The Tag Sale
Why is it so difficult to drive by a tag sale without stopping? Let’s face it, a tag sale is really just the result of someone saying, ‘Let’s throw all our old junk into the front yard and see if anyone will buy it.’ A dilapidated old desk, one Nordic track turned coat rack, a stack of dog-eared paperbacks, and three-hundred fourteen other personally obsolete trivia. Just extra ballast jettisoned from a family’s lives. Or at least that’s what I used to think.
Like many these days, I’m unemployed. This past year of joblessness has given me the time to reflect on where I want my life to go from here. Yet, despite all the unhurried contemplation, I was still unable to choose a direction.
Then my parents decided to have a tag sale.
Within minutes of Mom’s proclamation, boxes began appearing throughout the house. Dad was tasked with assessing every rusty tool and retired sporting good. He served as judge and jury, passing judgment upon each item – keep, sell, live, die.
Our own archeological dig was underway. Family artifacts rediscovered in remote places like beyond that giant box of Christmas decorations in the attic and deep within the mysterious space underneath the stairs. Our entire family history was excavated, dusted off with toothbrushes, and put on trial. Amid this chaos, I sought solace in my journals as I wrote endlessly about ‘what I want to do with the rest of my life’ and daydreamed about a new life with an exciting new job.
The tag sale would arrive well before the new job. As I sat on the front steps and gazed across our land of misfit toys, I played spectator to the spectacle of this American institution - the simple uniqueness being the junk strangers and neighbors were rummaging through was ours. And so it was in this moment when it all became clear, like I’d come out of a blinding snowstorm into a warm, sunny day. The answers that had eluded me for so long, delivered right to my front door.
Tag sales are about pulling out the past, sorting through it, and then letting it go. What to keep, what to sell. Each box from the attic represents a set of memories. In one box, an old Sea Monkeys kit reminds you of the loophole you found in Mom’s ‘no pets’ rule growing up. A bumper sticker proclaiming, ‘This car climbed Mount Washington’, invites memories of the family trip that mercifully did in that station wagon with the walnut veneer siding. Each item offers the opportunity to relive a specific moment in time, like reading an old journal long buried in the back of a little-used bureau.
This heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking process of sifting through the past doesn’t come often but seems to appear when we most need it. When we clean out a shed or an attic, we make room for something else. Selling that relic push lawn mower for twelve dollars isn’t about the money. Tag sales are an opportunity to lighten our loads. To set free what we couldn’t part with when its time truly was up. By unloading en mass, somehow it seems easier. Less personal. Like laying off 500 people instead of just Mary and Bob.
The time I spent sifting through my pile of ‘history’ was a chance to relive my own past. It was also a chance for me to let go of that past. Among my history I found a box of old love letters from my college sweetheart. As I read the letters, it was as if she was with me again. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the heartbreak that returned. Instead, reading those letters filled me with happiness as I relived the playful spirit of the moment, the innocence, dabbling in love for the first time, reaching for that hot stove before I knew it could burn me. After wallowing in those feelings for a while, I swooped up the letters and tossed them into the fireplace. I lit a match and threw it in. As I watched a piece of my past burn, I felt a weight I had carried around for too long melt away like fallen snow in the rain. I had made room for the new, and it felt good.
Losing my job and losing my way were tests, meant to make me stronger. That tag sale became the turning point. I had been stuck. My past kept pulling me back and tempting me to repeat the patterns such as returning to the career my résumé best fits yet the same one that denies me fulfillment. It wasn’t until that morning, sitting on my folks’ steps, as I watched my past being sold for grocery money, that I figured it out. The past is just that, the past. It’s meant to be savored and to provide wisdom. But only by letting go of it can you truly make room for a new and compelling future. I look forward to that future and the new experiences awaiting me.
Jim is an ex-engineer who recently traded his cubicle for an ice cream parlor. He just opened Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe (formally Sunrise Sweeties), 34 Cottage Street in downtown Easthampton, Massachusetts.