Wearing worn jeans and a faded sweatshirt, Larry from Montana stopped by in his old RV. Carmen came from Tecate with her children all dressed up for a visit. We had never met them before, but they all came to my mother’s 80th birthday party. My brother, Tom, and I threw a lavish two-day celebration with cakes, gifts, a huge card, helium balloons, and folks from as far away as Haiti. With cake and coffee in hand, folks picked over tables of tools, boxes of books, and racks of clothes. This strange gathering was an 80th Birthday Party Yard Sale.
Early December gave us a cool, clear Saturday morning. Red and blue balloons floated above shrubs, trees and the mailbox. Pink streamers fluttered across the garage and circled tables of knickknacks in the driveway. On a makeshift table over the washer and dryer, the coffee brewed. A sheet cake in its white cardboard box waited on the table along side the cigar-box full of change.
As soon as we opened the garage door, a man in an old Levi jacket got out of his car eyeing boxes even before he entered the driveway. He was a serious buyer trying to hit as many sales as possible. I walked out to him with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. “Welcome to my mother’s 80th birthday party.” I might as well have been speaking Norwegian, but slowly he realized the meaning. He laughed, greeted Mom and began sorting through boxes. When he came to pay for the two hammers he wanted, he was still smiling and had a refill on coffee. “I’ve never seen a sale like this.”
Often at yard sales buyers hesitate to ask the cost when people want inflated prices for their old junk. And sellers stand back anticipating buyers who want these treasures for pennies. A mildly adverse relationship builds between the two sides. The unexpected coffee and cake eliminated any reticence here. Buyers were startled, then pleased. Most accepted coffee and an amazing number relished the sweet birthday cake so early in the morning. They joked among themselves.
Tom asked, “Would you like to sign the card for Mom?” Many people didn’t buy anything, but they all signed the card. Even the gruff, heavy-set man in the flannel shirt who wanted to buy only tools, smiled at the offer, wished Mom a happy birthday and signed. “Happy Birthday – Alan.” Mark C. wrote ‘Happy Happy Happy Birthday. I hope I make it half that long.” Jose added, “Feliz cumpleaños. Sera un dia muy bonito.”
A young woman and her two children came in the drive. I offered coffee and cake. She stepped back. “Cuanto cuesta?” And in my feeble Spanish I told her, “It’s free; this is my mother’s birthday.” A flicker of confusion crossed her face, then she smiled and took the cake. She introduced herself as Carmen. Her older boy approached Mom with a polite “feliz cumpleaños.” The younger spoke too softly to hear, but Mom beamed, shook their hands, and told them, “Gracias.” Many Mexican families stopped by, mostly from Tecate and Tijuana. Several folks were from out of state, but most lived nearby. Some old acquaintances, like Mrs. Harmsen, we hadn’t seen for years. And Mom introduced us to some new neighbors who had just moved in. She took time with everyone at the party, especially the children.
Kathy, a young woman in a jogging suit, came up to Mom, holding the potholders and books she wanted. She placed them on the table, wished Mom a happy birthday and hugged her. “I’m going to visit my mother this afternoon, but she doesn’t recognize me anymore.” For a few minutes they talked about her mother. They ended up talking about the potholders she was buying, with Mom showing her how to crochet them. Kathy turned to Tom and said, “You are very fortunate.”
Another woman told us her mother had died several years ago, but this gathering reminded her of the times they had gone ‘garage sale-ing’ together. One young man in jeans and a Grateful Dead T-shirt said his mother would sure like a party like this. Most, however, were like my friend Donna, who thought this was fun, but said her mother would be mortified if it were for her. Even my father later said, “Please don’t have a yard sale for my birthday.”
We did this for two days. We bought a second sheet cake for Sunday and fixed lemonade as well as coffee. Mom’s spirits never flagged, but by 2:00 p.m. Tom and I began to fade. The cake was finished. The time had come to make quick deals before the trashcan claimed many ex-treasures. Signs and streamers came down. The yard grew quiet, blending into the neighborhood again. Mom went to each balloon, untied the string, and released it with a wish.
December 2nd is her birthday – this would have been her 98th!