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Bring Out Your Bric-a-Brac
Guest Columnist: Jodi Nisly Hertzler

Editor’s note: Jodi Nisly Hertzler writes occasionally for Another Way. Jodi and her husband have three children and she works part-time as a proofreader for MennoMedia.

When else are you encouraged to essentially paw through someone’s dresser drawers, attics, and medicine cabinets?

I adore yard sales. Everyone likes a bargain, but more than that, I love the oddly social aspect of it—when else are you encouraged to essentially paw through someone’s dresser drawers, attics, and medicine cabinets? And then if you like anything, you can buy it—dirt cheap. It’s a hobby that indulges both my curiosity about people and my thriftiness.

I’ll gladly choose a thrift store or yard sale item over something new—for environmental and fiscal reasons, but also because of my love for the quirky and serendipitous. I know I can walk into any Gap store in any town and find a pair of well-fitting jeans for $50; but to find the perfect skirt in the perfect size hanging from a tree in someone’s yard for a couple bucks? Eureka!

A few weeks ago, I braved the biannual community yard sale of a large, affluent suburb nearby. I have no idea how many years the Belmont sales have been going on, but I still have fond memories of an oversized gray sweater I bought my junior year of high school, which was over 20 years ago. So this is a well-established event.

It’s popular, too. People come from miles around and what is usually a serene, well-maintained neighborhood takes on the appearance of a street fair, minus the balloons and cotton candy. There are no sidewalks, so cars are forced to navigate a gauntlet of parked vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and dogs. Church groups and community organizations set up hot dog and barbeque stands; hopeful children hawk lemonade and homemade cookies.

I have a system for these sales: I arrive between 6:30 and 7:00 (quite late, by some people’s standards), and find a parking place on the fringes of the crowd. I put my money in my pocket (purses are a hassle) and sunglasses on my head, then grab my coffee, sling a huge empty bag over my shoulder, and sally forth. I don’t necessarily expect to find anything remarkable—I’m generally on the hunt for children’s clothes, and this year I was hoping for some camping chairs—but even if I don’t need anything, it’s worth attending purely for the entertainment value.

For anyone who enjoys people-watching, the shoppers are a fascinating mix of every demographic that exists in our area. Conservative Mennonite women in coverings and tennis shoes rub shoulders with burly bikers in black leather; teenage girls in short shorts dig through boxes of books next to well-heeled young mothers chattering in Russian. There are babies everywhere, conveyed in strollers, backpacks, and slings. I unabashedly eavesdrop on the conversations around me: two teachers exclaiming over a selection of juvenile literature; a woman on her cell phone, “I’m walking but I have no idea where I am or where we should meet” (it’s true those roads are a maze); a young mother debating the merits of a painted plant stand for her three-year-old daughter, “it’s so cute, but she’s probably not ready for knick-knacks” (and we ponder: what is the best age to begin acquiring knick-knacks?).

I love to see what people have dug out of their closets and basements, displayed on tables for the world to see and (hopefully) buy. My favorite house this year was the plainest on its block—an unadorned brick ranch circa 1975 with neatly trimmed boxwood hedges. What they were selling: four enormous metal-framed surrealist Salvador Dali posters in lurid, swirling colors proudly propped up against a whole tableful of dusty, faded, handcrafted artificial floral arrangements. The simple exterior of that house was obviously disguising some discordant personalities. I also enjoyed the home that proudly displayed several jewel-toned, besequined prom dresses and a sign advertising “FRESH Kool-Aid!” (Is it even possible for Kool-Aid to go stale?)

There’s more to a yard sale than the simple transfer of belongings from one person to another. Yard sales require a spirit of openness and vulnerability. Sellers are essentially admitting to the world what they’ve cluttered their house with, what they bought that they never used, the clothes that their diet (or lack thereof) has dictated are now too big or small. Buyers are also rather vulnerable, either paying good money for someone’s castoffs or (almost worse) choosing not to buy anything. It’s a fine line to walk; feelings could get hurt. But I’m always impressed by the spirit of goodwill that generally goes along with these events. Except for the occasional tired toddler, I’ve never seen a grumpy person at a yard sale … can you say that about any visit to Wal-Mart you’ve ever made? I think not.


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Posted 5/31/2012 7:00:00 AM

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