In 2000, I bicycled solo across the US, from east to west. Along the way, I stopped at several yard sales, including one in Ennis, Ontario. The spoon that I purchased there is, to this day, one of my most prized possessions.
I lost my metal spoon on the third day of my cross country bicycle trip, and since then I had been using a half-dozen white plastic spoons that I’d filched from a McDonald’s in Buffalo, New York. The problem was that they’d melted after repeated use when I put them in soups, stews, or hot chocolate. I needed a new metal spoon, and this Ennis, Ontario yard sale seemed as good a place as any to find one.
On both the left-and right-hand side of the driveway were boxes full of books, baby clothes, and kid’s toys. I leaned my bicycle up against a battered kids’ desk, sauntered over to a 1950s style card table, and rummaged through a pile of kitchen utensils. I found a lone spoon, and happily slapped the bottom side of it against the flat of my left hand. A woman who was sitting in a Lazy-Boy Recliner looked at me, and then at the spoon. I grinned as she rubbed a thumb and index finger together.
“How much do you want for this?” I asked.
I slipped into bartering mode. “Kinda pricey, don’t you think?”
“It’s an heirloom.”
I placed the spoon in a plastic silverware container, and took several steps backwards.
The woman, who I nicknamed Betty (because she was wearing a Betty Boop tee shirt) looked at me expectantly. I immediately slipped from bartering to begging mode.
“I don’t need an heirloom. I need a plain, ordinary teaspoon.”
“Well, the plain, ordinary ones are heirlooms,” she replied.
“George,” the woman yelled, “Getcher butt away from the television and come and give me a hand. This woman needs a spoon.”
George popped his head out the garage screen door and looked around. I tried, but could not resist the impulse to stare. He was wearing purple Speedo underwear, and had skin that was the color and texture of a freshly-hatched robin. He was so thin that I could see his ribcage. If he was my partner, I’d fatten him up by spoon feeding him carbohydrates. I had six boxes of instant mashed potatoes in my panniers. At the time, I’d considered this to be the grocery store bargain of the century. They’d been on sale, three for a dollar. Plus, they were light, which I surmised would make for easy carrying. The problem was they tasted like cardboard.
“I need a teaspoon,” I said “I’m bicycle touring and . . . “
“I’ll be right back.”
George disappeared back into the house. In the meantime, Betty and I chatted.
“Why are you selling all this stuff?” I asked.
“We’re moving. We gotta pare down.”
“Where ya moving to?”
“A few miles down the road.”
George, who was now wearing boxers with sharks on them, and bright pink flip-flops, ran out of the house, came over to my side, and began sorting through a cluster of boxes that were piled underneath the card table.
“Got a lot of spoons,” George mumbled, adding, “Big spoons, little spoons, middle-sized spoons, spoons for every conceivable occasion.”
As George rattled on, I drifted away from the table and looked around. There was nothing out of the ordinary being offered at this particular sale. However, my attention was drawn to a pink Sealy’s Posturpedic mattress. Betty, who’d been following my every step, announced that I could have it for $5.00, adding that this was as low as she possibly could go.
“I don’t need a mattress,” I said, adding, “I own a Thermarest.”
“I don’t know what a Thermarest is,” Betty said, “But it can’t be as comfortable as a Sealy’s Posturpedic.”
“No, but it’s easier to carry. I’m bicycling cross country and I can’t carry a mattress . . . .”
“You drive a hard bargain. How about $4.75?” offered Betty.
This price was more than fair—the mattress had no stains on it, and probably had fewer miles on it than my sleeping pad. And, over the long haul, it would be more comfortable.
“You got any twine?” I asked.
“Whatcha want twine for?”
“Well, if I buy this mattress, I’ll have to roll it up and tie it together, and then put it on the rear carrier of my bicycle.”
“How far ya going on that there bicycle?”
“Ohh, another two thousand miles or so.”
“Yeah, twine would be the ticket, unless the string snapped. But we’ll tie it up good for you.”
“Tie it up good for me? I don’t know if I really need a . . . .”
George, Betty yelled, We got any twine?”
George, hearing the woman, looked up from spoon sorting.
“I thought all you was looking for a teaspoon,” George said, as he handed me a spoon. I stifled a giggle because this piece of silverware was identical to the one that Betty had called an heirloom. Once again, I slipped into bartering mode, but this time, I did it with more conviction. I needed a spoon, and didn’t want to have spend my afternoon at yet another yard sale, engaging in seemingly endless dickering.
“How much do you want for this?” I asked.
“A dollar fifty,” Betty said.
“A dollar fifty?” I shrieked. “You want a dollar fifty for this spoon? “It’s got a bent handle.”
“It’s great deal,” Betty said, adding, “This spoon has been in my family since 1959. My grandmother got it out of a Duz Detergent box. That was back in the day when detergent companies included dishware and silverware with their purchases. They don’t do that kind of thing now.”
“Okay. How’s about I pay you two dollars for both spoons? Plus, I’ll throw in two boxes of mashed potatoes. Great stuff. You add boiling water, and thirty seconds later, you got yourself a meal.”
“It’s a deal,” Betty said, adding, “Now about the mattress. . . .”
“How’s about we send it, parcel post, to your destination?” George said, adding, “Of course, you’ll have to pay the shipping costs.”
I smiled. I could just see the Port Orford, Oregon Postal Clerk’s expression when I inquired as to the whereabouts of my Sealy.
“$4.00, and that’s my final offer,” Betty said.
“You’re making me an offer I can’t refuse, but I’m going to have to pass. It really is a lovely mattress, and you’re being extremely generous. But I really don’t have the room.”
“I found the twine,” George said. “Want me to tie it up for you?”
“No, no, no,” I say, as I hand Betty two dollars.
“Yer making a big mistake,” George said, as Betty stuffed the bills in her ample bosom.
“Every day I make some kind of big mistake. Two weeks ago, I bypassed purchasing an electric waffle maker. This was back in Rutland, Vermont. It was so new that a set of instructions went with it. I could have gotten it for fifty cents.”
“At 9:00 tonight yer gonna feel this way about passing on this mattress,” Betty said.
“I guess that this is a risk I’m going to have to take.”
“You’re a brave woman,” George said, as I slipped the two new spoons into the side pocket of my left front pannier.
Indeed, as I pedaled off, I felt like I’d just gone where no bicyclist had ever gone before.