Garage sales. Some like them, some don’t. Depends whether you’re selling or buying. I dislike them when selling. Sure, it’s fun to get a quarter for the fifty-dollar item you bought five years ago—but I don’t like haggling. Some people love haggling, and I’m happy for them. I’m not a fan. I’m annoyed when someone offers me a nickel for an item priced at a quarter. Seriously? Why give me anything at all, just take the darn thing.
Minor annoyances aside, I enjoy the people who come to garage sales. Some are quiet and reserved, many glance in and leave, some only want to talk and some leave imprints on your heart. I discovered this when participating in our first annual neighborhood garage sale. It was a festive atmosphere, despite the cold, rainy weather.
“Mom! It’s like the Las Vegas strip with everyone walking around the neighborhood!” my daughter breathlessly reported, after casing out the neighborhood. Our cul-de-sac was a non-stop procession of cars, like the way Alaskans drive by moose giving birth in a Lowe’s parking lot.
One female couple came in looking for yellow bowls. What were the chances anyone would have these items? I did. I had three of them, received as wedding gifts years ago, never used. They sat on my cupboards for years, collecting dust.
The morning of the garage sale, I impulsively took them down and slapped a dollar sticker on them. When a woman asked if I had yellow bowls for sale, I stared at her. When I pointed at them, she put a hand on her heart, closed her eyes, and began to cry. We sat silent, until she opened her eyes and told us the story of her mother, who used big yellow bowls to mix cakes. “Time for the yellow bowl!” her mother would say, each time she baked something. It became a family motto, the woman said, like “Winter is Coming.” She’d been looking for old-fashioned yellow mixing bowls since her mother died. I didn’t ask how long she’d been looking.
Instead I said, “How ‘bout all three for a dollar?” Tears came to her eyes. She reached across the table, grasped my hands and squeezed them. “Oh thank you, thank you, you don’t know how much this means to me, you just made my day,” she said between sobs.
I was struck by the intensity of her gratitude. I felt guilty for taking her dollar, but she insisted. We wrapped the three ceramic mixing bowls carefully in plastic bags for her, and she walked away, cradling them to her chest, tears streaming down her face. Her friend put her arm around her, comforting her, as they walked away. Clearly she was grieving her mother. I hoped the yellow bowls helped.
A middle-aged man strolled in and pulled a man’s winter jacket off our rack. He tried it on, then whipped out a five. “I had cancer and lost 60 pounds, so now I fit into these smaller sizes. Got skinny jeans? I can wear ‘em now,” he said, grinning. It was then that I caught the heavy whiff of marijuana. I glanced at my daughter and we exchanged omigosh gawps.
“I’ll take that CB radio and antennae too,” he said. He continued picking up armloads of items, chatting how he beat his cancer. He paid for everything and walked out, leaving what he’d purchased. My daughter caught up to him as he climbed into his truck. “You forgot these,” she said, handing him his purchases.
“Geez, thanks man,” he said, and drove away so slow we thought he’d left a slime trail. He returned a short time later. “Hey man, got a truck mount for this?” he asked, holding up the radio.
“Yeah, it’s at my house, I’ll get it for you,” offered my daughter’s fiancé.
“Geez, thanks man, you rock. I love Eagle River.” They both moseyed off to their respective trucks to get the truck mount, chatting like old friends.
Another couple came in, arguing. They were impervious to us sitting behind the tables. We felt like we were watching TV. “I saw her text on your cell phone,” she snipped at the guy, picking up a picture frame. She set it down and picked up a tea pot.
“It’s just someone I work with,” he said, picking up a cellular shade, inspecting it.
“Her text wasn’t about work, it was about seeing you again,” she said, flipping through jeans on the table.
Her husband froze. They stopped looking at stuff and stood staring at each other.
“Whaddaya want me to say?” he said, hands on hips.
I instinctively reached for popcorn. I startled back to reality with my granddaughter’s eruption of “Dadadadadada!”
They both glanced at the baby in her highchair. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I can have one of these!” the woman burst into tears and stomped out of our garage. He straggled after her. He got in his truck, while she walked down the street. We gazed after them, mouths agape.
The end of the day brought some interesting characters. One buff baseball-capped guy came in, focused on our exercise bar as if he were inspecting military weapons. “Had to get out of my garage, people were driving me nuts,” he said, pacing and inspecting our troops.
A stout, crusty woman puffing a cigarette that she dropped and toe-mashed into our driveway, entered our garage. In a gravelly voice she said, “Bears roam this neighborhood, ya know. I’ve seen ’em.”
Um, yes, we know, this is Alaska. I smiled at her and nodded.
A short elderly woman walked into our garage the last ten minutes, as we were hauling stuff in for the day. “Can you believe all that horrible damage to my rental car?” she said, pointing. We peered at the car parked in front and saw nothing wrong with it.
“Just look at it, all smashed in.” We ambled out for a closer inspection of her 4-door sedan. Nothing wrong with the car. “Someone did a hit-and-run at Fred Meyer,” she said, shaking her head. Her head didn’t stop shaking and I thought maybe she had Parkinson’s or a nervous tic.
“Someone crashed into my car, so it’s being fixed, then the same people crashed into my rental car!”
“That must have been scary,” I said.
“Oh yes, it was horrible,” said the woman, gathering tea pots and other items. “I run a gift shop at the senior center, people love this stuff.” We wrapped her purchases and placed them in a box. She continued with other car accidents she’d survived, her father’s run-in with a llama, and a cousin once removed that drove off a cliff. Some forty-five minutes later she paid for her items, we boxed them and carried the box to her undamaged car.
It didn’t look like a rental, with multiple bumper stickers and filled to the brim with bags of stuff. It looked like a car that was lived in. I wondered if she really lived and worked at a senior center or whether she lived in her car. We thanked her for her purchases. Maybe all she wanted was to have someone listen to her.
Everyone has a story. Humans are social creatures and we crave interaction. People want to be listened to, whether it’s a simple acknowledgment of accomplishment, like the stoned guy who survived cancer—or make up conversation like the elderly woman. Others might want to be overheard for whatever reasons, as the case with the arguing couple. It doesn’t matter—what does matter is that we acknowledge our fellow humans, give them our undivided attention and listen—if only for a few minutes. It makes a difference in their day.
I can’t wait for our garage sale again next year.
I’ll be a better listener.
© Lois Paige Simenson and The Alaska Philosophaster, 2016, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Alaska Philosophaster with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. LIPS