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Essays
Volume 40 Issue 18 • Sept 2-8, 2010
now in our 40th season

Yard Saling

by Robert P.Barsanti

This has been quite a summer for yard saling.  On Thursday, the signs would go up on the telephone poles near the school and the ad would hit the paper.  On Friday, a line of signs would lead you to Equator, or Luff, or Hooper Farm road.  Then, on a spectacular Saturday, a flying column of twenty cars would make the rounds at 7:45, hit the ground running with a cup of coffee, and begin haggling.  It’s not much of a race and there isn’t anything to win.  It’s more of a chaotic parade.

But it’s a pleasant enough way to spend a Saturday morning; cup of coffee, a few sugar donuts, and a collection of old books and treadmills to look at.  Almost everything at yard sales is as regular and mundane as sunshine and sea air: baby clothes and furniture, matchbox cars that haven’t been totally broken, the sagging sofa, the motivational DVD’s, and the smiling golf balls.  I have found treasures over the years, but they are the dumpster diving trophies—a book I was looking for, a lightship basket for my keys, a chair for the desk, and a race car for the boys.  None of my heirs will fight for long over who gets the pleasure of bring the loot to the dump, but they were valuable for what they could do. 

We’re Americans; we are what we buy.  And as we stay in one place and remain on a winning streak long enough, we buy more and more stuff.  The records give way to cassettes, which yield to CD’s and now to the ipod.  We buy the same Eagles record four different ways and may, if left to our own devices, buy the concert DVD.  When we look in the dark closets and the back of the garage, we don’t see stuff.  We see Dad’s old fishing pole, the kayak we were going to use before the kids came, and the serving tray your old roommate gave you as a wedding present; all of them valuable, all of them good props for stories, and all of them cluttering up the garage.  They are not so valuable that we want to put them in the living room and not so useless that we want to put them out on the street.  So we sell them for a few dollars and hope that we can still tell the Dad’s fishing stories without his seagull-feather spinnerbait. 

Every yard sale tells a story.  In most driveways, the story is a pleasant and amusing one: “We have too much stuff, we need to get rid of it, but the junk cost too much for us to just chuck it without at least trying to get some cash out of you.”  Sometimes, the story is a touch darker.  “Grandma passed away last month and we have all of her stuff.”  Or sadder… “the divorce is going through and you can have his blankety blank golf clubs cheap.”

This summer, very few yard sales were comic and most were tragic.  On that Saturday morning, a dream died on the asphalt; the crows and gulls came with coffee and cash and ripped at the cooling flesh.  Dining room sets, bedroom sets, flat screen TV’s, jewelry, and bicycles sat out on the yard as if a storm wave had washed them from their rooms and lives.  At one, a boy stood behind a table with his collection of video games, an XBox, and various controllers.  How many birthdays, how many Christmas mornings, how many special rewards were on the coffee table before him?  His mother asked him to sell, but the boy’s eyes begged us not to buy.  And so we didn’t. 

Women ran these sales.  Wives, sisters, and girlfriends sold the bedframes and the dining room tables as well as the routers, the table saws, and the outboard motors.  Pride was a dish that the men could not eat.  They knew how the story would end, they knew what happened to the dream now, but they couldn’t watch another man pick up, judge, and appraise his tools.  There were presents, there were plans, there were promises, and now there was a cash box.  Christmas morning sold for ten cents on the dollar. 

Hard September has come.  July and August, along with their vast pods of tourists, have passed by.  Now, in the cool of the evening there was nothing left to do but stay open for ten hours a day, seven days a week, stare at the cobblestones, and do the math.  Mortgage and bills are on one side:  cash, checks, and work goes on the other.  For many, the final sum is a listing, a moving van, and better luck somewhere else.  Nantucket is hard place to be poor.  If the only thing you have to eat is your pride, then many would rather go hungry and go elsewhere.  It costs more to live out here than money.

Some will unwrap the sandwich and have a big bite.  They drive through town and wave at the same people, chat in the produce aisle, and remember the names of the best customers.  The tides beat through their sleep and the surf rolls in their ears.  If remaining on their sandy home only requires hard work, yard sales, and pride sandwiches for lunch and dinner, fire up the microwave and pass the paper plates. 

Like scallops and rose hip jam, pride is an island delicacy.  Some of our hot weather billionaires, like Forbes 374, don’t get that.  They see island living as a win or lose proposition.  If you are bringing toys into the garage, you win.  If you are selling them in the driveway, you have lost. 

But you only win or lose moment to moment, season to season, year to year.  No one puts up a leaderboard or awards gold medals for your whole life.  If you win and you still have to live in Newton and smell the Mass Pike, what have you actually won?  No, the island rewards survival.  While fortunes and fame come and go out here, Nantucket only blesses hard-knuckled tenacity. 
We look back, with admiration, at George Pollard.  After his failures, he returned to the island and spent the rest of his life as That Guy.  He was That Guy who lost two ships, That Guy who ate his nephew, and That Guy who was stuck as the night watchman.  The easiest thing for him to do was to quit and leave; he could live in San Francisco, in Chile, or in Fiji.  But he was a Nantucketer and a survivor.  He won. He lost. He stayed.

 

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