Holy Saturday

March 13, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Country Living, Kids in the Country, New England, Vermont

It’s almost here. The BIG DAY. Every spring and fall it comes. Rain or snow….(I know some of you southerners say rain or shine, but up here in the North Country we usually get the shine, but depending on just how cold it is, the wet is what varies a bit)

Everybody is getting ready. The posters are all over town. Folks are talking about nothing else at the general store. People are cleaning up their houses. Little children are nestled in their beds and dreaming about the big day. Everybody is saving their money for the big spend. The women are preparing themselves for the long slog of work it will demand. And the men are thinking about the pie.



Church Rummage Sale time!

This is big doins’ in the life of a small country village. For weeks we clean out our closets, and rearrange our kitchen cabinets. Old books are thoughtfully considered and packed in boxes. The kid’s outgrown boots and coats are washed, folded, and neatly packed in. The folks who didn’t get around to washing everything, let along ironing it all, drop off late at night, under the cover of darkness. The church ladies will click their tongues, but someone will take it home to add to their own pile of donation laundry before bringing it back. There are old hats and dresses with sequins. The purses usually get a table all their own. Elbow length gloves and carnival glass salt shakers are all part of the special shiny jumble.

The church will take almost anything so long as it is clean and works. No gravy stains or broken clocks allowed. Course this adds to the work of the ladies who set up the whole shebang. They must unfold and refold, plug in and throw away. “Why don’t people learn to throw stuff away?” is the common refrain. Waste not; want not, is closely held, religiously followed, and treasured up here. But that does make it hard on the ladies. Some things are set aside for the local charities, But everything else is priced and arranged on beautifully draped tables. The tables are covered with wonderful old quilt tops, ‘for display only’, prominently pinned at their edges. Still the tourists…(yes, tourists…the sale is advertised far and wide and people drive in for the day from NY, MA, and CT, to eat homemade pie and grab quarter treasures with the rest of us), they beg for the quilt tops and are sent away with maps to the best antique stores with the most quilts.

Before the sale the church ladies who have worked more than 100 hours setting it up, and the choir, are allowed an hour of early shopping on Friday night. This hour is monitored with care and strictly enforced. No extra time is ever permitted, and onlookers begging for a chance to buy that beautiful milk glass compote are turned sternly away. The sale opens at 9 AM on Saturday. Early shoppers are allowed in at 8:30 with a $25 earlybird pass.

This is Eli’s favorite day of the year. On the afternoon before the sale, he goes to the bank and cashes in several dollars for quarters. On the big morning he gets up early and counts his money for the seventeenth time. Then he gets his stuff and fills his pockets. There are important tools of the trade which he and Timmy split between them. Somebody brings a knife and the other one has a flashlight. There is a measuring tape, and plenty of candy and gum. The knife is to check if glue is new…you poke it and if it is soft the thing was just repaired and might not last. The flashlight is for looking under tables for secret drawers, or hidden treasure. The tape insures that whatever the treasure is, it will fit somewhere somehow. And as any boy knows, having a really good time requires stores of candy and gum for gleeful smacking and happy sugar highs.

One year the boys came home lugging a dismantled swingset with a platform for climbing. They got about half a block and then hiked to the store and called for help. We drove down and loaded it all into the car, except for the twenty foot sliding pole that Eli and Timmy, and Mom and Dad had to tote down the street and then up the hill which seemed really high that day. (Later termites were discovered and the platform
had to go to the dump. But even more stuff came back home after that trip, so the dump is no longer a family destination) They almost always buy lamps and extension cords for whatever clubhouse they have just built. There are garish yellow tablecloths and orange and avocado canisters for holding marbles and rocks and other cool junk like that. One year there were oil lamps and shovels and the boys were instant miners for weeks. There have been lots of swords…(the swords often began their lives as curtain rods), with belts and ties carried down to the river where the pirates screamed and murdered until time for supper.

