Garage sales are one of my true loves; not shopping at them, hosting them. I love emptying the garage of old, unloved, underused sports equipment, children’s toys, computers, electronics and the like, and finding them new homes with people who perceive them to be treasures. I don’t see it as a money maker but rather as an opportunity to let someone adopt my junk and meet the neighbours. But that’s me.
I have learned that not everyone approaches the sale of their personal items the same way. To some, a treasure is a treasure forever. When I was a kid, the garage sale wasn’t really the thing; it was the school or church rummage sale that held the junk/treasure relationship.
I remember a fundraiser for the new playground at our public school being the talk of the neighbourhood one spring. The teachers were encouraging all of the kids to go home and look for items to donate to the rummage sale. We would feel good about our donations, knowing that the proceeds would be contributed to build the new playground. Sounded like a win/win to me.
My mother didn’t have a lot of spare time on her hands with three young kids, but she gamely filled a box of less- than-loved garage items to go to the rummage sale. My youngest sister, who was six at the time, took a look inside the box of items to be donated, and with a stricken look on her face, turned to my mother and said “You can’t sell our ducks!”
These were not real ducks. They were wooden cut-out shapes of ducks that you could spear into your garden to make it look as if a family of ducks were walking across your lawn. They had been made by my Ukrainian paternal grandfather – two big, and three little garden ornament ducks to represent our family.
They were quaint, but to be fair, I’m not sure my British mother every caught the country ‘feel’ of these ducks. She just couldn’t see how a family of ducks would ever be on the front lawn of her middle class suburban Mississauga home. She did know, however, that they might sell at a rummage sale, and had decided this would be the fate of the ducks – to be “adopted” as she explained to my sister, by another duck-loving family.
There were a lot of tears about the ducks by my sister that night, and my mother, in one of the few times that I know she lied, told my sister that if she really loved the ducks that much, she would unpack them and put them back in the garage. But, she didn’t.
So jumping to the present for a moment, we decided it was time for a garage sale at our home last week. You know it’s time when you open the car door in the garage and something falls on you. So we organized, we plastered the neighbourhood with neon signs, we hauled and cleaned and artfully displayed our junk and the gods smiled and gave us a sunny Saturday morning, and we were underway.
I was proud of our sons. Not little kids anymore, they worked the crowd on our front lawn with the pride of used car salesmen. My 11-year-old watched with a lot of enthusiasm as the bins of toys he’d stacked away in the garage over the years started to fetch cold, hard cash. With a dollar for this and 50 cents for that, he was amassing a small fortune. It all appeared to be going along really well, when mid-morning a young kid, cruising our garage sale with his father, pulled a toy gun out from deep within one of the bins, turned to his father and said “Hey Dad, check out this cool cap gun!”
And then I saw it; that same look my sister had on her face 40 years ago as she looked into the box and saw the ducks. On her six-year-old face, it had been sad; on my eleven-year-old’s face it was chilling. He desperately looked at me to save his favourite childhood gun – but we’d established the rules; if it was on the lawn, it was up for sale.
The father and son customers continued to add items to their pile of treasures as they walked around the tables, and distracted, I lost sight of my son. After several minutes of shopping, the father was ready to tally up all their items, but missing from the pile of toys he and his son had chosen was the cap gun. Determining that the gun wasn’t in his son’s possession already, nor had my husband sold it to anyone else, I started searching through the bins, thinking it been put back in by one of my many family helpers.
It was then that I realized that also missing from my front lawn was, strangely, my son, the seller. The buyer started to put two and two together just as I did, and said, kindly, perhaps my son had decided he didn’t want to sell the gun after all. He must have been a garage sale veteran – he managed his son’s disappointment and they wandered off down the street, happy with the items they’d bought.
My son never reappeared on the front lawn to help, a little too traumatized to continue his breezy attitude while separating from his childhood treasures. Cold hard cash could never replace the memories garnered by that cap gun.
So it’s only fair that I should tell you the end of the duck story too.
As I said, my mother lied, snuck the ducks into the school rummage sale, and everyone in my family forgot all about the ducks. Several weeks later all three of us little girls were allowed to take our change purses to the sale and shop for a few treasures. My mother was volunteering all day, so we unveiled our purchases at dinner at home that night.
You can imagine my mother’s surprise when my little sister, clearly feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, unpacked her treasures. She had found a set of five wooden ducks on a table at the rummage sale that looked EXACTLY like the ones our grandpa had given us! They could join our ducks on the front lawn of our house!
My mother still laughs about my sister’s innocence, and those ducks making it home.
And my sister? Well, she still has those ducks, 40 years later – in her garage.
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