The tradition began in the late 1950s and ‘60s. It was a time when mass housing spread out over the barren dunes on Long Island and city folk moved into suburbia. Young married couples no longer lived with the folks and needed to fill those cupboards, closets and garages. Or it was time to get rid of grandma’s salt and pepper collection, grandpa’s vintage bone-carved pipes, or Aunt Kathy’s box of thimbles. Out with the old, in with the new.
The word rummage comes from the French “arrumage” (much classier sounding), meaning to pack with cargo; the usage developed when ship captains sold excess or unclaimed goods on the wharves. That tradition goes back at least to the Romans, who sold their plunder to the highest bidder.
Our own government has regular sales of surplus or unclaimed property. Wherever personal goods are transported, the lost-and-found departments collect huge amounts, which eventually must be disposed of. The U.S. Postal Service has annual sales of undeliverable items. These sales are an “as is,” meaning unopened — a treasure-hunt-type of adventure. I went to one held by the Saugerties Police Dept. some years ago; it was an assortment of luggage, backpacks, bikes and a canoe. I assume some of these items may have been left behind by those visiting our local lockup. Or maybe they were abandoned, picked up at the beach, or at parks. It was a small event with no more than two dozen items. Those attending had a fun time, with the successful bidders who acquired boxes or luggage opening their acquired caches to display the contents to one and all. No great treasures that day; just some old clothes, dirty socks and a baseball glove.
I certainly have accumulated plenty of stuff. I am reminded that one day my children will be sitting around my dining room table discussing all the useless stuff that their mother left them to dispose of.
We have all heard tales of the great finds sold for next to nothing and found to be worth much more. An Andy Warhol sketch bought for $5 sold for millions or Ansel Adams negatives on glass bought for less than $50 sold for $200,000. But this is rare. You’re more likely to end up with a tent and no tent poles, a purchase I recently made (at least I got a refund), or an eight-note piccolo with two dead notes, a dress in your size that ended up being marked wrong, or a deep-sea fishing pole never meant for deep sea.
But the yard sale is great for saving the earth; not stuffing our landfills with our surplus of things. And it’s a quick way to raise a few dollars on a weekend.
The old saying goes, “What is one person’s junk is another’s treasure.”
Dandelion wine update
My homemade dandelion wine was a great success. The wine I made was very good, as sweet wines go; clear pale-yellow with an earthy, flowery taste, the citrus a bit dominating. Most of the wine experts who tried it were kind, although I believe most serious grape-wine drinkers found it too sweet. If I make it again, I might cut back on the sugar. Someone said it was a little like brandy or Pinot Grigio. I’m not a wine drinker so I really can’t say.
Dandelion Wine, a novel written by Ray Bradbury in the ’50s, is a series of short stories that recounts the summer of a young boy in small-town America. He used the wine title as a metaphor for packing all the joy he experienced in a single bottle.
I would like to believe the joy I will have this summer will be summed up with this translucent bottle of wine, brought to my table by those curious yellow noxious weeds which envelop my yard, year after year.
As a note, a seven-year-old granddaughter here for a month from Africa might just add to that touch of joy.
Barbara Buono’s column appears monthly.