“For Sale” signs go up, realtors’ lockboxes are affixed to doors, and the house down the road is suddenly someone else’s.
Boxes are packed, time is short. Sometimes, adult children come home to help pack up, and eventually, when everything is winnowed into categories like necessary, much loved, and “I’ll part with that,” the date of the garage sale is set.
Last weekend, on a windy spring day, I was at one of those rural garage sales, always willing to at least see what’s up for offer.
Careful yellow price tags on everything, from crockpots to platters to motorcycle leathers to an old, two-handed wood-handled scythe. Laid out on the grass was a whole clearing of shovels — from spade to snow to square-edged garden — with a lawn edger and rake thrown in for contrast. Inside the garage, board games, well played. Extra dishes and glasses, wood chairs, a big aluminum pot of the genus “doesn’t-fit-in-any-regular-cupboard” or “used-once-a-year.” Kitchen extras: why does everyone always have a sandwich cooker or a George Foreman grill in its original box?
In the back corner of the garage, two comfortable chairs to settle into when there were no customers, but the driveway was full of cars, the garage full of people.
I was spotted early.
“Call Dad out, would you? There’s a man here, and he’ll be asking about tools, and I don’t know anything about the tools.”
And out he came, big and square and dour.
There were two long tables of tools, from high-pressure air hoses and tension straps to vises and toolkits. Clean tools, carefully used, carefully stored.
I said it was good-looking gear.
He said, “The good stuff is already gone.” Dismissive.
Not a good start; a handful of words, and already, we’re fencing.
It turned out that close neighbours had descended and had the early pick, items set aside and marked with masking tape “Sold – Craig.” Neighbours who had been there before the sale had even officially started, saying their goodbyes and buying at the same time, as if keeping a bread bowl from a friend’s house kept a bit of that friend, too.
The prices were reasonable, and with my time back and more money in my pocket, there were odd older saws I would have happily have purchased, though I did wind up with a good mobile toolkit for the car.
But body language is often more interesting than drill bits, and it was a study: his wife and daughter were relaxed, but the man with the tools was more intense.
Sometimes, he stood back from the tables with his arms crossed, as if keeping his distance. Other times, he reached out to touch things on the table, moving them, squaring them up, familiar with their heft the way you are with things you’ve used frequently.
Eventually warming up, he started poking things sharply towards me — “That’s a good buy right there.” He was right.
A fact about that kind of sale?
There’s as much written into what people are selling as there is in what they keep. There’s the way they sometimes stand, uncomfortable, as if they feel it’s not only their property that’s all laid out there for you to judge, but themselves as well.
And there’s a whole novel, thousands of words, in the way they are looking at the deconstruction of their lives, even if they actually want to go.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.