I was up and at ’em by 7am the morning of the EastSide Hill Neighborhood Thrift Sale. As a resident of the Eastside Hill and an avid thrifter, I was looking forward to being the first in line for all of the hot deals – or treasures, as my family would say. Each year, members of the Eastside Hill Neighborhood Association spend many hours organizing – this includes advertising, communicating with people who wish to list their sale, and creating a printed and mobile map for shoppers. A decade ago, the sale maps had a dozen or two homes marked; now upwards of 150 homes register each year with other sales that crop up unannounced the day of. This event brings in waves of thrifters who fill the streets with Radio Flyer wagons and strollers.
Any bargainer knows that the early bird gets the worm – or the collectible duck decoys or the rare vinyl records. I couldn’t afford to be slow off the blocks. I put on my most comfortable athleisure garb, slammed a cup of coffee, and loaded my wallet with a reasonable but limited amount of cash. By 8:02am, I was pulling out of my driveway in my rusty Honda, seats down in sweet anticipation.
Any bargainer knows that the early bird gets the worm – or the collectible duck decoys or the rare vinyl records. I couldn’t afford to be slow off the blocks.
I made my way towards a cluster of sales on Fenwick. A few houses in, I noticed a middle-aged woman frantically buzzing up and down her driveway, uncovering tables from the sales the day before. I offered to help, and together we rolled up the door of a car canopy, revealing rows of glass figurines and women’s clothing.
“My mom passed away a few weeks ago,” the woman said, unprompted. “She’d been living with us, so we’re finally clearing out some of her things.”
I apologized for her loss and asked how she was adjusting.
“Well,” she went on. “The other day, my husband asked if I wanted to run to the store with him, and within 30 seconds, I was buckled in and ready to go. … That hasn’t happened in over 20 years.”
I chewed on that for a while, imagining a life in which I had to care full-time for somebody I loved. Not being able to come and go as I pleased. A few minutes later, I was purchasing a plant stand – perhaps one owned by her mother – and wishing the woman well.
Next, I made my way up and down Sherman and Altoona. In a narrow alley between the two, I stumbled upon a sale with three women sitting in the shade of a garage. I listened to the women swap stories of their parents with dementia. To my surprise, all three were smiling. One spoke of her elderly mother thinking that she had been dancing on tables the night before. All three seemed to have found solace in one way or another. After paying, I headed back down the alley – arms full of pots and frames – wondering if I would ever know what it felt to lose a family member slowly to dementia … and if I could handle it with such grace.
For the next few hours, I hit up as many sales as I could, but something had changed. Not only was I looking for great bargains, but I was also in a deep state of contemplation. I wondered about the stories behind the items. Behind the people. An older couple on Hogeboom was selling a “Stranger Things Starter Pack” with a rotary phone and multi-colored Christmas bulbs. A man on Agnes seemed to know everything about mid-century furniture. A few streets away, a family sold mouthwatering homemade tamales. Toothless children peddled lemonade while others begged their parents to shell out money for gently used Nerf guns. Everybody smiled.
By noon, I had thrown in the towel and was pulling into my driveway with an empty wallet and a hatchback packed to the brim. I had filled my quota of home goods and gardening supplies. But the real treasure, the one you can’t find displayed on a wobbly card table and that doesn’t require a monetary transaction, is the connection with neighbors – intentional or unintentional – that happens along the way.