The excitement of the garage sale

Going to garage sales was an exciting part of my childhood. Saturday meant meandering along rural lanes and city blocks, following signs.

We glanced at the local paper for a general sales location for the day, but once we were in the car and on the move, the only navigational information we needed were the signs.

The signs announcing the garage sales were modern art. Some vendors slapped simple paper notices that snapped as they passed: Yard Sale. Address.

We weren’t sure of the dates or times, but assumed that if the paper was still affixed to the sign, it must have been fairly recent.


Other vendors have taken the time to create colorful cardboard signs as big as stop signs. The sometimes oddly spelled but nonetheless quantifiable words “FLEE MARKET” teased treasures we didn’t know we wanted until we read their names:

“Toys! Clothing All Sizes! Tires!”

We needed these things. It didn’t matter what they offered. We were interested.

Some garage sale signs seemed lazy to us, but their simplicity dictated conformity. The red arrow, hewn against strips of tattered billboards, challenged us to follow blindly. As we rode in the direction of the arrowhead (did the wind turn it?), we kept our eyes peeled for the next one…it was kind of a ‘one man treasure hunt’.

“There’s another one!” we would trumpet, proud of our vision. Where were these arrows leading us? Our excitement was palpable. And by the time we got to the arrow maker family’s garage sale, we were ready to take out anything that had a prize.

There was nothing quite like that first glimpse of an open garage or a summer-scorched yard littered with makeshift tables. Once “PARK” engaged, I ejected from the back seat. Mom was a flurry of juggling activity up front; turning off the engine, grabbing her purse, thrashing her legs under the steering wheel.

It wasn’t easy to act nonchalant as I approached the easel/plywood tables and cardboard boxes in front of me. I wanted to run like I was rushing to collect airdrop rations. But I was taught to project nonchalance. We weren’t poor. We just enjoyed sailing.

My eyes saw the loot before I reached the grass. I had learned to scan quickly and find the best plan of attack. Most of the time, things were organized by type: clothes, furniture, books, and toys.

And, finally, stuff. It was what we liked the most.

Do-dads. Bric-a-brac. Household items. Decorations. We wanted to see those things first. Did they have nice photo murals? Kitchen gadgets we would never pay full price for? Jewelery sandwich bags that we would happily untangle?

If there were few people, we relaxed a bit and took the time to inspect things and weigh their value. But if the sale was busy, we would grab and gallop like burrowing squirrels in a blizzard.

Old artificial flowers? Ideal for grandma’s grave. Who hasn’t needed extra cereal bowls? A box of bric-a-brac ripped our arms off and begged us to dig.

Finally, we bought the clothes and the books. But by then our arms were full of slightly scratched figurines and frying pans. We found the cash table at the card table and pulled out our dollars.

Garage sales gave us the opportunity to buy for need rather than want. Coins were tossed instead of pinched, and necessary thrift found excuses to buy used items and give them new life.

At the end of our morning yard sale, we returned home in conversation bubbles that floated with pride around our smiles. What a bargain! Where can we hang this?

And, sometimes: “What is this thing?

Either way, it was a bargain scavenger hunt.

Robin Leach is a freelance writer and columnist. His column, Robin Writes, appears in numerous newspapers in Missouri and Illinois.

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