Garage-sale Triptych

We had a community garage sale on Saturday. It’s an activity that requires more patience and perseverance than attention. Today’s blog is a triptych, if you will, of what came to mind in the inevitable spaces:

  • Too Late Smart
  • Two Kinds of People
  • An Open Letter to His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston

Too Late Smart

Watching the hordes of bargain-seekers at our community garage sale, I have a fleeting regret that I did not leave the (ahem) junk in the basement and, instead, rent a food truck for the morning. Or even an ice-cream bicycle, it being an unseasonably hot day.

I remember reading somewhere that provisioning others to climb the Chilkoot Pass was a more reliable way to make a fortune than making the climb to participate in the Klondike Gold Rush, the gold in prospectors’ pockets being more accessible than the gold in them thar hills. Plus, you got to keep your feet dry.

And so it is, I understand, with many such rushes: They also (or, even, primarily) profit who only provision others.

Too soon old; too late smart.

Two Kinds of People

“Will you take a dollar for it?”

Young, old; male, female; anglophone, francophone; Canadian-born, immigrant; bicycle-riding, Lexus-driving: The particulars of the speaker don’t matter.

Indeed, after a few hours on the hot tarmac, er, asphalt driveway on a muggy Saturday morning, I find that the folks asking this question, so many and so diverse, have all blurred into a featureless amalgam in whom all the apparent distinctions between people, all the standard dichotomies, have faded to nothing. Forget all that stuff by which pollsters parse their data. This classification has nothing to do with demographic data, but there are two kinds of people who go to garage sales, all right.

One kind asks the price and pays the tiny fraction of the article’s worth that you are asking, it being a garage sale. The other kind dickers. Over a dollar. It being a garage sale.

When confronted by bargainers with a like-new household article in their hands, I used to think that I had done something wrong. Asked too much. Been presumptuous. Something, anything, but wrong.

But more experience has led, if not to wisdom, then at least to more experience, and the truth is this: no matter what the price is, some will dicker. Ask for ten, they offer five. Ask for two, they offer one. Ask for one, they offer half of one.

As the management gurus tell us, it’s nothing personal. No, strike that, it’s entirely personal, but it’s entirely about them, not me. There is one immutable truth: It doesn’t matter how much you ask—No, strike that, it doesn’t matter how little you ask—there will always be two kinds of people at garage sales.

An Open Letter to His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston

Dear Dave:

I know you’re busy with affairs of state, so I’ll get right to it. Do you want to buy my punch bowl?

If the answer that’s forming in your mind right now is not a definite “Yes!” then I hope you’ll read on, and let me explain.

Our community had a garage sale yesterday. At our place, one item that occasioned some comment was a complete, vintage punch bowl set that had belonged to my mother.

Complete, vintage punchbowl set in original box
Complete, vintage punchbowl set in original box

About eight years ago, my parents left their 1,700 square foot bungalow with full basement (in both ways a basement can be “full”) to move into a 600 square foot set of rooms in a seniors’ residence. What followed was what has come to be known as the Great Disposition: the transfer of most of their worldly goods from their basement to their children’s basements. I mean, their children’s homes.

Having seen this punch bowl in action at parties over my growing-up years, having stickily slopped punch over my hands any number of times while trying to fill a tiny cup with a ladle clearly too large for that purpose, but that was, after all, Part of the Set, I felt some nostalgic attachment to it. And so it came home with me, ultimately to rest on the highest shelf of my pantry, where it has continued to rest, undisturbed, since that time. After all, as one garage-sale attendee asked of another attendee in my hearing, “Who drinks punch anymore?”

I admit I was torn about how to respond. The first thing that came to mind was, “Not me or my friends, certainly.” But, even though I am not given to the hard sell, I still couldn’t so casually dismiss the complete, vintage punch bowl set that belonged to my mother, even as it sat on a table in my driveway, looking for a new home.

So, instead, I said the next thing that came to mind. (Here I stipulate for the record that this has not always worked out brilliantly.)

“I think the only place they drink punch is at the Governor-General’s receptions,” I said, “and I bet they already have all the punch bowls they need!”

A soft answer turneth away wrath, and we parted without blows. Always a plus.

But then, you know, I got to thinking. Maybe you don’t have all the punch bowls you need. Accidents happen.

Or maybe you’ve been looking for a unique gift for Princess Charlotte and think that a complete, vintage punch bowl set (still in its original box – Did I mention that?) would be just the thing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I mention that it isn’t a Canadian product, but it is called a Jubilee Punch Bowl, and the word “jubilee” always reminds me of Her Majesty. Well, of Her and the freeing of slaves and the forgiving of debts in ancient Israel every 49 or 50 years (apparently scholars disagree on the fine points). But I figure that anything that offers the possibility of a complete re-set, even if only every 49 (or 50) years, is a Good Thing, as Martha would say.

So, I just thought I’d ask.

The price is reasonable, and although the usual terms are FOB My Driveway, I could drop it off at Rideau Hall some morning this week or next if you or the missus will be home.

Just give me a call.

Best regards,

Isabel

PS  You don’t happen to know what the Royal Family does with their extra stuff, do you?

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12 Comments

  1. Jim Robertson

    Will you take $5 for the Vintage Punch Bowl set if the Governor General passes? ☺☺

    I enjoyed your take on yesterday’s traffic jam, er, I mean community garage sale.

  2. One experience with a garage sale made me a dedicated donor to charities. And a person who throws away anything she can’t use…as in neither can anyone else. Not sure how I would dispose of a punch bowl. Your way seems reasonable.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Judith – Yes, charitable donation is usually the better way to go. (This time I felt some obligation since it was a community thing. Next time, I’ll get an ice cream bicycle.) As for the reasonableness of offering my punch bowl to the GG, I hope he has the same view!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Oh, I dunno – a comment in a blog? And although I’m not what you’d call a regular attendee at Rideau Hall receptions, I’m pretty sure their punch bowls are never used for that purpose.

  3. Please add a P.S. to your Open Letter and make that 2. Or 3.
    Carefully preserved punch bowl sets, also stored on top shelf of pantry, but not in original Jubilee box. Could be prettily repackaged. Will also drive it to Ottawa if it will have a Good Home and leave me Guilt Free.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – Consider it added. Fully expecting a call from Dave’s Chief of Staff first thing Monday morning. (And a PS to your note – Guilt-free is not the human condition.)

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – I remember an “I Dream of Jeannie” episode where Jeannie-the-genie got into a bargaining session with someone. He asked for $100, she offered $50. He countered at $85; she countered at $40. “You can’t drop your offer!” he protested. “Why not?” she asked, “You did.”

        1. Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – Oh, yes. And a wardrobe mistress. I just thought it was funny you came up with the same strategy, without the silky harem pants.

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