Garage Sale. Two words that send a thrill up the spines of bargain hunters, bored but eternally-hopeful women, disgruntled loners, and enthusiastic collectors of everything from old LPs to dolls with no heads. And I should know, because I invented garage sales.
How did you invent Garage Sales, Grandpa?
Grandma, God rest her ballbusting soul, was the one who actually forced me to do something with my junk. I had a whole attic full of garbage from my own grandparents, and from their grandparents before them. After I married your Grandma Beatrice in '47, a couple of years after I got back from the world war - that was the "Big One" kids, not the sandbox pick-up-games the soldiers play today - we took over my parents home. They'd both passed when I was overseas, God rest their souls, and the attic and garage of their home was overflowing with junk. I'd bought a new car with money from the GI-bill, but had to keep it parked on the driveway because their was no room in the garage. And your grandmother was causing quite a dust-up about needing space for her sewing supplies. We didn't know what to do. That's when I came up with the idea.
"Honey," I said to your grams, "let's take all of that stuff from the attic and the garage and put it in the driveway next Saturday. Then in the meantime, we'll put an ad in the paper, paint some signs, and spread them around the neighborhood. When Saturday rolls around we'll sell the things for a dime or two apiece, just to get them out of here." "What in heaven's name?" she said. "It'll save hauling everything to the junkyard," I explained, "and we might collect a few dollars to boot. Afterwards I'll take you down to Ray's Diner and then we'll go over to the picture show. What about it?" Grandma agreed, and suggested calling it a 'Garage Sale' because some of the things wouldn't even have to be moved from the garage, we could just slap a price on them and keep the door open.
So that's what we did. I put an ad in the Journal, taped some signs up on the lamp posts, and paid three neighbor boys to help me move the junk from the attic. I paid one of them 25 cents, one of them a bag of candy we'd bought for Halloween, and the other one got a box of letter writing paper which, I found out later, turned out to be Mark Twain's original manuscript of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
The Big Day Arrives
Saturday morning, October 11, 1947, found your grandma and I finishing the tagging and dusting of the junk we'd spread out all over the driveway and into the garage. We'd told everyone that the sale started at 9 a.m., but by 8:30 people were standing on the walk, so we let them in early. Gram had made some apple cider, chocolate-chip cookies, and a blueberry pie, and we put those on a little table with forks and napkins and a "Please help yourself" sign. The first few people to come gravitated right to the cookies and pie. Gram was known far and wide for her fine cooking.
Then our guests, most of them with a cookie or piece of pie on their napkin, began to walk around and look at the things. Some of them were hesitant--remember, this was the first time that this kind of sale had ever taken place--and we all had to feel our way into it and actually had to make up rules on the spot. The first thing that surprised me was that people wanted to bargain. "You've got 25 cents on this Chet," they'd call me Chet instead of Chester, or Grandpa, like you kids do, "Would you take 20?". I didn't know what to say, but Grandma got right into the swing of things. "We'll take your 20 cents," she'd say, "would you like a bag?" And before long it seemed like this was the most natural thing in the world to do, having a garage sale. People came and went, and most of them bought an item or two. Every half hour or so we'd move things around to fill up the empty spaces, and clear some more junk out of the garage and put into the driveway. It went on like that until noon, then we took a few minutes to eat some sandwiches. We then sat there again until most of the things were sold.
Both your gram and I had had enough by about 2 that afternoon, so we packed up the few items remaining and went inside. Then later, true to my word, we went out to dinner and saw a movie, Miss Maureen O'Hara in Miracle on 34th Street. That sure was a long day, and your gram and I went to bed and slept like two cats with full stomachs of warm milk.
Kids, you know your grandma took some snapshots of our sale, would you like to see them? Yes? Ok, give me a minute and I'll get the photo album.
Photos from Chet's garage sale
Alright, the old family photo album. Let's see, here are some pictures of your gram and me and a dog we used to own. The vacation to New Zealand, that was a hoot. Some of my old Army buddies. Let's see, oh, here's one that shows me in the Philippines during the war with a wild monkey I used to feed. He sure was friendly. Ah, here we go, our garage sale.
This toy was one of the first bobblehead dolls, we used to call them 'Shakers'. Do you know who it is kids? It's Enrico "Bob" Caruso, one of the finest operatic tenors. He sure had a beautiful voice. Your gram would put on his records and we'd, ah, 'dance' to them.
