Last week I traveled to my Grandma’s house, an hour away from my own, in order to help her with a garage sale. For about four hours, I set my young muscles to the task of moving tables and lifting heavy boxes full of square-dancing clothes, random bits of mismatched jewelry, and old junk that had apparently once taken up space in her house but I had never seen. And that night, we put prices on memories.
The most abundant items at the sale were the John Deere collectibles: two old gas lamps, keychains, pins, pocket watches, wrist watches, a rain gauge, a thermometer, tractor figurines, pens, mugs, magnets, a pencil case, a teddy bear in a t-shirt, and a huge assortment of mint condition belt buckles. And after a significant amount of time had passed and no interest had yet been shown in the collection, a man stopped by who looked at nothing else.
I’d put him at about six foot three, a completely random estimate based on the fact that, for the vast majority of our interactions, I was always looking up. But from my vantage point, I had a clear view of all the outward traits which truly mattered. Despite his skinny frame, he carried a large amount of weight in his stomach, a protruding beer belly barely covered by a tattered striped shirt desperately seeking the top of his navy blue stretch shorts. A beat up baseball cap shadowed but didn’t hide his blotchy gray hair and haughty countenance as he bent over the neatly organized table of John Deere memorabilia.
And as I thought hopefully to myself that perhaps now we’d make some money off these things, the man pulls out a tiny magnifying glass, like a jeweler’s loupe, and attached it to his finger. One by one, he inspected the belt buckles, probably looking for dates or serial numbers or however else you tell something is worth money. Between inspections, he’d let me know how we’d put the pricing stickers in the wrong places and that the adhesive would ruin whatever surface it was we had put them on.
He was there for maybe an hour or more, taking a magnifying glass to our memories, and in that time I had constructed a good number of possible life stories for this odd man, his cheap clothing, and his obvious fascination with buckles.
He was a homeless man. The holes in the shoulders of his shirt were where moths had chewed through while he slept in the back of an abandoned truck behind a half-star restaurant. He’d found the jeweler’s glass in a dumpster somewhere and had taken to roaming around the city looking for garage sales to inspect things and pretend he knew more about them than he really did.
“I’m gonna make myself a nice pile of these right here,” he said, placing belt buckles on the corner of the table where I kept the money-box.
He’s an antique dealer. He travels around to garage sales and auctions and the like, wearing those dirty old clothes in order to fool people and get a cheaper price out of them. He’s not very smart though: the loupe is a bit of a giveaway.
No, he’s too bitter for that. He’s probably a —
“Can you go down to $3 on these? It’s not even John Deere. See here, this one’s K—–”
— man that divorced his wife. She probably took all he had, considering the state of his clothes. The beer belly is evidence of heartbreak and the cold exterior of a love gone sour. Definitely a former jeweler.
A child walked near him, lost in a handheld video game he’d found on a table nearby, and the man patted his back in an awkward attempt to be friendly. “Did’ya find somethin’ there, boy?”
A dad, for sure. One who was too caught up in his work and his collections to pay much attention to the kids his wife finally took after the divorce. He’s here to continue feeding his addiction by buying up our stuff.
His heart aches for a connection. Whatever his life was before, it’s empty now. And in a desperate attempt to fill it up, he moves restlessly from garage sale to garage sale buying trinkets and knick-knacks, hoping to somehow absorb the memories of the owners as he evaluates us and our worth through his little jeweler’s glass.
“So, what’s my total now?
But I guess it doesn’t really matter.