When we lived in Brooklyn—before we had kids—we were addicted to them. While they didn’t wholly furnish our apartment, they helped us add what we considered some “great pieces” to what we had. They provided the details: a set of pretty, antique glasses, some interesting ceramic bowls and vases, picture frames and loads and loads of books (which, in retrospect, we probably didn’t need to add to our already bulging collection).
In Brooklyn, they were called stoop-sales. All over our section of the borough (Cobble Hill) and the neighboring sections (Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and Park Slope), people would spread their once loved wares over the steps of brownstones which lined most of the side streets. Some customers were devoted scavengers, determined stoop-salers. Others were simply out on casual weekend strolls—to Court Street and Montague Street where lazy weekend brunches would be shared. Finding someone else’s discarded treasures—perhaps no longer treasured but valued enough for a price-tag rather than the trash bin—was enormously satisfying, voyeuristically as well as economically.
Some items were store shelf new, the re-gifted gifts someone finally had the good sense to put out. Other things came with stories, like the lamp with the Tiffany shade—cracked but not too badly. This was the seller’s first purchase for the apartment to which she’d moved following a bitter divorce. “A true emblem of my liberation,” she smiled ruefully. It was no longer needed after fifteen years. A beautiful carved chess set, missing half the pawns. Formerly belonging to a beloved grandfather, kept for sentimental reasons only. They were giving it up because none of the current family members played, and photographs of Grandpa took up less room.
Outgrown children’s clothes came with histories too. I overheard one seller, taking a last whiff of a stretchy with sailboats, sharing a baby story as a few coins changed hands. Outgrown adult clothing might inspire nostalgia too: a cocktail dress worn in younger days—only those stories were private. Sometimes you bought an object you just liked a lot, even if you couldn’t say why. Jon and I bought a candle holder one day: ceramic with a lid on top and little holes in the sides for the light to shine through. To this day it sits on my desk, though it goes with nothing. It’s part of our life together. We never asked where it had come from. Sometimes you don’t care; your own meaning is enough.
In the suburbs, stoop sales are called Yard Sales or Garage Sales, depending on the weather. Today we were lucky; it was sunny and seventy-five degrees, unquestionably a Yard Sale Day.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, I live on a cul de sac with eight houses including my own. All told there are eighteen children on our block who range in age from three to sixteen. But the feel of community is not only due to the fact that our children play together constantly. I have wonderful neighbors but one in particular is the glue that unites us. She is a mother, like many of us, though her only son is older, a grown up himself, who lives on his own in another state. She works, she cares for her dogs, takes walks with her husband. But for me, her claim to fame is mobilizing our little corner of the town. We should have a block party, she’ll say. And make it happen. We should have cul-de-sac-wide yard sale, she said about a month ago. The rest of us wholeheartedly agreed, and she organized it, chose a date that worked for everyone, got the permit from the town, placed the ad in our local paper. And today the shining sun along with the ad brought the crowds.
Jon and I have been gathering things to sell for the last few weeks, clothing, shoes toys, unopened duplicate art kits. We staged things into the garage first, in boxes, on hangers, piece by piece. As STUFF accumulated in the garage, we expected the living part of our house to begin feeling emptier, but somehow that wasn’t the case. We’re natural STUFF gatherers, as are our children. We can’t resist used books; they can’t resist interesting rocks and other small treasures. It adds up. There was also clothing—left from my blazer phase, his vest phase, my maternity and nursing clothing: really STUFF we’ll never use again.
Jon started putting things out yesterday, while I was at rehearsal. Today, while I made coffee and breakfast, he started with the heavy lifting: big pieces of furniture—a cabinet, a table, an entertainment center cast off by relatives who’d upgraded—books, an old, boxy who-remembers-when-we-last-used-that television set. When I got outside, the driveway was covered with our life—at least with our eight years since the last sale. Sure, I’ve kept records, made baby books, boxed up and saved the most special baby mementos. But looking over the stacking toys, the sweet little shoes with the Velcro closures, I felt so sentimental. All I could think was there we were. That was our family: board books and sippy-cups, pants with snaps up the legs. How we’ve changed.
Though as I watched Jon collect a dollar seventy-five for the old bottle sterilizing machine, I knew it was okay. I was ready. Only once did I find myself reluctant to let go. It was a musical flying saucer that had first belonged to my daughter, though it was my son who had loved it most. It was red, blue and yellow—regulation Little Tikes; when you pressed the big white button in the center, it played either a Bach minuet, a Beethoven allegro or a Mozart scherzo.
As a growing baby, Theo would sit with it in his lap, eyebrows knit with intensity and punch the white button until he got the scherzo. Then, little fists clenched, he’d perform what can only be described as a furious, eight month old rendition of the twist. The music would stop; he’d start it again, pound the white button once, twice, three times until the scherzo came on so he could “dance” again. I was charmed like only a mother could be: my son was not only adorable; he was brilliant too. (He could play Mozart!) Holding this toy in my hand today—though the batteries were dead; we weren’t sure if it worked at all (in the end it wound up in the “free stuff” bin), I wasn’t just holding a piece of Theo’s childhood, I was holding a piece of me. A true emblem of the young (thirty-something) mother I had been; with an infant and a preschooler at home, working two days a week in the city, carrying my Medela breast pump everywhere I went, transitioning my therapy practice to a counseling center here in town. I worked but I didn’t write much. (I’d put the book I’d been writing since a little before my wedding on hiatus until my youngest was about two). I was busy with paperwork, engaged with my clients during sessions, thinking about their stories in between. But when I was home, I was all about my children.
Exhaustion aside, it was fun to be so immersed in the world of Little. I loved marching around town with my double stroller, loved that the contents of my purse always included a few green and purple teething toys. I’ve got little kids: I wore it like a badge. I wanted to be doing just what I was doing: changing diapers, nursing, reading The Little Engine that Could and The Big Red Barn nine hundred times a day (twice in a row at bedtime).
Recently, Theo was looking at pictures of himself and Zoe from several years back.
“Mommy?” he said, “Do you miss us when we were little?”
I had a flashback: the two of them at six months and three, sitting in the tub together, Zoe and I singing to distract Theo from his wild splashing. I reached in and hugged both their wet bodies. I did say it–though he was too little to understand and she was singing too happily to hear:
“I’m going to miss you guys when you get big!”
But I don’t. Which is what I told Theo when he asked. “I loved you then,” I said, “but I love you more every year.”
The truth is that I am grateful for the fact that my kids can be independent; I’m proud of the strong, interesting individuals that they are. Now I can do my at-home workout when my kids are awake; they can help me with groceries and laundry and other chores (not that they always do). We have real conversations where I am often amazed at their insights and not just their cuteness. Though I know they sometimes resent that my book takes me away from them, it’s their independence that gives me the mental space to write. I couldn’t have done it when they were little, nor did I need to. I was a different version of me back then. At home I wore striped nursing tops (these didn’t sell today so I am donating them). To work, I wore the blazers which went today for three dollars a pop.