It’s been several weeks since our small community held its garage sale. There’s something strange about a sale in an out of the way place. Most things are traded from family to family. Few people wander over the river and through the woods to rummage. In life and garage sales, the best things are found when we look past the trailer storage and make it to the other side of the tracks. There is treasure to be found at the end of the railroad, or in this case at the end of the sale table.
She was manhandling my granny’s Currier and Ives dinnerware. I apologized for the condition of the butter dish but she wasn’t eating much butter these days. She instructed me on my pricing strategy and warned that selling them elsewhere would be prudent. This was discussed at length. She looked wistfully away. Her husband was a collector of things, but that was then. He’s been gone for several years.
She was looking for something to replace tools lost in a fire. Not something specific. Maybe she’d know if she saw it. We made our way into the shed so I could sort through stashed troves. Glancing at her, I sensed she was looking for something more specific than “tools.” She looked lost. Curious, I poked around a bit. It was as if the ground opened up and swallowed her whole. She was alone. I pulled her in and she sobbed. She lost everything in the fire: the tools, her husband, their things. She was trying to find something, anything, that resembled herself.
My husband marvels at the way I gather the stories of strangers. There is purpose in looking past the broken facade, and value in holding mis-matched pieces. She and I, we traded something. Like my granny’s dishes, her story might have been fully appreciated elsewhere. Waiting for perfect timing, the perfect connection, might cause us to miss an opportunity. She temporarily unburdened herself when we were interrupted. Meaningful garage sale conversations are ephemeral, and she was gone in a flash. I begged her to keep talking. Only one small town away, she has become elusive like the perfect set of Currier and Ives. As I stare at the chipped butter dish, I know it’s not my job to find the missing pieces or replace what’s broken. My job is and always has been to hold the treasure until its worth is realized.