As a youngster, I remember our one-car, cement block garage as being a very special place. It was always cool, and smelled of a mixture of oil, gasoline, rubber and grease. Real boy stuff! My Dad put-up a punching bag in the corner, which I could use even when the car was inside. Best of all, the garage housed “a secret place” – a dried-up cistern, where I could hide the things little boys consider “valuable”: a sling shot, a cap pistol, some comic books and a battered black bag.
But for one week this summer, my garage – the one I now share with my wife, Marty – contained dozens of trinkets, dishes, linens, clothes, frames, furniture and other sorted stuff which used to be in the house in boxes, on beds, beside chairs and bedecking walls. The usual garage items – lawnmower, ladders, basketballs, bicycles, tools and trash bins – were either covered or pushed aside in hope someone wouldn’t try to buy them during our neighborhood’s annual, heavily advertised, block long garage sale!
“They were like vultures attacking a freshly killed carcass.” That’s the way I described the women – and a couple of men, too – who invaded my garage late Thursday afternoon before the sale officially got underway on Friday and Saturday.
I had just pulled into our driveway and was attempting to park the car to one side to make room for the next morning’s customers. But when I raised the garage door, a woman, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, invaded the premises. “We’re not officially open yet,” I announced in an authoritarian voice. She dismissed my command with a wave of her hand and the words, “I just wanna take a quick peek.”
Before I could check the mail and pick-up the evening paper from the front porch, just that quick there were four or five more people in the garage riffling through things. “How much is this?” a lady asked. “Where did you get it?” I replied impatiently. “Out on the driveway,” she answered curtly as she continued canvassing the merchandise. “My wife is not here,” I said defensively. “She hasn’t gotten everything priced yet. You had better come back tomorrow morning!” (Marty had gone to pick up our nine year old granddaughter and her friend for the weekend because the girls loved to help with the yearly sale).
It was as though I was talking to the dog, who, by the way, was going nuts inside the house at the covey of strangers who were invading his territory – and mine. They seemed to sense my weakness and began moving in for the kill. “I’ll take these for two dollars,” a lady said as she stuffed the bills into my hand. “What’s this?” a man asked holding up a ceramic doll-like figurine with holes in its front. “I don’t know,” I said timidly. “Have you got a sack?” another woman asked, “I’ve got five dollars worth of this jewelry!” “My daughter wants all those sheets and towels over there, how much does that come to?” “What’s the price of this popcorn popper?” someone shouted. “Can you come back later? My wife will be home any minute,” I promised plaintively.
I stepped into the house for a reprieve, but our 78-pound terrier-mix hit me in the stomach full force with his front feet as he tried to get into the garage to greet our “guests” with “savage” licking. I pushed him away and re-entered our newly defined “sales department” when it happened. A woman picked up my wife’s cake pan filled with jewelry and asked, “How much is this pan?” I looked at it and saw, much to my satisfaction, a sticker on the side that said, 25 cents. “One quarter!” I said proudly, finally able to give an accurate price quotation. She dumped the bracelets, earrings and necklaces on the table, handed me the coin and left. As she did so, I grabbed a beer from the little fridge buried beneath boxes.
I sipped the cold brew with a sense of relief as though I had just survived some sort of sneak attack, which I had. Then I counted the money I had raked in. It amounted to $36.50! “Wow!” I thought, “won’t my wife be proud of me!” And she was, too, except for the cake pan. It was not for sale! “The pieces of jewelry were 25 cents each, not the pan,” she later explained emphatically.
I avoided the garage as much as I could for the next two days by busying myself with yard work and entertaining our granddaughter and her guest.
The girls, however, didn’t need my attention. They sold lemonade throughout the event and made more than $15. As I cut the grass, I thought about all the people who were heading in and out of our garage. Some folks were so nice. They stopped to talk, complimented our house and yard. Several, in fact, left money for items displayed on the driveway when they discovered we weren’t home later that evening. Curiously, they deposited the money behind a small, cement monk on the front porch.
A few people, however, seemed so intent on getting something for next-to-nothing they were neither friendly nor courteous. Others seemed to really need our junk as their necessities because they were poor. One man, in fact, asked me for a dollar for gasoline. I thought, we all are made in the image of Christ and, in a way, the garage sale represents our view of life. Many approach it with style and grace, while a few seem to brandish awkwardness and animosity. There are those who only seem to see “a bargain,” as if another material object is going to make a big difference in their life. Do you suppose they seek the spiritual side of life as earnestly? Still others, like myself perhaps, shy away from the hustle and bustle, preferring instead a quieter place from which to take it all in.
Incidentally, I bought Marty another cake pan at a real store to replace the one I sold. And I did my “shopping” when the big garage sale finally was over. I chose the ceramic doll-like figurine with holes in its front. I discovered it was a wind chine. It now hangs in a white pine tree next to the garage. Unless it gets damaged by winter winds it should be there next summer when my wife will try to again put it in the garage sale. That’s when I’ll say, “No, let’s keep it! There’s something very special about anything that survives our neighborhood’s annual, heavily advertised, block long garage sale!”