Priced to sell

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 30 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com; Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

It’s a sim­ple fact of the At­lantic prov­inces: peo­ple move for work, or else their chil­dren move for work, and peo­ple fil­ter away; to be closer to their grand­kids, or to find bet­ter weather or greater op­por­tu­nity.

“For Sale” signs go up, real­tors’ lock­boxes are af­fixed to doors, and the house down the road is sud­denly some­one else’s.

Boxes are packed, time is short. Some­times, adult chil­dren come home to help pack up, and even­tu­ally, when ev­ery­thing is win­nowed into cat­e­gories like nec­es­sary, much loved, and “I’ll part with that,” the date of the garage sale is set.

Last week­end, on a windy spring day, I was at one of those ru­ral garage sales, al­ways will­ing to at least see what’s up for of­fer.

Care­ful yel­low price tags on ev­ery­thing, from crock­pots to plat­ters to mo­tor­cy­cle leathers to an old, two-handed wood­han­dled scythe. Laid out on the grass was a whole clear­ing of shov­els — from spade to snow to square-edged gar­den — with a lawn edger and rake thrown in for con­trast. In­side the garage, board games, well played. Ex­tra dishes and glasses, wood chairs, a big alu­minum pot of the genus “doesn’t-fit-in-any-reg­u­lar-cup­board” or “used-once-a-year.” Kitchen ex­tras: why does every­one al­ways have a sand­wich cooker or a Ge­orge Fore­man grill in its orig­i­nal box?

In the back cor­ner of the garage, two com­fort­able chairs to set­tle into when there were no cus­tomers, but the drive­way was full of cars, the garage full of peo­ple.

I was spot­ted early.

“Call Dad out, would you? There’s a man here, and he’ll be ask­ing about tools, and I don’t know any­thing about the tools.”

And out he came, big and square and dour.

There were two long ta­bles of tools, from high-pres­sure air hoses and ten­sion straps to vises and tool­kits. Clean tools, care­fully used, care­fully stored.

I said it was good-look­ing gear.

He said, “The good stuff is al­ready gone.” Dis­mis­sive.

Not a good start; a hand­ful of words, and al­ready, we’re fenc­ing.

It turned out that close neigh­bours had de­scended and had the early pick, items set aside and marked with mask­ing tape “Sold – Craig.” Neigh­bours who had been there be­fore the sale had even of­fi­cially started, say­ing their good­byes and buy­ing at the same time, as if keeping a bread bowl from a friend’s house kept a bit of that friend, too.

The prices were rea­son­able, and with my time back and more money in my pocket, there were odd older saws I would have hap­pily have pur­chased, though I did wind up with a good mo­bile tool­kit for the car.

But body lan­guage is of­ten more in­ter­est­ing than drill bits, and it was a study: his wife and daugh­ter were re­laxed, but the man with the tools was more in­tense.

Some­times, he stood back from the ta­bles with his arms crossed, as if keeping his dis­tance. Other times, he reached out to touch things on the ta­ble, mov­ing them, squar­ing them up, fa­mil­iar with their heft the way you are with things you’ve used fre­quently.

Even­tu­ally warm­ing up, he started pok­ing things sharply to­wards me — “That’s a good buy right there.” He was right. A fact about that kind of sale? There’s as much writ­ten into what peo­ple are sell­ing as there is in what they keep. There’s the way they some­times stand, un­com­fort­able, as if they feel it’s not only their prop­erty that’s all laid out there for you to judge, but them­selves as well.

And there’s a whole novel, thou­sands of words, in the way they are look­ing at the de­con­struc­tion of their lives, even if they ac­tu­ally want to go.

“Call Dad out, would you? There’s a man here, and he’ll be ask­ing about tools, and I don’t know any­thing about the tools.”

And out he came, big and square and dour.

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