published Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Kennedy: Family yard sale secrets revealed

When I was 12, my mom and dad decided to have a yard sale on the front lawn of our duplex in Columbia, Tenn.

I should emphasize it was a yard sale not a garage sale. Nobody in our neighborhood could afford an actual garage, although some of our more affluent neighbors did aspire to carports.

In those days, we were still decades away from the digitized commerce of eBay and Craigslist and having a family yard sale was a big deal, on the magnitude of, say, sitting around watching "Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii."

Our sale was on a Labor Day weekend. I know this because the "Jerry Lewis Telethon" was wafting out of Dad's bedroom window. In the last hour, my younger sister and I sat inside on shag carpet and listened to Jerry Lewis have a near nervous breakdown singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."

When you're a kid, there's something magical about the found money that comes from a successful yard sale. All day, I could see the money piling up in a cigar box as my dad's old but freshly dry-cleaned shirts disappeared from lines we'd hung between the columns on our porch. There were even a few $5 and a $10 bills in the mix.

By the time we called it a day, we had accumulated the princely sum of $60, which, considering inflation and compound interest would be like a quarter of a million dollars today. (OK, $359.) Anyway, the point is, I was already fantasizing about a more affluent lifestyle for our family, including bottomless strawberry pie at Shoney's.

This euphoria was punctured when my father slipped a note on the coffee table in our living room saying he had pledged the entire $60 from our yard sale to the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In retrospect, this was a highly Christian thing to do, but at the time I was livid. I remember shooting him the universal, pre-teen look of derision: mouth open, head back, as if to say, "Whaaa ... ?"

All these memories came flooding back last Saturday when my family had a yard sale of its own. My own older son, 11, shot me the same look when I told a customer I wanted $10 for a child's car seat.

"Dad, that's too much," my older son hissed as the customer sniffed and walked off. "Never ask more than $5 for a car seat."

This is the same crack salesman who minutes earlier had sold a $250 bicycle for $5 because "cinco" was the highest number he could think of in Spanish.

To his credit, he organized the yard sale in order to buy a good friend a higher quality birthday present. In a tender moment the night before, I leaned in and gently told him: "Good luck kid, I'll bet you don't make five bucks."

Actually, this was my way of ensuring that he would have a successful day. He's the kind of boy who'll try to run through a concrete wall if you tell him he can't.

I heard him bounding down the stairs at 7:30 a.m. to stage his yard sale merchandise in the side yard. There was a foosball table, an air hockey table, the car seat, assorted golf clubs, a sack of range golf balls, some Tennessee Titans posters and a set of kitchen chairs.

He positioned his little brother, who has one dimple and zero front teeth, at the end of the block. He told him to jump up and down and point vigorously in an attempt to divert people who were headed to a bigger, advertised garage sale elsewhere in our neighborhood.

At one point, my 6-year-old son ran into the house dancing in circles: "I sold the air hockey table. I sold the air hockey table. Woo-hoo!"

"How much," I said.

"Fifteen dollars," he said. "Woo-hoo! They gave me $6 and went to the bank to get the rest. Woo-hoo!"

At the end of the day, the boys cleared about $60 -- it would have been more if they hadn't turned down several respectable offers for their new puppy. I asked my older son later why he wasn't rubbing it in since I'd predicted disaster for the sale.

"I was trying to be nice," he said with a grin.

I gave him a noogie, and he shoved the money into his front pocket, ready for his trip to the mall.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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