Woman on a mission

Soon after moving to Cape Cod some 16 years ago, my mother started making her rounds on the very active yard- and estate-sale circuit. Typically, Alice would read the newspaper classifieds on Fridays and then map her route for early Saturday mornings. She had a trusty map book and quickly learned to distinguish which streets had the nicest houses and therefore, would be most likely selling the better stuff.

Today she lives with the fruits of her labor.  My parents’ dining room table is a yard/estate sale find and so is the pull-out couch on the porch and their  wicker bedroom set. The list is long and impressive.

And as her reputation for landing great deals grew, my mother often shopped with a list of things her children and grandchildren were looking for. Our living room still holds the two end tables and coffee table she found for us. My bedroom dresser was a yard-sale find. So was the pine armoire in our basement. Even our potato masher came as the result of my mother’s savvy and persistence.

Alice is very good at seeing past the junk and honing in on the worthwhile merchandise. Not me. I tend to get overwhelmed by all the stuff on view. An abundance of clutter makes me uncomfortable. And I definitely struggle with the bartering that is an accepted part of the yard-sale practice. You know,”Will you take 50 cents? Will you take a dime?” JUST PAY THE POOR PERSON THE PRICE ON THE COLORED STICKER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

In the spirit of living more like Alice, I decided I should give yard sale-ing another shot. My niece Mary-Kate was also moving into a new apartment and in the market for a few household items, so the timing was right. My daughter Sarah was game to come along though she is more of an online shopper than the serendipitous kind. We set out on a steamy summer Saturday afternoon in search of bargains.

Let’s just say our first stop was more miss than hit.

I did not see anyone making any offers.

Though we did score a $100,000 Pyramid DVD Game for $2.


And Mary-Kate found a plastic drying rack for dishes in excellent condition. She was clearly happy. Mary-Kate is definitely more like Nana than me. She is patient and can see treasures amidst all the junk


.After a few yard sales, we happened upon an estate sale. For those unfamiliar, an estate sale is when heirs decide to sell the entire contents of a house — from silverware and bowls in the kitchen cabinets, to tools and fishing poles in the basement, to coats and shoes in the closet to sheets and pillows on the bed. You can even sift through the junk drawer or the backyard shed and discover items with little price tags. Personally, I find it a little sad to see an entire life on view to strangers. But great deals can be had.

We figured the owner of this house was a doctor of some sort based on all the books about reconstructive surgery and an assortment of glass jars labeled for cotton balls and tongue depressors for sale. He was also a hunter with a collection of skulls, including a baboon and an antelope, and he really enjoyed his trips to Hawaii. Mary-Kate bought a few things, including a glass measuring cup and a beautiful fish-shaped platter. I bought a small plate with a duck on it because ducks remind me of the house where I grew up.

We also hit The White Elephant in Essex, Mass., voted the “Best Antique Shop on the North Shore” two years in a row by Boston Magazine. Mary-Kate successfully negotiated with the owner to reduce the price of a sweet little green chair by $10. If you can get past the musty smell, it’s a fun place to walk around.



Last weekend we visited the Cape and had no plans to shop anywhere but The Christmas Tree Shop. But then we saw a yard sale sign with Alice in the car and decided to make a quick stop. We were with the master, after all.



I bought four white bowls, a perfect depth for pasta, for $2. My mother said that was a good deal. (These was no bartering.) And we bought a chaise lounge chair for $5. (Alice said they don’t make them this sturdy anymore. Although my husband testing it out does not look all that comfortable or secure here.)



Elizabeth found a very cool pair of old binoculars in a leather case. There was no price tag. When asked, the nice lady running the yard sale said she could have them.


That is one of the positive things about the yard-sale experience. You often end up talking to nice people. Or at least my mother always does.

I do have two favorite Alice Flynn yard-sale stories. Early on in her bargain-hunting career, my mother went to a yard sale a few towns over with her mother, her sister Honey, Honey’s mother (my adopted grandmother Mimi) and my sister Kathleen, who was around 2 years old. The gang bought so much stuff my mother couldn’t fit it all in the car. Undeterred, my mother found a place in the woods to hide the wrought-iron chaise lounge chair she had purchased. The next day she returned with my father to retrieve it. “We found it. But it took a long time,” says Alice. “Your father had more patience back then.”

One Saturday shortly after moving to the Cape my mother spotted the tell-tale indication of a yard sale —  a lot of cars parked in front of a house. She pulled over and proceeded to walk up the driveway. It didn’t take long to realize there was, in fact, no yard sale at all. The crowd had gathered for a family reunion. The host came over to my mother and put his arm around this nice lady he assumed was a distant relative. My mother, with a face as red as her hair, sheepishly told him she had made a mistake. The man invited her to stay for the cookout anyway. “I got out of there as fast as I could,”she says.

Like I have always said, my mother can make friends with anyone.




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