“Just a few more, Lila, and then we’ll go get pancakes!” I looked in my rearview mirror to the smiling face of my little baby, her fuzzy hair curling up above her head in her car seat. She looked out the window and hummed to herself, patting her little hands on the arms of her seat.
We’d been in California a few weeks and I’d gotten my first paycheck. We had very little; a mattress on the floor, a few dressers, a TV tray to use as an end table, and a small chair. I had some books I couldn’t part with, and some dishes and bedding. But really, not much made it away from grad school. That Uhaul was awfully small.
I hit yard sales every weekend looking for inexpensive hand me downs for the house. A hardwood chair here, a small end table there, and a few odds and ends. It was a way to rebuild the house; the heart was already there, it just needed a place to sit.
“This one looks promising! Get ready to get out, honey.” The yard was very large and littered with items, and things were strewn down the driveway towards the backyard and garage. I unbuckled Lila from her seat and we walked through the bright, sun lit grass and over the hot concrete. This was extensive. Not a garage sale at all. The entire house’s contents were strewn about… chairs, dishes, tables, couches, pictures, knick knacks, crystal, china, silver… everything. Lila toddled around looking at the things, sometimes picking things up. She was remarkably good for a year old baby, and seemed to know this was other people’s stuff and kept her precious little hands to herself.
In the middle of the front lawn was a plush rocker. It was wood with an upholstered wingback style and deep seat. I guessed it was likely from the 40’s. I sat in it, and Lila climbed into my lap to nurse, and we rocked.
“Ohhhhhh! You look so good in that chair!” She had long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, and her smiling eyes crinkled at the edges. She was probably in her forties. She continued, “That chair is great, isn’t it? It’s been in the house forever. It’s for sale, you know. Only asking $150!” I smiled, and set Lila down.
“That’s a little more than I’ve got right now.” I gave her a smile and wandered into the back yard. There, I saw a beautiful mahogany dining table covered in crystal and china. It was gorgeous.
“How much for the table?”
“$150” a man answered. He was busy selling some of the dishes.
“It’s beautiful,” I said to no one, and ran my hand along the edge.
“Mama!” Lila tugged at my pant leg. “Mama! Bear! Look!” Lila held up a stuffed teddy bear at me, then held it close to her chest and closed her beautiful brown eyes.
“How much for the bear?” I asked.
“Quarter.” The guy didn’t even look up from his dishes transaction. I put a quarter down next to him and took Lila’s little hand.
“Did you want the chair? It was so perfect for you and your baby.” Smiling Eyes gazed at me and fell into step with us as we walked towards the truck.
“Well, not right now. The price is steep. But I’ll swing by after we finish driving around and have pancakes. If the chair is still here maybe you’ll give me a discount?” She nodded and said, “Ok. I’ll talk to my husband. You girls have fun! I miss having pancakes with my babies. They’re getting too big to hang out with Mommy.” She smiled and waved as we walked down the drive.
We hit several more garage sales, but nothing was there calling our names. Lila cuddled her teddy bear and toddled into Denny’s for her pancakes. In her happy way, she stuffed the pancakes in her mouth, getting syrup everywhere, but remarkably, not on her precious bear.
We headed back towards the large yard sale, and the chair was still there. So was the mahogany table in the back, still covered with crystal and china. Lots of other stuff was gone… the couches, the art, lamps. Smiling Eyes grinned and waved. “You came back! The chair is still here. And didn’t you like the table in the back? It is here, too. How about $125 for each of them? That’s a deal!”
I smiled at her. “That’s a little steep. Can you go lower? I really love that chair, but that’s a little much for our budget. We just moved here and we’re still settling in.”
Smiling Eyes frowned. “No… I don’t think so. See, we have to empty the house, my – ” She cut off and went to help a woman asking about a set of shelves, and in the process nearly knocking over rows of crystal dishes. Lila cuddled her bear and started to dig around in the toy bin. I milled, watching the crowd, and keeping an eye on Lila. The man from earlier, who I guessed was Smiling Eye’s husband, was there, as was Smiling Eyes, and in the mix was a very elderly man, hunched over and moving from object to object. He looked lost.
A man pulled up in a truck and walked almost directly to the rocker. He exclaimed, “Wow! For real? Look at this!” Smiling Eyes came over. So did her husband. The man grabbed the chair and brutally flipped it upside down. “Look at this! This is all real wood! They don’t make chairs like this anymore. See? This is all handmade. No nails! This is a great find!” He moved the chair back and forth and pulled at its parts. At this time, the little old man had made his way over. He said, “That was my wife’s chair. She sat in it every day.” He said it so low, it was almost a whisper. But I heard.
“How much is this?” The man asked. Smiling Eyes answered, “$125. We reduced it.” She gave a wide smile, but her husband looked uncomfortable. The old man was pale.
“Too much,” the man said. “I’ll give you $100. Do you have any other wooden furniture?” Smiling Eyes nodded.
“Great!” said the man. “I’m going to take it apart. See? This chair is too small for today’s people, but I can use it to fix other things. And this green fabric? Ugly. But the woodwork is sound. It’s perfect for parts.” He flipped the chair over and began to dig in his pockets. The old man looked horrified. He looked to the husband, who I guessed was his son. They gazed at each other, speechless. The husband hung his head.
“Excuse me!” I shouted, “If you sell me that chair for $75 and that table for $75, I won’t destroy a thing. I will feed my family off that table, and I will rock my baby in that chair. That’s all the money I have. And I promise you – Those things will live on with my family.”
The husband lifted his head. “Sold.” He said.
Lila toddled over to me, and slipped her sticky little fingers in my palm.
The old man walked over to me as the men began to load the furniture in my truck. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and gave me two solid pats and a squeeze, and slowly ambled back into the house.