Since I grew up in Africa, one of the American phenomena I have struggled to understand is the Yard Sale. In Nairobi or Lusaka, the thought of selling stuff we were no longer using made no sense; we gave it away to any number of folks around us who needed it and more. We weren’t making some sort of moral choice, really. No one thought of having a yard sale. It wasn’t a part of the cultural lexicon. All these years later, I showed my Americaness (Americanity?) and dragged all kinds of stuff out into the driveway to try and convince someone else they needed it and could have it for a bargain price.
The occasion was nothing more than Ginger and I attempting to dispossess any number of items we have managed to accumulate over the years, from various Sponge Bob paraphernalia to a couple of antiques to bookshelves to kitchen utensils. Since Ginger is away, it fell to my mother-in-law and I to price our treasures and get them ready to sell. Ginger called a couple of times during the day and asked how things were going. When I told her what had sold she asked how I had priced it. In most every case she said, “You’re selling things cheap.” I realized about thirty minutes after we opened shop and the yard sailors began to dock in the driveway that my inclination was still just to give it away. I was trying to get rid of things more than I was trying to sell them.
Needless to say, the end of the day saw us a little less encumbered and not much richer.
When we first moved to Charlestown in 1990, we were newly married with very few possessions and very little money. Rosemary, the woman who helped us find our first apartment, said if you need furniture or things for your house, just drive around on Sunday night and you can find lots of stuff on the curb.
Monday was trash day.
She was right. Over the years we saw some amazing stuff on the sidewalks in our neighborhood. Curbside Stuff Swapping is a regional sport in New England. Here in Marshfield, I often see different pieces of furniture at the end of a driveway with a “Free” sign attached, only to drive by an hour or two later and find them gone. If the Yard Sailors are the ones who pay, perhaps these might be the Yard Pirates. Aaarrgh!
One of the interesting things I have learned – OK, relearned – about myself getting ready for today is, though I’m not necessarily an acquisitional person, I have a hard time letting go of things I have. It’s not so much stuff as status as it is collecting as comfort. Since home is not a geographical location for me, perhaps the trinkets and toys provide a sense of place: I belong here because my stuff’s here. There’s also something about depression that drives people to hang on to things. For all the stuff I did manage to get in the driveway, I didn’t part with any books or CDs, though both herds need to be culled. Certainly, there are a good number of both I want to keep, but, after all these years without hearing it, can I not dump my Hothouse Flowers CD (from 1988) into my computer and let that record go?
Then where do I stop: the Hooters, the Housemartins, the Rainmakers, Del Amitri, Mister Mister? And those are just the late eighties bands. (Yes, I’ve invested a lot in CDs over the years.) When I feel most fragile, it feels like the thread that unravels the whole blanket. I need the things as tangible evidence of the memory that life doesn’t always feel dark. My in-laws are here for a month or so and my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s is slowly worsening. The present tense is no longer reliable for him. Tonight we sat around the table for thirty minutes after we finished eating telling stories from our past about different jobs we’ve had, then we talked about pets, and then we talked about crazy relatives, which is where any conversation with the Brashers always seems to land because they’ve got a collection of kin worthy of Flannery O’Connor.
His past remains trustworthy; it still recognizes him. He can go sailing on the bounding main of memory without fear of getting lost or capsizing in an unexpected storm. Tonight our sails filled with the spirit of our conversation and took him to the places he knows and is known. His eyes sparkled the way only his eyes sparkle and he laughed his big earthquake of a laugh as he traveled across time. When we got back to the present, he sat back down in the recliner and went to sleep.
Somewhere on a ski slope in the spring of ’86, I remember sliding off the chair lift and heading down the slope with some of the kids in my youth group just as Richard Page’s voice began to sing:
Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night
The whole eighties production with walls of guitars and monster drum sounds along with layers of background vocals, coupled with the spectacular spring skiing in Colorado gave me wings as I came down the mountain. And in the dark valleys that have followed, I’ve held on to those words even without the melody: Lord, have mercy.
Some of the folks who navigated our driveway today were paying about as much attention as tourists on a cruise ship. Others were sailing a specific course. A young woman stopped with her father; they were looking for stuff to furnish her college apartment. They bought a book case I stained myself, a small cabinet Ginger fell in love with one summer afternoon, a couple of lamps, and a vase or two that once held flowers I gave my wife. They paid me about forty bucks and sailed off in their pickup to make new stories with our stuff. I wish I’d had presence of mind to ask her if she needed any music.
P. S. — There’s a new recipe.