Coast Chronicles 
Estate sale madness and garage sale blues

Mary Johnson, estate sale pro, and my sis Starla Gable — both from Yakima — were an integral part of my de-cluttering effort this past week.

“I touch each object 10 times, probably more,” says estate sale maven and Yakimanian Mary Johnson. Three years ago Mary deftly handled my mother’s estate sale in Yakima and I gave her a timid call a couple months ago to see if she’d be willing to make the trip over the mountains to help me. “Sure,” she said. Mary’s a pro: she’s optimistic, hard-working and handles any situation or personality with equanimity.

The week before she arrived, I was a basket case. I was waking at 4 a.m. every morning worrying about all the stuff in my garage and storage unit. Yet when the sun crept over the Willapa Hills and it was a decent hour to get up and get moving, I was immobilize. I had no idea where to start. At the other end of the day, I’d head for bed having done not one thing about the sale, and, predictably, wake in pre-dawn hours obsessing again. How and why does this happen to a normally efficient individual?

My stuff, I was quite sure, was plotting against me and had been quietly multiplying overnight, spawning strange hybrid objects: flip-flop lamp shades, tea kettle futons, art work with spines, deer antler picture frames, and silverware sets with a wrench motif.

When Mary landed last week Tuesday, suddenly everything changed. “We just need to start,” she said confidently while I whimpered. Soon boxes were being pulled out from hidden cubbies and opened, furniture was assembled in the yard, rugs were unfurled, cupboards and cabinets emptied. With Mary leading the effort, overnight the log-jam broke and the energy started flowing. We were in motion.

In the next phase, a wave of emotional tsunamis hit. With each object unearthed from the morass of time, memories flooded back. Grandmother’s round green satin fringed throw pillow appeared; though not in its “normal” place on the sofa in her living room on Beacon Hill, but in the top of a cardboard box of linens. (Of course “normal” is long gone — both for grandma and the house.) There was the salt and pepper shaker collection I started in second grade, still tidily wrapped in tissue paper and packed in a square silver Bon Marché box.

The end table mom had by her bed in her last years at the beach, hand-painted in a tropical-theme with parrots, surfaced. There was the pair of moss-green leather lederhosen I bought on my first trip to Europe in the ‘80s. Oh, yes, and the four-foot welded steel pedestal I brought back from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania one time. (How? I have no idea.)

The decades unspooled in front of my eyes. One truth appeared out of the foggy mix-metaphor — clearly, I should have been a shop-keeper. As more and more items poured out into the open, I marveled at my on-going good-eye for the odd, the unique, the bargain collectibles. But what in the world did I think I was going to do with them all? There are only so many things one can stuff into a modest house by the bay.

But finally there we were — Labor Day Weekend — with Mary’s magic touch having arranged everything neatly on tables, in family groupings, with walkways between. Little masking taped prices adorned everything from the family of step-chairs to the pile of linens; from the leather saddle bags (I just liked the smell — no horse in sight) to the conch-shell beaded and hand-embroidered vest; from the metal roll-top desk to the cow milking stool complete with udders. Now we just needed buyers.

Lots of friends stopped by. I put out coffee and scones (I had to pre-order at Jayne’s Bakery, as she was blasted) and we sat around and talked. Wayne Downing dropped in; Nyel and Sydney Stevens, Parker Lindner and Ann Zavitkovsky, Cyndy Hayward, Carol and Tucker Wachsmuth, Ann Gaddy, Frederick Sheets, Nancy Allen, Chris and Patricia Meinhold-Barber, Glenn Leichman made appearances. I was reminded how much fun it is to live here, how many creative and wonderful people populate our little spit.

At the end of the day I surveyed the ruins. As far as I could tell, absolutely nothing had been sold. The tables were still brimming with stuff. It was as I’d feared: stuff secretly re-populates itself in an unending stream. I was beginning to see that deciding to rid one’s-self of things and having the things actually disappear were two very different propositions.

However, when Mary counted, there were a few more greenbacks in the cash drawer. So ever onward.

OK, the sun is up, it’s a new day and everything is 50 percent off! I danced around town like a bee making sure all our yard sale signs were intact, sending directional signals to the swarm. When I returned to the hive, I was beginning to notice that items which had before seemed so important and precious were now looking heavy and useless. I said a little prayer, “Please, people, come and take things!”

I had a team of family and friends manning the cash table because I just couldn’t watch grandmother’s silver-plate vinegar and cruet set and caddy go for less than $20. Or the chaise I purchased new for $850 go for $75. As the day progressed I keep thinking, “What if I hadn’t bought all this stuff and instead had purchased Starbucks at its initial public offering?” (I took a moment to weep into my latte.)

There were some fun vignettes though. Yesterday a nice gentleman wandered around to the backside of the house to try on my lederhosen. After a few moments in the free-range dressing room he returned. “I’m a 32 and these are 30, so they’re a little too small,” he said. “Too bad — I like that they’re leather; when I’m doing heavy work they’d give me a lot of protection.” What? They’re about as short as shorts can be. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought them, and I’m not sure I want to know what he was thinking either! They’re back on the table at half price.

At the end of day, there actually were fewer objects in the driveway, the garage and under the pop-up. Three cheers to miracle-worker Mary, beloved sister Starla, long-time friend Vicki and all the people who have provided good homes for miscellany big and small. However, on Labor Day I may be standing at the corner of Bay and Sandridge in a bunny suit spinning a big finger pointing to our wrap-up sale.


Addendum: for consideration on your calendar: at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17, our Washington State poet laureate Tod Marshall; eminent poet, author and naturalist Bob Pyle; and yours truly will be reading in Oysterville at the home of Sydney and Nyel Stevens. Potluck after. Please RSVP at

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