Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Sharon Wildwind

This is the first time in six days that I have touched the keyboard. My significant other and I spent the past week organizing a garage sale for a woman in her late seventies.

Last Wednesday was a disaster. Whatever we needed to do always demanded that something be done first, and that something inevitably couldn’t be done without the input of a third party, who wasn’t available. The log jam finally broke about four in the afternoon, by which time it was too late in the day and we were too stressed to do anything. A whole day down the tube.

Thursday we started at 9:00 AM bringing stuff from different parts of the house to the staging area in the living room. We were dealing with your typical 1950s three-bedroom, bath-and-a-half, full basement, large yard, and storage shed situation. T and T had lived in that house for over fifty years. T(him) died several years ago, and T(her) has decided to move to smaller quarters.

They were a fascinating couple who had a lot of interests. They raised a child, made art, wrote music, enjoyed camping and traveling, loved the out-of-doors, and gardened. Each activity required stuff: tools, materials, references, places to store everything. Both of them were older teen-agers during World War II, one with a father away in the military until 1949 and the other growing up in occupied Europe. So both of them had an appreciation for having spares and for hanging on to things “that might come in useful one day.”

Not that their house was a mess. It was an extremely clean and tidy house, full of fifties-style furniture, original art work, and a lot of storage space. Emphasis on the full of furniture and lots of storage space. We started Thursday morning at the furtherest back corner of the basement and did a walk-through of the entire basement, followed by a walk-through of the entire ground floor. Everywhere we went there were drawers and cupboards, and closets to open. Every one of them was packed. By Thursday at 6:00 PM we hadn’t brought more than a fraction to the items to the staging area.

We started again at 9:00 AM Friday. The whole day was non-stop sorting, matching, cleaning, pricing, and stacking. We oohed, ahed, squealed with delight over a particularly juicy find, occasionally teared up over a sentimental one, and eventually evolved three piles: garbage it, sell it, and what the heck is that? Every couple of hours, the significant other and I made the grand rounds of basement and house and every time we discovered another darn cupboard tucked away in some obscure corner.

At 1:30 Saturday morning I fell asleep on a black leather couch, surrounded by complete chaos. I started working again three hours later, significant other showed up at 6:00 AM—there wasn’t room for us both to sleep there—and with the help of a whole whack of gracious and generous friends that T and T had known for years, the sale started on time at 8:00 AM Saturday morning.

It was utter chaos until about four in the afternoon, when a Stanley Cup Playoff game started and the crowd thinned considerably. It appears that hockey beats garage sales.

Item we salvaged and sold the most of: fabric. T is an avid seamstress and there were multiple cupboards packed with fabric, all of it clean and pristine. We spent hours unfolding, measuring, labeling, and rolling fabric, then attaching labels with the fiber content, length, width, and price. But it was worth it. The fabric went away almost as fast as we restocked the table.

Item we discarded the most of: plastic bags. We pulled them out of hiding places not by the bag full but by the pound.

Most unexpected item we found: a piece of silver-and-turquoise jewelry that T(him) hand-cast decades ago.

Strangest objects we found? It was a toss-up.

Initially it was two tubes of silicone caulking so old that they had hardened completely. When the cardboard tube was peeled away, the silicone was still the same shape. I looked at my sig other and pondered, “Can you carve that and use it for stamping?” As it turns out, you can. I’m looking forward to experimenting with the rest of it.

The silicon came in second for strangeness to a bottle of high-proof Vodka with amber necklace beads filling the bottom third of the bottle. T’s brother considers drinking amber a spring tonic and a cure for what ails you. I’m wondering if I can salvage amber that has been immersed in alcohol for a couple of decades. If I can, I’m going to make something out of those beads.

After the garage sale ended, it took us fourteen hours on Sunday and nine hours Monday to strip bare every one of those drawers, cupboards and closets. The haul-away-your-stuff truck pulled out of the alley at 1:30 Monday afternoon, and there is a huge pile of garbage bags and recycling bags to be gradually put out for pick-up over the next few weeks. We still have to make some trips to vintage stores, record stores, the fire hall chemical collection point, and the pharmacy for disposing old, no make that vintage, medicines. Vintage become our by-word this weekend.

Through all of this what stood out the most were the friends who came to help. There were a ton of them, all the way from someone who knew neither T, but lent a sunshade anyway, to two of her long-term friends, both about her age, who worked rings around us younger folks all day Saturday. I hope I'm that fortunate in my friends when I get to be T's age.

All in all, we had a great time. Now we’re going to take the next two days off to have a great rest.

Quote for the week
If a friend is in trouble, don't annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it.
~Edgar Watson Howe, (1853 - 1937), American novelist and editor


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

You're a good friend, Sharon. :)

mbd said...

I am going to be pondering that alcohol/bead object all day...was it for preservation? Design? Hmmmm.

Congrats on completing the sale. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Great of you to do it--but it sounds EXHAUSTING, and I'll bet your body is sore, too. (I know mine would be).

It is fun to look through old houses and all the stuff of a couple of lifetimes.

Great post.

Julia Buckley said...

PS--I hope it made lots of money!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Julia, I'm tired and sore and very befuddled today. And we made enough money to pay for the take-junk-away truck to haul off the left-overs, which was our goal.

mdb, the amber was put into the alcohol so that it would leach into the alcohol, which was then drunk as a tonic. Considering the volatility of this stuff, I suspect that the only art project I will be able to use the amber for is something where I encase the bead fragments in resin. Maybe buttons or earrings, though I'm not sure even that won't be flammable. We're talking art meets James Bond here.

Sandra Parshall said...

This is the kind of task that would send me running in the opposite direction, screaming in horror. You are indeed a good friend.

lil Gluckstern said...

You just earned yourself a ton of good karma. What a wonderful friend you, and what energy!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, amber-alcohol tonic? Just: wow.

Anonymous said...

Ink, you can smell it across the room when the bottle is uncapped. And the paint on the far wall starts to peel. :-)