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HUCKABY: Yard sales a good economic indicator

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

If you want to know how the economy is going without checking the Dow Jones Industrial Average, just look around for “yard sale” signs. When times are tough, a lot of folks start digging through their junk in hopes that it will become someone else’s treasure. Times must be tough because there seems to be a yard sale on every corner these days.

I would have one myself if I could A) find time to dig through all the junk in our attic, basement and closets and B) force myself to part with the few items I have that anyone might actually be willing to pay good money for.

My lovely wife Lisa went in with two of her friends and gave it a go a few years ago -- at her friend's house. I don't know how much money she made, if any, but I am pretty sure we still have a lot of Lisa Boisseau's knick-knacks sitting around our house. Lisa Boisseau was the hostess of the joint sale. I don't know if she has any of our stuff sitting around her house or not.

I helped my mama have a yard sale once. It was hard work. She spent a week making labels and putting them on everything from glassware to aprons to 10-year-old clothes. When the big day arrived, we set up tables in the yard and set old furniture and small appliances all around and spread sheets out to put clothes on. She priced some things as low as a dime. Her big ticket item was an electric blanket that she was willing to part with for about five bucks. This was at least 15 years ago, understand, because she has been gone 12 years. Do people even use electric blankets anymore?

Naturally I whined and groused and complained all week and insisted that she was wasting her time. I was certain nobody would want anything that we were going to strew across her front yard. Of course, I was certain the electronic calculator would never replace the slide rule, either.

Nonetheless, we put an ad in the newspaper and stuck up a few obligatory signs on Friday night. My mother made me promise to be at her house bright and early on the Saturday morning of the sale. I am not sure what time I got there, but I distinctly remember stopping at Mamie's Kitchen for a pork tenderloin biscuit and cup of coffee on the way and when I arrived at her house -- at least 30 minutes before the appointed time -- I couldn't find a place to park and her would-be customers were anxiously going through her things as quickly as she could bring them out of the house.

"You have to get to a yard sale early to get the good stuff," a lady explained to me as she held a fake mother-of-pearl framed mirror up to her face, ostensibly, I suppose, to admire the way her pink sponge rollers contrasted with her purple mascara.

Honesty compels me to admit that I didn't understand anything at all about the way these things were supposed to work. Everything had a price tag -- everything. I marked the little stick-on labels and stuck them on myself. But what was on the label and what people wound up giving us for Mama's junk seemed to have no correlation whatsoever. I think haggling over prices was part of the fun for most people.

Another curious thing was that Mama would let some stuff go for practically nothing -- she might take 50 cents for a three dollar item, for instance -- but she was adamant about other prices. If the tag said 15 cents then she was going to get 15 cents for it.

Once the morning rush subsided the traffic was pretty sporadic, but I don't think there was ever a time when there wasn't at least a couple of people poking around through our stuff. Some people actually asked to go inside and see if there were large items they might want to purchase. We declined those offers.

To my utter amazement, we sold almost everything she had on display and at the end of the day a guy in a rusty pick-up truck came by and gave us 10 bucks for everything that was left over. At the end of the day she had accumulated about $225. She told me that she used to work over a stand of looms for a month for that much money.

It makes you think, doesn't it? Christmas is, after all, just around the corner and times certainly are tough. I do happen to check the Dow each day and maybe I need to start putting little stickers on my junk. I don't have an electric blanket but I'm sure I have a fake mother-of-pearl framed mirror around the house somewhere.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.