Yard Sale Time in the Upper Peninsula

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by Sharon M. Kennedy

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 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 you lost five years ago, or a matching slipper to replace the one Rover chewed last December when you were out Christmas shopping.

Milk Strainer

Sometimes people do find treasures. A lost Renoir might be discovered hiding behind a cheap dimestore print. A stash of $50 bills, rolled and secured with a red rubber band, might be found inside a cracked teapot. But the chances of such good luck are rare. When’s the last time you heard of anyone finding an original letter written by Roy Rogers? Or a priceless sketch by Norman Rockwell? Or the draft of a novel by Hemingway written when he was at his Petoskey cottage or fishing the Big Two-Hearted River in the U.P.? Never, that’s when, because such marvelous findings are few and far between.

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 back yard 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.

Who can resist the charms of “The  Hunter”?

But the times have changed. Now most of us can’t wait to rid ourselves of our heaving shelves of knickknacks or closets teeming with outdated clothing. No more trinkets or rag bags for us. Cedar chests are relics of the past as are the lovely crocheted doilies that once graced every end table, the arms of parlor chairs, and Grandma’s Duncan Phyfe dining room table. And farmyards with their myriad piles of miscellaneous junk have all but disappeared.

When we’re not hosting a 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, and dishes are my weakness. It doesn’t matter if they’re made in occupied Japan, England, or Ireland as long as they’re free of chips, cracks, or obvious wear. In all, my dishes were in three boxes of various sizes. I put them in the trunk of my car and continued my yard sale search. A real trooper spends all her coins before returning home. That last quarter must be spent to satisfy the addiction.

When I got home and unpacked my dishes, I was delighted. They were made in Bavaria, a region in Europe known for its fine porcelain. I had found something worthwhile. There were 20 dinner plates and varying amounts of cups, saucers, soup bowls, dessert bowls, and serving pieces. What a find! 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, where would I put them? My place is small. There isn’t room for four people, let alone 14. So I carefully rewrapped the pieces and packed them in sturdy GFS boxes. Three years ago I came to my senses and sold the entire set for what it cost me: $35.00. I never used more than one cup and saucer, and I knew I never would. It was pointless to hoard them any longer. Not only did I sell those beautiful dishes, I also sold three other sets and still have one to go. I’ll probably have a final yard sale before I call it quits.

Do you ever question why we haunt garage sales and never pass by a yard sale without stopping? Do you 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.

Dickens Dishes

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