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November 3, 2013

The cool crisp days of fall are prime season for yard sales all across the Upstate. Devotees search the newspaper for locations of weekend sales. Avid shoppers may arrive before daylight to search by flashlight through long-stored collections of broken or discarded items. These rabid fanatics really do believe that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.

Several years ago, my large extended family held a yard sale at Christmastime.  We were successful in selling almost all of our junk, but we bought as much as we sold. We purchased items from each other and spent the afternoon hauling the stuff procured from our siblings back to our own homes.

Scriptures admonish us “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”

My personal commentary on the Holy Writ is better translated:  Do not pack your grandfather’s old cow barn slam full of all kinds of stuff that you think you might someday need.  Moth and rust may destroy, mice and squirrels may break in and build nests, and mold and mildew may invade.

And sooner or later you’ll have to clean out the place!

That is exactly what I did. With lots of help from energetic teenagers, I cleaned out my barn. I found five P.H.D.’s – posthole diggers.  One pair, purchased in Louisville, Kentucky, forty years ago, had a broken handle. The second I bought in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  I inherited a pair from my father-in-law, Mr. Jack, and another from my Uncle Asbury. The fifth, I borrowed from my dad when I was unable to find any of the other four.

I hauled four pickup loads of trash to the dump and contributed three loads of assorted items to a church yard sale.

Sometimes a yard sale yields a surprising find. I witnessed an incredible story on the popular television program “Antiques Roadshow” several years ago.

Frank was certain he had a valuable vase that he bought for one dollar at a yard sale.  Education Television was filming an episode of the “Antiques Roadshow” program in his hometown, so he took the vase.

On his way he stopped at a yard sale where he bought an old chair because it just looked like an antique. Frank was discouraged when appraisers at the television program told him that the vase was worth about forty dollars. Frank returned to his van and then decided to get an appraisal of the chair from the Roadshow crew. It turned out that his twenty-dollar chair was a Philadelphia Chippendale worth upwards of twelve thousand dollars.

Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield both knew the value of a good story. The two teamed up and reached out to others to contribute remarkable tales of ordinary people having extraordinary experiences. After selecting 101 inspirational submissions, they needed a title for their book. Jack remembered his grandmother’s chicken soup and her conviction that it would cure anything. I found my favorite yard sale tale in their collection of stories, Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Bob loved yard sales. Every Friday he examined the newspaper, plotting various locations and mapping his route for the next morning.  Bob’s wife, however, hated yard sales.

Bob arrived at the first sale before daylight, annoying the guy setting up the items.  Bob walked down the line of plywood tables with a flashlight, examining everything.  He turned the corner and followed the display the length of the driveway but found nothing he wanted.

In the garage, he noticed something covered with a tarp. Bob peeked underneath. Voila! A vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle!

“Is it for sale?” he asked.

“You don’t want that. It’s seized up. You’ll have to put in a new engine, which would cost more than it’s worth.”

“What’ll you take for it?”

“Forty dollars.”



Bob paid the man and pushed the motorcycle that would not run down the driveway to his truck. Using a couple of two-by-six’s, he rolled the old Harley onto his pickup and strapped it down.

Circling the block to be sure his wife was still asleep, he backed into his driveway, unloaded the motorcycle in his garage, and covered it with old sheets.

Several weeks later, Bob took a look at the old motorcycle. Knowing he needed an owner’s manual to fix it, he called the Harley-Davidson Company.

He told a person in the service department, “I’d like to get an owner’s manual for a motorcycle.”

“Do you have the serial number?”

“I’ll call you back.”

Bob located the serial number, wrote it down, and called again.

After Bob gave the man the number, the representative put Bob on hold.

He came back apologizing, “Sir, I’m unable to match that serial number with an owner’s manual.  We’ll call back at the first of next week.”

Sure enough, on Monday morning Bob received a phone call from the vice-president of the Harley-Davidson Company. “Bob, I want to check this serial number.”

Bob found the card where he had written down the number and read it to the vice-president who then repeated it to him.

Bob said, “Yes, that is correct.”

The vice-president requested, “Bob, I want you to double-check that serial number to be sure you have it right.”

Bob went back out to his garage, checked the number, and returned to the phone.  The vice-president was still holding the line.

“Yes, sir, that is the serial number.”

“Bob, do you have a Phillip’s head screwdriver?”

“Yes, I bought one at a yard sale about three weeks ago.”

“Go back to the Harley, and remove the three screws that attach the seat to the bike. Bring the seat to the phone.  I’ll hold the line.”

Bob did as instructed.

The vice-president asked, “Turn the seat upside-down, and tell me if anything is written on the bottom of the seat.”

Bob flipped the seat over and saw two words printed on the bottom of the seat.

He said, “There are two words.”

“What are they?”

Bob answered, “The King.”

The vice-president said, “Bob, the Harley-Davidson Company will offer you $100,000 for that motorcycle.”

Ever the haggler, Bob answered, “I need to think about your offer for a while.”

“Okay, Bob. We’ll be back in touch.”

The next day, the president of the Harley-Davidson Company called, saying, “Bob, we’ve decided to offer you $250,000 for your motorcycle.”

Bob said, “I have to talk to somebody about this before I sell my motorcycle.”

Two days later, Bob received a call from Jay Leno.  He explained, “Bob, I have a thing for old motorcycles.  I understand you have a Harley that was owned by Elvis Presley.  I’ll give you a half-million dollars for it.”

The story is motivation enough to prompt curious passersby to pause and browse the Saturday morning offerings at yard sales.


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