“I survived World War II, and I saw some pretty gruesome things. But this tops it all.”
My Paw Paw mumbled those words as he gazed out the open window of our family station wagon that August morning. The sun had barely made it all the way up in the sky, yet it was already humid and hot inside that fabled station wagon…with its lack of air conditioning that went out the year before.
I sat in the backseat behind him with sweat already rolling down my face. I also was witness to the battle before me.
Now, I had never seen a battlefront or been nowhere near a war zone. But what I saw before me was just as brutal as any war that would end all wars.
The place was Monticello, on a newly paved blacktop road in one of the finest neighborhoods in our small town. The time was the crack of dawn. The event was Mrs. Duckworth’s annual garage sale.
Mrs. Duckworth was one of the riches ladies in town. Her husband passed away several years ago, and his death left her wealthy beyond our ability to comprehend. During those early years of widowhood, she splurged on everything her late husband denied her during their marriage.
Her historic home was filled with antique couches, huge grandfather clocks, dozens of Tiffany lamps, designer clothes, beautiful jewelry and pieces upon pieces of expensive serving dishes and cups.
And every year, Mrs. Duckworth put on a show for the humble, country people of Lawrence County. She would tire of her trinkets and treasures. And she used her annual garage sale as an excuse to get rid of the old so she can have room to bring in the new.
She knew how to make deals; deals so good that the sale attracted every lady in town to her front yard for her garage sale. Paw Paw said it reminded him of a herd of animals approaching a pond after a drought.
Paw Paw was paralyzed from the waist down, so he was confined to the front seat of the station wagon. He had errands to run later that day, but he was completely unaware that we would be making a stop at Mrs. Duckworth’s garage sale.
“I think this is payback because I wouldn’t let your Maw Maw drive when we first got married,” Paw Paw said, packing his pipe with Prince Albert. “Lord, I’m paying for it now.”
It almost felt like we were at a zoo, watching the animals in their native habitat. Making strange grunting noises and flamboyant arm gestures, these women were sniffing out the best deals they could find.
Meanwhile, Paw Paw and I were having heat strokes in the station wagon sauna.
One lady hollered like a screech owl because she found a lost piece of her china set. Another lady almost threw out her hip running over to a box of designer sweat suits.
And poor Maw Maw got into a tugging contest over a living room rug.
“They look like vultures,” Paw Paw said. “What are we going to do with a rug? She hasn’t unrolled the one we bought last year.”
After what seemed like hours later, Maw Maw approached the car with a ton of things. She had so many things that Mrs. Duckworth’s nephews helped her load the car, and she instructed them that she would “be back for the rest.”
“They don’t know it, but I got away with some deals,” she giggled like a witch on Halloween.
“Well, that’s just great,” Paw Paw replied. “But we don’t need any of this junk. Our house is too crowded as it is, and me and this baby have been sweating….”
Then there was a sudden silence. All I could hear was my sweat dropping on the window frame.
“How much you want for that stuffed squirrel,” Paw Paw asked, bellowing out the window.
Two minutes later, we were heading down the highway. I was covered in handmade blankets with a lamp lodged against my head and the door frame. My legs couldn’t move with the 20 pieces of crystal glasses under me, and my left side was numb from holding up an authentic German clock that kept dinging.
And as my body grew numb and the sweat continued to pour, I held on tightly to a stuffed squirrel, missing an eyeball.
“This is insane,” I said.
“No, insane is what she could have got for it,” Paw Paw replied. “There’s nothing crazy about making a deal.”
It was insane. And my straitjacket was the quicksand of treasures trapping me in the car.