Following the Signs

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My mother will now be telling everyone she knows that I am the worst at bartering at garage sales. She’ll tell extended family and coworkers and people she hasn’t seen in over ten years. If you were to meet her on the street this very day, chances are she would tell you too.

Maybe there’s some truth in that claim. Garage sales are more than just piles of unwanted junk, sometimes they’re collections that catalogue the journey of a life. The garage sale in question happened to be one of those.

There weren’t any busted tvs or stained clothes that had been ripped and sewn back together again. There were tables that had trinkets and keepsakes spread across them. There were old dolls that were worn down with the love that small children gave them. It wasn’t junk on those tables, but the story of someone’s life.

Now, my mother and I were on our way to my niece’s seventh birthday party. We had our presents wrapped and ready to be unwrapped with her weedwacker-like precision, but we decided to follow the signs to this neighborhood garage sale. They were really nice signs, after all, and made us secure in thinking that it might hold some treasures.

The signs did not lie.

We made our pass through, finding a lot of great things that we really didn’t need and which price tags were a bit scary. But I did find a little wooden chair with a padded, upholstered seat that was perfect for my niece Addie’s new desk.

It was listed at five dollars, which I thought was a fair price. My mother, however, is a bit of a miser and holds many great and terrible secrets when it comes to garage sales. It feels wobbly, it looks like it’s been repaired, you should offer less.

My response? It’s only five dollars.

But there in a box, was my greatest kryptonite when it comes to yard sales and secondhand shops. My one and only Achilles heel … books. I’ve been known to buy multiple copies of books I already own, storing them away in the trunk of my car, “just in case”.

So I sifted through the usual finds in yard sale boxes: cookbooks, romance novels, and the normal assortment of well known mystery and suspense novels. I was beginning to feel I was going to come up empty handed, when I found it. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, a book I have always wanted to read but never got around to.

It’s on my short list of small yet exciting occurrences to have happen to me, finding a book to read. It’s sort of like finding that prize at the bottom of a cereal box or catching a foul ball, that rush of excitement that only children regularly obtain. I felt that tingle.

So I went to the woman that was running the sale, the chair and book in hand. The whole time, my mom is insisting that I barter with the woman, so I tell her I’ll handle it, for her not to worry.

The woman smiled at me as I told her I wanted the chair and the book(which was surprisingly only fifty cents), but my offer to her was five dollars even. The woman’s hand was quick to swipe that five dollar bill from my hand, as my mom would later point out. I felt proud about the whole thing, bundling two things as they do on American Pickers.

But my mother laughs about it, even though I pointed out that I, in essence, managed to get a free book(hardback, as well) and a decent chair for five dollars.

She swears that I could have gotten them both for less, and she’s probably right. But in the long run I walked away with more than a chair or a book. I walked away with a part of someone else’s life, and to me that’s worth the five dollars.

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