by Vanessa Kristovich
My grandmother was a great lady, the matriarch of my father’s family. She had bright eyes and salt-and pepper hair, and a beautiful, warm smile. She also had some strong opinions, and one of them was that a person shouldn’t buy junk.
Grandmom used to visit at my dad’s house almost every Saturday afternoon. She usually came with her hair in pin curls tied up in a scarf, this in preparation for church the next day. She often brought her knitting, which was a hobby she enjoyed and which she could do at lightening speeds. She had a story at the ready; all I had to do was ask.
Several friends and relatives, me included, would pop in to visit and perhaps have some dinner or play a game of Pinochle. After all, you can’t be a real Polish-American without the occasional pickles, pierogi, and Pinochle. At the time, I often spent Saturday mornings on planned yard-sale treks with my friend Bilda, and then I would come to dad’s to proudly show off the treasures that I acquired.
It was during one of these visits that my grandmother asked me, “Why do you spend your money on other people’s junk?” My grandmom never held back when she wanted to say something. At one point, she even told me that she felt it was a privilege of her age to be able to say what she wanted without worrying about how other people felt about it. “All people do at those yard-sales is try to get your money for giving you their trash. It’s all stuff that they’re going to throw away anyway.” I didn’t totally agree with her, but I didn’t argue with her, either. There would be no point in that.
My friend Bilda was a beautiful woman who was raising five children alone with no real job. Still, she managed to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Her house was beautifully decorated with some antique furniture, appropriate knick-knacks, and an oriental rug. I asked her how she did that, and she explained to me the intricacies of the yard sale. Follow the ads in the newspaper, she said. Plan your strategy the night before to get the most shopping done in the time allotted, and don’t buy anything without a purpose. And never, ever consider a price final until you are satisfied with it. It’s better to lose a piece than to pay too much for it. These were her rules, and our weekend excursions were to help me learn them. I explained all this to my granny, but she remained unmoved.
Things stayed pretty much the way they were for a long while, but my yard sale purpose changed. Christmas was coming, and I had eight siblings, their spouses, their children and other people that I wanted to give gifts to. It was an overwhelming list for someone on an almost-minimum-wage salary. And I wanted to find something for grandmom.
Finding her a present was a ponderous task. Grandmom had six children who then produced more than a hundred grand and great-grandchildren, and everybody wanted to give her something. We all knew that her favorite perfume was “Emeraude,” and at the end of Christmas gift-giving she usually had enough of it to last through the year. She didn’t appear to need anything; she lived with my aunt, and her children made sure she had whatever she asked for.
What do you give somebody like that? I decided to keep my eyes open and let the Lord provide an answer.
And provide He did. One Saturday, I went yard shopping alone. I had graduated from my friend’s learning and now felt confident that I was a capable thrift shopper in my own right. I planned my route by the newspaper ads that interested me. The last sale was at a house just down the street from my dad’s house, where I would be going afterward. This was an estate sale.
The family of an elderly woman who just passed away was trying to dispose of her things. There was some jewelry, some toiletries, a few knick-knacks. As I walked around the various piles, I was not finding anything that would impress me.
Suddenly, there it was! Before me lay a gilded mirror tray, still in the original box. It was the kind that you might find in an antique store with a golden flat brush and a large-toothed comb. It had an intricately carved edge painted gold. It looked new. Best of all, it was marked $1.00. Perfect!
I snapped that right up. I hid it under the seat in my car so she wouldn’t see it. As soon as I got home, I tore off the price tag, wrapped it in pretty Christmas paper and added a bow and some ribbon. I hoped that grandmom would like it, and that she didn’t have one already.
Christmas came. That Saturday, we got together as usual, this time to give grandmom her gifts. She got many packages, and I was a little nervous as I waited for her to get to mine. I wanted her to like it, both because I loved her, and because I wanted to be vindicated in our yard sale debate. Package after package I waited as she ripped the paper off. Finally, she picked up the gift that I gave her. When she saw it, her faced lit up like the Christmas tree behind her. “I always wanted one of these! Thank you!” A huge smile crossed her face as she showed the gift around.
Success! My heart got as big as Vineland. Seeing the smile on her face magnified my joy. I managed to find a present for the grand Lady that she liked and didn’t have, and at the same time I managed, for the one time in my life, to be a little bit right. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. Of course, I didn’t bring that up to her at any time; it was enough for me to have this story to tell after she passed.
Grandmom left us in 1994. If I close my eyes, I can still see her sitting in our rocking chair, knitting, pin curls in her hair. And who knows, maybe when I meet her again, I can tease her just a little bit…
Category: Memoir, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing