My mother was obsessed with yard sales. Every Sunday morning we would hop in our van and follow her carefully planned map. We drove from place to place, searching through junk, hunting for treasure. It became a ritual, perhaps the closest we ever came to a family tradition. I loved our collections.
Later, when my parents announced their divorce and were preparing to sell my childhood home, we held a yard sale of our own. It wasn’t the first, but it would be the last. We filled the driveway with things from another lifetime. One by one the pieces were taken away.
A young woman came and bought some of our childhood toys, some sports equipment, a table. She came back an hour later for our sleds, and more.
“You must think I’m so crazy,” she said, picking up our old roller skates. “You just seem like such a wonderful family. I want my future family to be just like this.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her. I didn’t want to tell her. Because for a few moments, I could see what she was seeing in us. I could see how we could have been someone else’s ideal. A father, a mother, a daughter, a son, a driveway full of happy memories. I could see how someone would want to buy that.
When she left, she hugged me and gave me her card. “I’d love to stay in touch!” I smiled and thanked her, but I never called. I knew if we became friends I’d have to break the news to her, and I wasn’t prepared to do that to either of us. I liked the way she saw us. I wanted to preserve that image somehow.
But I think of her sometimes on Sunday mornings. I wonder if she ever had the children she hoped for. I like to think of them sitting around our old table, playing our old games, trudging up snowy hills with our old sleds. I like to think of them stepping into our old happiness, in a way that makes me feel as though some part of it continues on. I like to preserve that image, too.
There is a comfort in objects. There is a reason advertising works. We buy things because we attach hope to them, because they promise to make us better. We love things because they remind us of that hope. We cling to them because they remind us of who we used to be.
I have more than I need. I’ve gotten better about giving things away, but there are still items that sit unused in my basement, that I simply cannot part with. They have no real value, but they are also priceless. They are comforting and safe. They feel like home.
For years we teased my mother about the things she purchased – so many tins and decorative pillows and once, inexplicably, a large wooden fish. All we saw was junk. But now, when I look at those things, I only see my mother. I see our Sunday mornings hunting for treasure. I see the way we found it.
I see the way these objects forever preserve that joy.