Kids, this is the "lost" mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II. Someone in the family vacationed in Egypt, dug this up somewhere, and sent it home in a box. We just sold the box, as is, like a grab bag, without even opening it. Your grandma said it was "too dusty. Just leave it like that Chet". Seventeen million dollars. That's what the Cairo Museum paid Mrs. Stephenson's grandson for our dusty box about twenty-five years ago. When someone told me all I could say was "You've gotta be kidding me".
Look at this, it's only the second known Rosetta Stone, and when deciphered it opened the door to half-a-dozen ancient languages. We had it in the backyard, weighing down some soil I wanted to even out. I had forgotten about it, but your Uncle Johnny, yeah, Gram's brother, the one who lives in that big house in the Hamptons, asked me if I'd sell it to him for a buck so he could prop it up as a backstop for some wood in his shed. Goddamnit!
HO HO Haaa haaa, ah kids, I'd forgotten about this. Nobody knew what the hell it was--excuse my language--it just made us all laugh like the dickens. Grandma nearly lost her breakfast she was laughing so much when I dragged this out of the attic. She even thought she saw it move, and that broke her up laughing again. It sat there like a lump in the driveway until some kid gave us a dime for it. Craziest thing I ever saw.
Yeah, you know, if we had kept this you kids could have taken it to your goddamn history classes' show n' tell. This is the original copy of the United States Constitution signed by all the members of the Constitutional Convention. In 1787, when the Founding Fathers of America drafted and then passed the Constitution, they signed this parchment. Then one of my ancestor's on my dad's side took it to the printers to be copied. He kept it, as you can see, and had it framed along with a few funny cartoons. The damn cartoons were on one side of the frame, the original copy of the United States Constitution on the other. But I just grabbed the framed cartoons from the garage and propped them up against the fence without looking at the other side. $1.25, to one of the old ladies in Gram's sewing circle who liked the cartoons. She loved the cartoons. She just went bat shit crazy about those fuckin' cartoons. The BITCH just picked up the GODDAMN frame and FUCKIN' LIMPED DOWN THE FUCKIN' STREET CHUCKLING LIKE A EVIL TROLL WHO'S JUST HAD HER FUCKIN' FIRST ORGASM, the, ah Jeez, ah FUCK, goddamit kids, I'm so sorry, grandpa needs a nap. Gotta get a little drinkie first, here, take the photograph book, there's more stuff in there. Don't forget the back pages, that's where you can find the pictures of Hemingway's valise and my grandmother's costume jewelry which only turned out to be the RUSSIAN CZARS FUCKIN' CROWN JEWELS. Ok kids, ah Jeez, never mind your old Gramps. Let me grab my hankerchief here and I'll go upstairs. Just wake me up when my shows are on. Goddamnit to hell
That was my gramps, such a sweet man. The above occurred in September of 1988, and my sis and I were too young to know why Grandpa Chuck was swearing so much and kicking up such a fuss. He died in '99, and in his last years he was looking forward to joining Grandma, God bless their souls. Well, a few years later my sister and I were digging around the old attic and happened to look behind a couple of mattresses plopped along the back wall. And lo and behold, we found more junk!
Now my sis and I live fairly comfortably in homes of our own. I have places in France, Belize, and Tahoe, and sis has Uncle Johnny's old place in the Hampton's, only she's put in quite a few additions and a heliport. My kids can now go to a good college, and my wife and I will leave them quite a bundle when we join the folks in Ancestor's Village (a name gramp's used to use when he visited gram's resting place). Anyway, here's some more photos for you to look at. I'll say a couple of words about them, but you get the idea. I'm sure Gramps would have gotten a kick out of finding these in the attic himself in his later years, but he didn't, so he missed out on his big chance to sell them for a fucking quarter. What the hell was he thinking? The Japs must have rang his bell a time or two in "The Big One" that he was always going on about. As for the stuff we found--and yes, there was another one of those Guttenberg Bibles, bookmarked with an autographed portrait of William Shakespeare and several signed letters from Button Gwinnett--the goddamn neighbors came sniffing around like vultures again, probably hoping to find a copy of the Warren Report signed by John F. Kennedy himself. But I just gave them some cider and chocolate-chip cookies and told them "Oh no you don't, not this time.Fucktards"
Bless their hearts.