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Nostalgia March 2018

Musings of an Undefeated Matriarch

Service for Fourteen

By Sharon Kennedy

I remember the days when yard sales were unheard of because people never threw, sold, or gave away anything. Regardless of an object’s value, it was stored in the attic or basement or an outdoor shed.

Yard sale time is here. I can’t wait to spend the change I’ve been saving all winter to purchase stuff I don’t need and will most likely never use. If you’re like me, you rarely leave a garage sale empty handed. The thrill of rummaging through junk belonging to strangers is too magnetic to resist. There’s always the possibility of finding a lid for the sugar bowl we lost five years ago or a matching slipper to replace the one Rover chewed while we slept.

Sometimes people do find treasures. A lost Renoir might be discovered hiding behind a cheap dime store print or a secret stash of forgotten $50 bills found rolled inside a teapot. But the chances of such good luck are rare. I remember the days when yard sales were unheard of because people never threw, sold, or gave away anything. Regardless of an object’s value, it was stored in the attic or basement or an outdoor shed.

Men were as thrifty as their wives. The backyard was often the resting place for rusty cars, piles of tires, and stacks of used lumber. The fields around the barn were the only places large enough to hold worn out hay balers, toothless rakes, broken mowers, enormous canvas tarps, old wooden seeders, and heaps of coiled barbed wire.

Every farmer had a hoard of iron from bits and pieces of broken machinery. Tradition and economic circumstances dictated frugality in all areas, whether it was the house or the barn. Everything stayed put because you never knew when you might need it, and there was no running to Walmart or Menards for a bit of string or a bag of sixteen-penny nails.

But times changed and now when we’re not hosting our own yard sale, we’re often found at the sales of others. We get there early and pick out the best items. We look forward to the weekly treasure hunt not because we need something, but because the thrill of the chase is too strong to resist.

One morning a number of years ago I came across a box of dishes made in Bavaria and dishes are my weakness. After spending my last quarter at another sale, I went home and unpacked my china find. There were 20 dinner plates and varying amounts of cups, saucers, soup bowls, dessert bowls, and serving pieces. I’d hit the jackpot. I searched e-Bay until I had a complete service for 14.

I live alone and never invite anyone to dinner. Why would I collect so many dishes? Was I planning a party? Who would I invite? I don’t know 13 people who would accept my invitation. Even if I invited strangers, my place is small so where would I put guests? As I carefully wrapped the pieces and repacked them in a large, sturdy box, I wrote short notes and tucked them in explaining my reasons for the purchase.

Some notes said I hoped my daughter, Stephanie, used them. Others said my nieces could divvy them up if Stephanie didn’t want them. One note said I bought them because collecting dishes is my hobby. The real reason I wrote on the last card and put it in the bottom of the box.

“I collect pretty things to leave to the people I love. Although you never had time to get to know me, maybe these dishes or my collections of Stiffel lamps and ceramic chickens will give you a peek into my world. I guess I always hoped I could share them with you, but you were busy with your own lives and that’s okay.”

When I’m gone, I hope Stephanie will actually look through my stuff instead of dropping it off at the Goodwill without a second glance. We never know, do we, what will become of our prized possessions. Either way, I guess it really doesn’t matter.

Do we ever question why we love garage and yard sales? Do we ever wonder what it is we’re really searching for? Maybe the answer is as simple as frequenting such sales is a pleasant way to pass a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe that’s all there is to it. I hope so because searching for something intangible will never be found in someone else’s belongings. It’s right there in our own heart, and it’s not for sale at any price.


You know what I mean, don’t you?

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