Neither my husband nor I had ever put on a yard sale.

A Singer treadle sewing machine

A Singer treadle sewing machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our friends do. Some friends shop at yard sales nearly every weekend. But, we don’t.

This weekend was different.

We were in Hogansville, Georgia, where my parents-in-law lived for more than forty years, disposing of the last of their household goods.

My sister- and brother-in-law had put on a yard sale a few months before to dispose of her sister’s things.

They had brought what was left, already priced, along with extra labels and yard signs, to my parents-in-law’s house.

It was the weekend of Hogansville’s 16th Annual Hummingbird Festival.

The fundraiser for the town has raised enough money to build a walking trail and refurbish an outdoor amphitheater, among other projects.

My parents-in-law’s house sits right on Main Street, between the elementary school where everyone has to park and the downtown street where the festival is held.

Everyone going to the festival had to walk by Ruth and Fox Covin’s house.

Yard sales are a tradition for the festival. When we checked into a hotel in Newnan, the next closest town up the road, and where my husband went to high school, they told us about the yard sales in Hogansville on that weekend.

We had the signs, pricing on the household goods already in place and the traffic.

How could we not?

But, what I thought would be hard, watching people pick over and bargain for forty years’ worth of formerly treasured household goods, turned out to be healing.

Under the press of time, I opened up the kitchen cupboards and drawers.

The small pretty pottery pitcher next to the sink, probably from a craft fair, now full of scrub brushes, went first.

“How much?” “$3 and that includes everything in it.” She smiled and handed over the money.

Another woman picked up the large, dented aluminum bowl that had been used to wash dishes as long as I’d known my mother-in-law and had been used to bathe my two sons in her sink.

“This looks just like the one my grandmother used to use,” she told me. She paid for it and tucked it under her arm and I could see that another generation was going to build memories around that dishpan.

Out on the screened-in porch, I’d laid dishes and linens. Napkins and tablecloths went quickly.

I had almost withdrawn a stained apron from a stack of three. A woman picked up the crisp, blue flowered apron from the top to buy. Then she laid her hand gently on the stained, torn apron below it.

“This was made from a dish towel,” she said.

I remember the fad in the 1970s when a cheap, easy way to make aprons was promoted.

Just sew a colorful sash along the long edge of a dish towel and you had an apron in about 15 minutes. This one even had a matching towel pocket, edged with the sash material.

“I can see her cooking for her family in this apron,” she said softly, seeing the stains rightly as memories of family dinners prepared lovingly by my mother-in-law and served at the kitchen’s formica table for two or on the antique table that had filled the dining room, since reclaimed by a cousin.

We told people that, unlike most yard sales, in which people get rid of the extra, unwanted things they’ve accumulated, this was the closing down of a family home of 45 years’ standing.

They were gentle with us, all offering their condolences on our loss.

Prices were low and almost no one bargained.

I talked with one woman who explained to me how she liked to cut sheets into strips and crochet them into rag rugs. She was imagining how the pretty sheets in one set could be transformed into a rug, but reluctantly decided not to buy because her rheumatoid arthritis keeps her from crocheting now.

I retrieved an old bedspread from a closet, having decided not to try to sell it because it was torn, and gave it to her for bedding for her dogs.

In the end, the most valuable pieces, the dark wood sideboard and living room dresser, were discovered by a man who I invited in, thinking he might not realize that, even though there were no tables in the front yard because of the persistent mist throughout the day, this was a sale.

As it happened, he knew the house.

He had visited my mother-in-law monthly as part of the hospice program, when she could no longer leave the house.

“We are so grateful for your visits,” I told him. “She always cheered up and got more energetic when people came to visit her.”

He demurred. “She wasn’t really reacting by the time I came to visit,” his pain visible and his belief that he wasn’t really helping evident.

But, he was wrong. I saw the difference when people visited. Even when she could no longer speak to us or recognize us, her whole being changed with visitors.

This observation was confirmed by her caregivers when we gave her couch to her daughter, who lived nearby, planning to fill in the space in the living room with chairs from around the house.

“She needs a couch,” they told us.

“She needs a couch?” we asked, incredulous. By this time, she was moved gently from her bed in the bedroom to her recliner in the living room in the morning, and back in the evening.

“Yes, she needs a couch. She gets visitors,” Shirley assured us.

“She gets visitors? Who visits?”

“The minister from her church comes and sings hymns with her. A retired minister around the corner and his wife bring homemade soup.”

“Her sisters-in-law, Lucille and Clara, and best friend, Mildred, stop by. Wanda, her daughter’s friend, comes by at Christmas with a group from the Methodist Church to sing carols.“

“Neighbors and former fellow teachers stop by.  She needs a couch to entertain her visitors.”

We found a nearly-new couch at the antique shop in town.

The couch went to a young family from California who moved into an historic house across the street a year ago.

The hospice worker brought his wife back that night.

She restores and resells antiques.

Not only did she take the nearly perfect old pieces from the dining and living room, she knew how she could restore an old, nearly 10-foot tall secretary, in pieces, in the workshop out back, as well as hand-built boxes and old tools.

When she eyed a book on how to build your own furniture, thinking that would help in some of her planned restoration projects, I threw it in.

The records went to someone who collects old vinyl disks.

The Singer sewing machine, no longer a treadle but still working, went to someone who resells antiques. “Does it have bobbins and thread and scissors in the drawers?” he asked.

“The drawers are full. There is some thread in a box on top. You may have everything that is in it.”

I saw the old Tole-painted floor lamp that used to stand next to my father-in-law’s side of the bed carried out by someone delighted with his purchase.

The white ladder-back Southern front porch rocker went to a young woman.

The television went to someone who was giving it to a friend with cancer who can no longer walk to her living room and needs a tv in the bedroom.

I kept the long two-man handsaw that was older than my father-in-law, grandson of a carpenter.

What is left will go to Habitat for Humanity. Their Restore shops sell old furniture and odds and ends, with the proceeds going, among other things, to help buy land for new houses.

And, all will be gone but the memories.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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