happen.

Another lady who touched my heart was a young Latino mother who walked by with her three daughters. She approached my tables in the warmest part of the day. The sun was high and the maples in my front yard made gently moving patterns across her face. As she looked at clothes, her three exquisite children ages 4, 6 and 8, examined the stuffed animals in a big box, the art supplies, the bright red binoculars my son used to take when we’d go on hikes.

The lovely young mother did not speak much. Her children occasionally spoke to her, very softly. I helped the girl with the binoculars figure out which end to look through. Her sister crouched down to look at sheets of stickers in a box mainly filled with markers. She examined a stack of size 6 shorts with care and picked out a pair for $2.00. Her daughters did not beg; they did not fuss; they did not pull on her arm. They smiled up at me, waited patiently, respectfully handled things and put them back where they had been.

Mama examined the contents of her purse. She did calculations. She looked at the price on the binoculars. $5.00. “You can have that for $3.00,” I said, knowing she would not ask. She raised one eyebrow and tucked it into her arm where a pink Yankee’s hat (50¢) and the shorts already were. Her middle daughter had never left the box of like-new stuffed animals. When she saw her mother was wrapping things up, she pulled away from the box with intense will power. As she neared us, her mother looked down at her with the affectionate understanding of all mothers. She took the child’s hand and walked with her back to the box. The little girl pulled out a horse, legs dangling adorably. I chimed in: “All stuffed animals are $2.00.” Mama must have said something, because they came back to me, horse still clutched in the little girl’s hand. I totaled up their merchandise –$7.50 for shorts, hat, binoculars and horse.

Meanwhile, the oldest girl was without a purchase. She was still looking at the stickers. I said, “Can you hand me that box?” She picked up the Rubbermaid bin full of markers and stickers and handed it to me. I put the lid on and handed it back to her. “On the house.” Four black haired beauties walked back down the street, so quiet, so careful, and so satisfied.

A red mini-van pulled up to the curb and started to discharge passengers. A boy around 12, a mom, a dad, and three mentally handicapped adults, two women and a man. I quickly came to realize that they all lived together in the family’s home, which doubled as a supervised living situation for the three residents.

Like machines, the parents started to look through the offerings. Meanwhile, their son homed in on two ten pound weights selling for $5.00. I later found out that he is small for his age, and not 12 at all but 15 and in high school. He clearly has aspirations to bulk up and these barbells are going to be part of that plan.

The three residents look around too. Well, not the man. He stood apart, arms crossed over his chest, a smile fixed to his face. He seemed uninterested in shopping, but wanted to ask me questions. Do I live here? Alone? Do I have kids? Do I have dogs? Do I have cats? Is there a garden? “David always wants to know everything,” the mother explained, as she picked up a ski helmet and asked, “I wonder if we could use this for a bike helmet?”

Meanwhile, she had dispatched her husband to run home for money. As she found  things she wanted – two hand-soap dispensers, a teapot, a framed print – she handed them to me to hold onto. A pile grew on the chair I brought out to sit on but never had a chance to sit on.

One of the disabled adult women had a very hard time articulating. Her speech was tough to understand but she did a wonderful job conveying meaning with her mobile face. She selected some lapis earrings, “For mah maw.” I confirmed: “A gift for your mother?” She nodded, looking directly into my eyes.

The house mother, moving efficiently and with tremendous focus, rifled through the clothes hanging on a line strung across the yard. She plucked out a pair of black and white capris and told the woman who wanted the earrings, “If these don’t fit me, they’re yours. How’s that?”

The smiling gentleman asked, “How long have you lived here?” For the past five minutes, the other woman had been clipping hair clips from a basket into her very short hair. She also kept picking up a reversible hand mirror and looking at herself in it, first on one side, then on the other, magnifying, side. She returned to it again and again.

All of my men’s clothing was sold except for one very nice collared Dean Martin style shirt (I don’t know how else to explain it). The boy, the one who wants to grow, tried it on over his tee shirt. “How do I look?” he asked all of us. The boy paused, awaiting his mother’s brisk approval. It goes on the chair, too.

They continued to shop till dad returned, at which point I bagged up their purchases (two paper shopping bags full), and gave them the total: “$31.00.” Suddenly dad looked at a  wooden jewelry box, the one holding the remnants of the jewelry for sale. “Is this for sale?” I tell him it is, for $1.00. It was pretty beat up. He counted out dimes and quarters for this final purchase, and corrals his troops.

Just before she climbed into the car, the woman drawn to the mirror returned and picked it up off the table. “I will pay for this with my own money.” I held out my hand saying something encouraging. She gave me a dollar. “This,” she said, to be sure I understood, “is my own money.”

