A recent hilarious account of yard sales by J.P. Devine in this newspaper brought back a lot of memories — most of them bad. In 1998 my family hosted its first — and last — yard sale at our Mount Vernon home. Son Josh was 16 and daughter Hilary 13 at the time.

Our advertisement in the Kennebec Journal trumpeted “25 years of great stuff.” But it was much more than that. An accumulation of items full of memories and personal history was offered up for sale.

It was a humbling experience. Josh predicted my old tape recorder wouldn’t sell. Sure, it was in pieces.

But that machine recorded, from the TV, Richard Nixon’s 1964 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. With former President Eisenhower on his death bed, that was Nixon’s “Let’s win this one for Ike” speech. And the tape went with the recorder. Alas, no takers.

Imagine standing behind a table with your worldly prizes spread out before you, things you had lovingly cherished and stored for many years, many offered at only a buck apiece, and have someone ask if you’d accept 50 cents.

Imbeciles! Ok, I didn’t say that. But what was wrong with these people? Had they no sense of history?


I spread out six copies of Bill Cohen’s first campaign brochure, used in his initial run for Congress in 1972. On page 5 was a photo of Bill and me on the steps of Bangor’s City Hall.

That was the campaign where I learned the political game as Bill’s driver. At the end of the long, hot, and discouraging day, I still had five of the six copies of that historic brochure left. I had given one away.

I gazed longingly at Hilary’s table, where books and cute cuddly stuffed animals were selling like hot cakes. Even her baked cookies were selling.

Josh’s table was doing well with used sporting goods and games. And Linda seemed to have a lock on the market with her old stuff, from sneakers to cookware. She even offered each child a free book.

Maybe I should have done something like that. No way. Not for nothing were they getting my good stuff.

I learned early in the day that I’m not very good at bargaining. After a couple of hours of very slow sales, I began to wonder what I was going to do with this yard full of stuff if it didn’t sell. And I cut prices quickly.


Shortly after selling an outdoor set of table and four chairs for $25 and leaving it in the yard with a sold sign on it, someone came up and said, “You didn’t sell that whole set for $25 did you? I’d have paid $50.” That sure made me feel better.

It really was odd. Things I was sure would sell — the old church pew, an electric refrigerator in excellent shape, a good color television for $10, a huge LL Bean screen tent in good shape that originally sold for nearly $300 and was offered for only $125, top-of-the-line cross country skis for just $35 — garnered no interest.

Other things I considered junk were scarfed up: old records, computer equipment, boots, even our outdoor grill that I failed to clean after it was last used two years before.

Finally, about midday, I hit the jackpot. A lady from across town took an interest in our old wood cook stove, the one I bought for $250 about 10 years earlier, planning to use it in a camp someday. We already had one in our house.

When her husband returned later and agreed the stove was a beauty, I made the sale — for the same $250 I’d paid for it. Lin praised my excellent investment.

Apparently these sales go better in urban areas. Traffic was meager on our back road in Mount Vernon, although we had customers steadily throughout the day.


Astonishingly, many cruised through the yard, eyeing hundreds of supremely valuable items offered at bargain prices, and walked away empty-handed. By the end of the day, I was begging people to take anything, for free.

Getting ready for this ordeal took a week of sweat in the hot attic, digging in the detritus of a lifetime.

For every load of stuff that went into the sale, another load went to the dump.

That’s the only good thing about a yard sale, I guess. It does clean things out. Although I immediately began filling up that space with more memories.

I told Linda recently that it was time to have another yard sale. It’s been 15 years since the last one. You can guess what she said.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352; or george [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmith maine.com.

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