Most of my friends love yard sales. They tell me of pulling their car over to sift through other people’s junk lying on a sidewalk, front yard, or garage, elated to find that one spatula, book, or mug for a quarter. I even have one friend who would forage in the lane ways, looking for old lamps, living room side tables, or book shelves. I likely don’t need to add that all of these friends are perfectly capable of buying almost anything they want at any price within reason. I, however, can’t stand these sales.

So why did I just have my sixth one last weekend?

I've had them all.

It has taken me four years to begin clearing out my family home yet again. In 2008, I rented a bin that sat outside the front of the house and loaded old furniture such as two full bedroom sets that were in rough shape, a couch, two love seats, three chairs, several beds (yes, plural), two old desks, boxes upon boxes in the crawl space and things that never should have come into the house in the first place. I took five car loads of linen to the SPCA. A friend of mine estimated that I had 300 mugs and glasses spread out on the living room floor before my first sale. I sat at the shredder for weeks to dispose of bank statements, tax returns, old bills, and various documents – some that went back to 1959. Even now my mind goes blank when I try to think of everything that my sister, father, mother, and grandparents owned. Afterwards, I called Big Brothers to pick up a room full of stuff left over from the sale.

I’ve asked several people why I was the one left to look over every last family possession and decide what to do with it. It appears I am the only one who didn’t inherit a hoarding gene, although I do have one uncle that I likely take after. The mere thought of clutter makes my skin crawl.

“Because no one else would have done it, Jenny.” Has been the general response.

At first I felt that I was leaving my family behind each time I got rid of their possessions. I had this feeling that if they came back they’d sure be mad at me for getting rid of their clothes and precious knick-knacks. I’d have to replace them. Eventually, I got over that, when enough time had passed that internally knew that they will never be coming back.

I felt as if stuffed animals and cute ornaments including horses, unicorns, racoons, cats, and dogs were real and would have feelings of abandonment when I ditched them. Even today every sale is draining for me, my life oozing out on the floor around me. I have made a bit of money, but in the end, it likely amounted to maybe $600-700 for all six sales. I get angry, irritated, and wonder why I’m doing this until I realize that this is my process. Let the feelings pass. Acceptance.

There have been good times at my sales. Most people that come are friendly and love to talk. Everyone collects something different – old watches, cameras, classical music, children’s toys from certain periods, tea cups in a particular colour. They’ll haggle over anything and walk away if when they think 50 cents is too much money. I thoroughly enjoyed egging one customer on by up selling him whenever he gave me a price on a lamp.

“$2.50” he’d say.

I’d counter with “$4.00”. Then watch him squish up his face, close his eyes, and whistle lightly through the space between his front teeth while shaking his head as if to say ‘You’re killing me.” I did that three times before giving him the lamp for $2.50.

There are a crew of people that come early every time, arriving in different vehicles, but running into each other as they make their rounds on a Sunday morning. They’re all of different ages, cultures, and gender. One guy sticks a yellow flier through my mail slot the day before the sale just in case I’d let him take a look before everyone else. The group stands around while I set up, asking me if I have certain items that I never do.

Perhaps I’m making up for when I sold something I never should have. It was before the sale, and a man asked if I had any books. My Grandfather had many old books from working as the curator of the Nanaimo Museum. I said, “sure come on inside.” He went through many of books I hadn’t even gone through myself. He ended up taking an old Lord of the Rings collection, the Hobbit that we use to read aloud as a family, and worst of all two first edition Pauline Johnson books bound in leather. I am sick today about those books, and even though he paid me what I agreed to, I wish I never let him in the house. That incident is part of the reason I never touched anymore stuff until this year.

Will I have any more? Ah, probably…


When I was seven years old, my Mum placed a piece of Kleenex and a quarter into the soft satin lining of my white sequined purse.

“It’s always a good idea to have a bit of money and something to blow your nose with,” she said as she helped me snap the gold and crystal clasp shut.

I ran my hand over the clear sequins and the pearl-like beads woven into the shape of a tree with little flowers on each branch. I rarely used this small purse, but tonight was special. My Dad and I were going to The Magic Flute at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre – my first Opera.

“You’re not going too?” I asked Mum.

“No, Mummy has to stay with the baby. She’s too young to go to the Opera.” It reminded me that my new sister Wendy would cry and that would be embarrassing.

Dad and I on March 26, 1967. An Opera buff in the making.

I had already seen a few performances at the theatre, but not Opera – Dad’s favourite. As we took our seats, he pulled out the playbill and read the synopsis to me so I knew what was about to happen. Throughout the performance, he fed me coloured mints we bought in the lobby, the kind that melted in my mouth, likely to distract me enough from kicking my legs into the seat in front. Every so often, he’d whisper in my ear, reminding me of what scene was playing out in front of us. Sometimes I’d ask him to pass me the opera glasses so I could gaze at the lead as if they were under a microscope, watching them bellow out their solo always dressed in long and colourful garb.

Today I still go to the Opera and sit in the same seats that my father had for many years. Last week, I went to a performance of Verdi’s Aida. A large production with up to 75 people on stage at times (I counted). Blue monochrome costumes and the men dressed as slaves with gold lame loin cloths that looked more like quilted pot holders, but nevertheless worked for the scenes. The king dressed in a white caftan and dripping with gold in front. The women in browns, purples, and blues flowing in the light stage breeze. The Arias sweet and heartfelt, the ending tragic and finite. I had never seen Aida, not making it to the performance at BC Place Stadium in 1989, before Vancouver had gone viral. I heard – it seemed back then that everyone living in Vancouver was an extra – that there was a large pyramid towed in on a barge and real elephants parading around the huge arena. This time, instead of live animals, the addition of ballet intertwined with traditional Opera was a nice surprise and worked well, for me anyway. Apparently the production had wanted to bring in Falcons, but animal rights groups forbade them to because the birds were not use to such a large audience in front of them, clapping. Something I certainly agree with.

I had briefly thought of giving up my seats this year, but I’m not ready. I couldn’t imagine not being able to sit in the same theatre gazing at the same stage I had so many times with my Dad. Now, I often close my eyes, feeling safe and secure as the strong voices echo throughout the sharp acoustics of the theatre. Over the years, I have taken many people with me, enjoying a thoroughly entertaining evening each time. I know it’s not for everyone, so I have a few mainstays – my partner Mack, my step mother, and a friend of mine who has give me numerous tickets over the years herself – people that love the opera and that don’t think it’s just a bunch of “fat ladies screeching” as one lovely online reviewer recently noted.

My love for the Opera is what pushed me to ask the executor when Dad died if I could take over Dad’s two opera seats. I was very happy the day they were put into my name. I’ve made it my own experience now, but a small piece of me still loves to hold onto the feeling of warmth and peace of my early childhood.

 

 

 

 

 


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