One of the best parts of the sale comes at 4 o’clock. For the last hour everything left is a quarter, sometimes fifty cents, and occasionally a dime. It depends mostly on how much you have as five o’clock creeps closer. But the ladies don’t like to make change. They have been working for days. People have been complaining about the prices, and arguing over who touched the vase first. They are tired and their Christian hospitality is getting a little edgy. This is what the quarters are for. One year, Eli didn’t get a knife because another kid had the correct change, even though he hadn’t even seen the knife until he heard the conversation about the correct change. Never again. Eli and Timmy have gobs of quarters.

And then at 5 o’clock exactly, Bam, that’s it; it’s all over. A closed sign is posted and the men, who have mainly been buying homemade slices of pie from the lady who sits in the third pew and sings in a clear high voice, suddenly have jobs to do. Charity items are packed into cars and several station wagons and vans head to the community pantry with the donations. That’s for the really good stuff that’s left. Then the church ladies, every year, twice a year, try to teach the rest of us a lesson. The make a huge pile of stuff to throw away. Some stuff just needs to be thrown out. They say it over and over again like a mantra. Nobody wants to see repeats at the next Rummage Sale. Throw it out. So the guys lug uneven tables, and ugly lamps, wobbly chairs, and mismatched dishes. Everything must go. A giant dumpster has been placed out back and it is filled to overflowing by 7. Everybody goes home for supper tired and happy, carrying their new treasures, and feeling good about the money raised and the clean drawers where they can stash their new stuff.

Everybody is done, except our boy and his pals. They come home too, but they change into dark jeans and darker t shirts. After loading up on supper, they become the mercenaries of the dumpster. Carrying flashlights and trash bags they sneak back to the church and climb right in with all that junk. Here the dig and root happily for the free stuff. One year Kitty Hittle, the ancient lady who rules the Rummage Sale, caught them. She lives just across the street from the church and they were loud and happy sounding. This irritated her and she shooed them off with a broom. (She was, from that moment forward, known forever around our house as the old crow) The whole town was filled with stories the next day about the hooligans and their thievery. (Mind
you this stuff was in the trash and they bought everything they wanted earlier in the day) So now they wear dark clothes and are quieter. They carry walkie talkies. They sneak through the woods and come to the church the back way. They don’t get more than a few feet apart in that old filthy looking dumpster, but the aura of those walkie talkies adds to the excitement. This goes on for a couple of hours and then their parents, regular old miscreants, serve them cocoa and sort through the loot and listen to the stories of near misses with the old crow..er..Mrs Hittle.

It’s this Saturday. Ready or not….


  • Casdok

    Sounds like great fun. Amazing what you can find!

  • Bessie

    I heard that you will be featured on This AMerican Life, but it din’t say when. Is there a date yet

  • katiedid

    I love rummage sales. We call them tag sales around here. Yours sounds perfect except of course for the old crow. Lucky kids there with fun loving parents

  • Margie

    I love how you let them sneak back and climb around a dumpster. What a great childhood memory

  • beesknees

    IS Kittie Hittle her real name?Hopefully it is. She deserves outing. All the mean ones deserve it only we are usually too scared of them for one reason or another to do it. Kittie Hittle, we know who you are

  • Motherhood for Dummies

    Ohhhh rummage sales…sounds fun!

  • Kellan

    Sounds like so much fun – especially the dumpster diving part!! Have fun! Kellan

  • Anonymous

    when, where?

  • Anonymous

    Is this the church with the Jesus Guy?

  • drew

    Do they serve his pea soup? No wonder the crow is the rummage sale Nazi. The preacher kicks dogs for God’s sake

  • library lady

    Ah to be in Vermont now that rummage is there! Let us know who wins the Eli et al vs. the Crow!

  • Jennifer

    That, honestly, sounds fantastic. Wish I could go!

  • Bia

    If I lived anywhere in the vicinity, I would so be there!!

    Have a wonderful day.

  • Illinois X

    absolutely nothing better than a night time childhood commando raid…don’t forget to have them blacken their faces with burnt cork; that’s what the traditionalist would use…none of this namby pamby cosmetic camo they use today…

    Illinois X

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Wow!!! Now that is worth a trip to your northern country! 🙂

  • PIggy

    Thank you for sharing something precious with me Ellen…I never knew the whole story, I treasure it!

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