There were many more. The woman, visiting a friend for the weekend, whose eyes lit up when she noticed my goddess necklace. “There are more of us goddess worshippers around than you would think,” she confided. The independent but slightly slow young man who bought two men’s shirts, asking first to be sure, “These are for fall or winter, right?” A young girl and her boyfriend who stopped by and bought only three things. Three impractical things. An earth friendly bumper sticker, and two buttons, one of which clearly states that no apologies will be offered for sarcasm.

The people who stopped by my sale moved me and delighted me. Some wanted to share their stories. Others quietly shopped, paid and slipped away. The beds went. The table. At least 30 stuffed animals, released by my daughter at long last. Into other lives to enrich or satisfy or fill a hole or become a gift. And I am the lighter for it.



tag sale

The Purge

25 years’ worth of stuff. No, I under-exaggerate. Over 50 years’ worth of stuff. Because I am still holding on to… way too much. A baby blanket used on newborn me. My first teddy bear, now creaky and rusty jointed and leaking his innards. Loose photos that never made it into an album or a frame. Vintage dresses I used to wear when I waited tables in a dark and smoky bistro in Charlottesville, VA. Old batting gloves that have not fit either of my children in at least ten years. A variety of dust-coated flower vases I don’t use. Why don’t I use them? I use the other 7 vases I have that I actually like. How many napkin rings does a person who does not use napkin rings really need? Why did I keep four small paint smocks in a drawer for 15 years after the last time my children and their playmates fit into them? I am grappling with these and other questions with a lot less angst than you might think.

So I started this whole thing out saying, “I am still holding on to way too much.” Make that “I was holding on to way too much.” Getting rid of my stuff is a kickass metaphor for getting rid of the shit clogging my chakras, the energetic holds on my heart, mind and spirit, the past that interrupts my present and screws with my future. Etc.

Context: A tumultuous year included two moves during which it dawned on me that I might have a bit of a stuff-burden. Now, I may, in fact, have way less in the way of material possessions than many Americans, but what defines “too much” for me might not be what it is for someone else. Clearly, having anything at all to put into a home with more than one room is a lot more than most people in this world possess. But, regardless of any judgment on how much is enough or not enough or too much, for a bunch of reasons, when I moved the first and second times in 2012, I was not in any condition to make purgative decisions when the rest of my life was in such flux/emotional turmoil/confusion as I coped with a series of over-the-top versions of joy/grief/ecstasy/terror/heartbreak/hope/misery.

But a funny thing happened. Due to circumstances within my control (but that’s another story), I lived for 5 months with 98% of my belongings in a storage unit. Nester, homemaker, keeper of stuff that I am, I was living out of 4 boxes and two suitcases. Period.

As the months went on and I lived with this pared down collection of the necessities of life, a lesson of great importance seeped into my underneath consciousness. A lesson I am putting to good use now. If I can be comfortable out of 4 boxes and 2 suitcases, I can release some of the crap collecting cobwebs in that storage unit.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog about just this topic. I was in the midst (and still am) of my purge, and it rang my chimes. (Here’s a link: http://healthybeing.com/environment-is-everything/ ) The items piling up in boxes on the porch look like objects, feel like objects, collect dust like objects, but they represent – they are – energy. A static, clumping, blocking, curdling kind of energy that gets in my way, even when I don’t realize it.

I remember one summer when my son was about 15, I decided to tackle the basement (aka cellar) of my house. It was a dark, dank mess of a place containing a washer, dryer, freezer, furnace… the usual, plus a lot of other, well, mysterious crap. I borrowed a pick-up truck. My son, Win, and I hauled junk for hours, up from the cave into the light. As the truck filled, I’d schlep it up to a nearby town where there was a dump. A for-profit garbage place that had a cave of its own into which I deposited my unwanted stuff.

A very pale young fellow who may never have seen the light of day spent his working hours unloading other people’s unwanted items from their trucks and cars and tossing them into inexplicable piles, according to his own sense of order, inside the cavernous space.

Each time I entered the confines of this sprawling compound of garbage, my truck would be weighed. (They got an empty weight when I first arrived.) At the end of the day, when I went in to pay for the privilege of giving my rejected items (old doors, rusty pumps, decrepit shelving, an ancient crib that was from the previous owner of my house and so on), the woman behind the counter told me the total weight of the day’s many hauls: just over one ton. One TON. Win and I had carried one TON of SHIT out of our basement. How had we ever lived with one unneeded, unwanted TON cluttering up the energy of our home?

I feel the same way now. But this time, the things I’m releasing are perfectly good. They are useable. Meaningful in the world, to someone. But not me. Not any more. I won’t haul it to the dumping ground. I will offer it to the Memorial Day shoppers who cruise tag sales in the New England springtime. I will put prices like 25¢ and $1.00 on decent items. Polished up, washed, shiny and like new, or not so like new, these things will find a place of positive energy in the world. They will feather someone else’s nest. Maybe a young person getting her own apartment. Or a divorced father starting over. It doesn’t matter.

I release you, stuff. I clear my space, feng my shui, open the pores of my environment. Feels damn good.