Tomorrow I\’m leaving for Mobile to see my mother (who was seriously ill a few months ago but is now recovering) and will not be posting for a couple of days. During my absence, I will also miss the fall rummage sale at the church in the nearby village of X.
I had never been to a rummage sale in my life until I moved to Vermont and was told by friends and neighbors, \”You have to go the X church rummage sale. Everybody does.\” So I did, and there, hands deep in the mountains of separates, making their way along the racks of dresses, coming out of the \”designer room,\” or entering the \”outerwear\” tent, I did in fact see most of the people I knew.
I have attended the twice-a-year X rummage sales faithfully since that first time. I have gone on splendid fall Saturdays, when the church steeple is silhouetted against a background of red, gold and green hills. And I have optimistically purchased armloads of sleeveless dresses and gardening clothes in the full blast of a spring blizzard.
The sale at X is so well attended that it\’s a testimony to the upward march of civilization that riots don\’t break out. Maybe it\’s the calming presence of the church ladies that keeps things in check. These women, who have worked the week leading up to the sale collecting and sorting donations, stand for hours behind the tables where the goods are piled, making change, bagging purchases, running out to look for more coins. They all, without exception, look weary, but also without exception they are cordial and helpful. In the face of such stoicism, the rummaging throngs put on their best behavior.
Like a gambler playing for low stakes, at the X rummage sale I allow myself to shop irresponsibly. There is no way to try things on, no possibility of comparing prices, no time to talk yourself out of foolish choices. You have to grab first, and think later. So I do.
When I arrive home lugging a trash bag full of clothes, having spent all of twenty dollars, I have only the vaguest idea of what I have bought. Usually there are pleasant surprises: a designer top, a cashmere sweater, a pair of faded jeans just right for the garden. There is also the dress that doesn\’t fit, and the bizarre and useless item that I could swear someone else must have put in my bag.
As I have mentioned before, shopping in Vermont is a delicate subject. On the one hand, we complain about the absence of opportunities–there just aren\’t many stores around here. On the other hand, we know that we owe our clean air, uncluttered roads and serene landscape to this very dearth of shopping.
So we are grateful to the urban souls who own summer homes near the idyllic village of X and who graciously do our shopping for us in the bustling burgs of New York and New Jersey, and who, after wearing the results of their labors a couple of times, kindly donate them to the X church rummage sale, where we buy them for two dollars a piece.
Like the recipient of a transplanted heart, I vaguely sense the frustration of the executive woman fretting in rush-hour traffic as I head out the door in her–now my–Eileen Fisher sweater, to feed the hens.