Rummage Sale

Last Saturday morning, I was nominated to serve as the cashier at my great aunt’s rummage sale. A panel of relatives unanimously confirmed the appointment. Before I knew what hit me, there I sat with a Tupperware tray full of change.

I didn’t realize I was in way over my head. I have no background in rummage sale law whatsoever. I only know that there are to be no early sales.

No problem enforcing that provision, I thought, assuming that no more than a few kindly Scandinavian ladies would stop by to pick up a dish towel or two for fun. 

How wrong I was. Fifteen minutes before opening, a rough-looking battalion of formidable women clad in single-ply cling pants swaggered through the door and began to plunder with a vengeance.

“No early sales!” I shouted, but my plea fell on deaf ears. The Rummage Sale Women gathered armloads of pots and pans and piled them at my feet, warning me that if I sold them to anybody else, I would be in deep trouble. 

I didn’t doubt it. This bunch meant business–and they had access to a box full of sharp knives priced at twenty-five cents apiece.

To salvage a little of my self-respect, I refused to take money until the sale officially opened. By then, there were nine piles of stuff around my chair for which I was responsible. 

The clock struck ten. As I began to add ten cents for this and twenty-five cents for that, my attention was diverted–and the piles of stuff at my feet began to disappear. 

At that point, the rule of law collapsed and wholesale looting broke out. 

A confrontation arose over a plastic strand of ivy. It was priced at a dime. One woman claimed that I was supposed to have saved it for her. Another argued that she had already paid for it. 

To buy time, I said, “Wait a minute!” with as much authority as I could muster. Lacking any background in rummage sale jurisprudence, I relied on the Old Testament wisdom of King Solomon as precedent. I would cut the thing in half. 

It worked. The women were shamed. The younger one deferred to the older one, who received the plastic ivy intact. Apparently, in the field of rummage sale justice, age comes before heft. 

My next case came thirty seconds later. A kindly lady set down a bundle of bath towels priced at $7.50. I took her money, said, “next!” and came face-to face with a tough-looking woman bearing an identical bundle of towels–this one priced at ten cents. 

Ten cents. For five fluffy towels? I knew that couldn’t be right. That sticker had to have been swiped from a tarnished gravy spoon, or a plastic poinsettia wreath, or a half-burnt candle. 

“Are you sure that is the right price?” I said, hoping for a smidgen of honesty.

“That’s what it says on the sticker,” the woman said in a tone of voice that made it obvious she would crack my skull with the nearest cast iron skillet if I challenged her any further. 

A minute later, a woman came with a little key chain, priced at a dime, and a clock radio which she claimed must have come with the key chain because the key chain was on top of the radio and the radio wasn’t priced. So obviously, you get the complete pair for a dime, right? 

By now, my integrity and self-respect was gone. “Of course!” I whimpered. Don’t clock radios always come with a key chain? I took her warm, sticky dime, stuffed the combo in a bag and said have a nice day. 

After the longest twenty minutes of my life, the Rummage Sale Women disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. The room looked like a trailer park after a tornado. 

I wandered through the wreckage, dazed and disoriented, determined to never again accept an appointment for which I was so completely unqualified. 


No picture can capture the enchanted grandeur of a grove of giant redwoods. I tried with my Nikon. I failed, so I looked for photos for sale by others. However, no picture did the big trees justice. 

The redwoods grow a couple of miles inland from the ocean most of the way up the California coast north of San Francisco. They thrive where there is frequent fog and rain. 

Although the bulk of the original redwoods were logged, several thousand acres of old growth redwood forest have been preserved. As you drive north on Highway 101, dozens of redwood groves in various state and national parks line the road over a span of about 150 miles. 

The largest trees can be well over 1,000 years of age and up to 20 feet wide at the base. Some of the oldest trees reach 350 feet in height. That means if you cut down a redwood which was growing at on goal post of a football field, it could knock over the other goal post on its way down. 

A mature redwood requires up to 400 gallons of water per day. Rather than take up the water through the roots and push it hundreds of feet up, redwoods absorb a good deal of their moisture through their foliage from rain or fog. 

Most redwoods are perfectly straight. Their trunk rises up to 150 before there is a single branch. They grow so closely together that from the forest floor, the crowded trunks look like the massive pillars of a Greek temple. 

But statistics really can’t tell the story of the redwoods. They aren’t just big trees. If you come away from a trip through the redwoods with little more than a picture of your vehicle driving through a hole in one of the bit trunks, you’ve missed the point. 

On a hike amongst a grove of redwoods, walking a trail where ferns and moss form the undergrowth, past little streams which carry away the frequent rainwater, deep enough into the forest so the roar of the passing cars is replaced by a serene silence, one is made utterly quiet. 

Although I was alone, I walked softly, trying not to make much noise. When I whistled to hear if the sound would echo, I felt like a drunk in church. Never have natural surroundings felt so sacred as they did in the redwoods. The thin shafts of sunlight which angled through the high branches and the mist to the forest floor recalled for me the play of light in a cathedral filled with the smoke of incense. 

Only better, for the redwoods are the real thing. They are not man-made, built by egotistical medieval bishops, or by vain benefactors using peasant or slave labor. They were not planted to draw tourists through the turnstiles. They just happened. 

I stopped at a general store inside Redwood National Park for a cup of coffee. The storekeeper, a man in an apron named Tom, told me that redwoods were his passion. He recited for me many of the statistics quoted above. At the end of his lecture, he leaned back with satisfaction, peered at me over the glasses at the end of his nose, and said, “Redwoods are truly a magnificent form of life.”

I walked outside. Tom’s store was dwarfed by the huge trunks of the redwoods which shaded it. In the deep shadows of the big trees, the little shack looked like something out of Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood, or perhaps Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. 

I suppose there are those who remain unimpressed by the grandeur of the redwoods, those who could drive through them while discussing the upcoming election, or who could jog through them with headphones blaring. 

But the redwoods can return the attentive and un-jaded visitor to the fairy-tale world of a childhood bedtime book. Like a good bedtime story, the big trees make one’s eyes wide. At the same time, they make one feel completely sheltered, protected, comforted–and tiny.