OP-ED: The joys of Saturday morning yard sales


Once upon a time, I could sleep until noon on weekends. Let the alarms ring, the household noises resonate, the lawn mowers buzz under my window — I was oblivious.

Time — and responsibility — brought a crashing halt to that during the child-rearing years. "I'll go back to sleeping until noon when the kids are gone," I always told myself. And I meant it.

But nobody warned me when I went to my first Saturday morning yard sale more than a decade ago that I would become a card-carrying, hapless, utterly dependent ... addict.

Every Saturday morning, when it's not raining buckets or freezing, I'm up and at 'em. And October is the highest of high seasons for feeding my addiction.

It used to be a solitary venture. My daughters were grown and gone, and my sister had no interest. My saner friends were doing their Saturday errands, and my husband — well, he was a firm holdout until I wheedled and cajoled and tempted him with the prospect of sifting through old books — something he can't resist.

On a recent fall morning, instead of sleeping in, we were at it again. The yard-sale notices were plastered all over, hanging rakishly from trees, taped on poles in hot-colored signs that were hard to miss. Yes, merchandising is alive and well in our town.

And just beyond, yard sales elsewhere beckoned.

On that particular morning, we were grouchy. We'd had some minor skirmishes in the car on our favorite topic: the best way to get from here to there. I wasn't driving, I was archly reminded, so I might just stop directing.

Worse yet, the true early birds had already picked over the wares at yard sale No. 1. We left grumpy and empty-handed.

Yard sale No. 2 was mobbed. We felt as if we were at a sporting event run amok as the crowds surged, and somebody grabbed the tray I'd waited one second too long to grab. Timing is everything at these odd bazaars.

But at our third stop, we hit pay dirt. And I realize that this is, of course, a matter of definition.

Why would a couple decide to bargain on an old Morse code key tapper when we don't even know Morse code, let alone what in the world we'd do with this gizmo? But somehow, it ended up in the trunk of our car.

Then there was the little white dish that had an airline's name stamped on the back. Does anyone besides us remember when airlines actually served food on china dishes? Does anyone care? Obviously, we did.

We were starting to wear down when we came to a little bungalow. There, in cartons on the lawn, were old pages of sheet music, old Life magazines, and stacks of elderly books with charming illustrations and quirky content.

Only a garage-sale junkie would understand the simple joy of rooting through this flotsam and jetsam, not necessarily to buy, but rather just to survey our culture through the lens of yard-sale merchandise.

In the end, we bought our youngest granddaughters miniature books in a children's series about such epic matters as keeping secrets, dealing with the teacher's pet and mystery dolls. The owners threw in the container, a charming pastel box that may cause some dustups between Emily and Carly, who may love the box more than the books.

So what makes these Saturday mornings sifting through other people's excesses so delightful?

Maybe it's the slant of autumn sunshine, filtered through trees starting to dress up in fall colors. Or perhaps the simple pleasure of talking to strangers on a Saturday morning after a week of too much bad news about the economy, terrorists and premature political campaigns.

Whatever it was, a long-married man and woman who can finish each other's sentences, read each other's gestures, and, yes, squabble over trifles, came home feeling that we'd conquered the universe.

We had our Morse code gizmo, a handful of books, a whimsical cookie jar and a sweet lace bureau scarf.

Not very much by absolute standards.

But quite enough on an October morn for a couple in the late autumn of their own lives.

— Sally Friedman is a writer in Moorestown, N.J. She wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.