Bargain hunting

Yesterday, overcome by some sort of Mothers’ Day fever, I uttered the un-take-back-able words, “Whatever you want to do tomorrow … ”

Thus, I found myself brushing my teeth at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday before pouring not enough coffee into a Styrofoam cup, climbing creakily into my mother’s passenger seat and heading off for a morning of yard sale-ing.

That may not be a word, and the subject itself may not be a competitive sport, but it should be.

Off we went, a few targets circled in the classifieds (yes, Virginia, those still exist) but prone to sudden braking should a small red-and-white sign bearing the magic words be spotted staked into the ground. One didn’t need Google maps for this journey. Just follow the line of minivans, or the dinged-up gray Corolla driven by a woman who whizzed in and out of three locales we also visited with a slightly manic expression of determination fixed on her face.

Cars lined both sides of narrow residential streets in near-identical subdivisions. SUVs pulled away from curbs without the slightest backward glance. One white contractor van tailgated us to two locations, slowing as we slowed, but whether the scruffy dude driving was looking for merchandise or victims, I couldn’t say.

We were in search of a microwave, though the thought of nuking food in a small, enclosed container that had nuked other people’s food left me a bit cold. At our first stop, the Holy Grail had been sold minutes earlier. Our second and third destinations were driveways full of plastic kids’ toys and didn’t merit disembarking from the car.

The fourth, run by two professional women with pocketed aprons and a practiced stream of chatter, yielded $5 fruit (which may have been cleaned once, during the first Clinton administration). For $5, I would have given anything I was selling a once-over with a Clorox rag, just because the people buying it now knew where I lived. I would cringe to think of people passing my house in the future, thinking to themselves: Oh, yeah, that’s where Filthy Microwave Lady lives.

But I digress. Tinges of morning bitchiness aside, I was actually happy to be ping-ponging from one table weighed down with sad-eyed stuffed animals and floral place settings to another. It gave me a chance to erase a guilt-ridden memory I’ve held onto for years, when my mother, visiting me at the beach where I lived in my 20s, wanted to go yard sale-ing one morning. I grudgingly dragged my hungover ass at out of bed sometime around 8:30, shrinking from Mama’s gradually fading enthusiasm. I didn’t get out of the car at the two addresses she found in an unfamiliar town. She came back from the last picked-over piles to say that all the good stuff was gone, and we drove back to my apartment, where I probably went back to bed.

My personal performance was much better this morning. I said good morning to strangers, smiled at the little girl with her lemonade-and-cookies setup in one driveway, carried the $5 microwave to the car. I cleaned it in our garage, watching the stragglers leave the next-door neighbor’s yard sale, while a cool breeze blew through the open window.

I thought about driving down the tree-lined road, green hills rolling away on either side as a Carolina blue sky rubbed away a light shroud of fog like sleep from its eyes. I thought how the road curved, and how the first thing visible once it straightened was a large Confederate flag rippling in that breeze.

Yesterday, at the end of a drive home I can now make in a little more than an hour, I went to see my Granny. I took her some potted hydrangeas, blue instead of the white that grew on what we called the snowball bushes in the front yard of the house that was as much my own as the one where I technically lived. I didn’t stay long. There was a funeral going on nearby – how awful, I thought, just before Mothers’ Day. I told Granny and Pop I missed them, but I tell them that a lot anyway.

I miss them, and I miss parts of this place. I miss the newspaper folded to the funnies on the kitchen counter. (Daddy sometimes reads out loud the ones that amuse him the most, usually Snuffy Smith.) I miss the smell of the beans slow-cooking until their much-anticipated date with the cornbread tonight. I miss the friend who’s been the other side of my self since we were 15, when my preppy blouses met her faded jean jacket underneath a print of “The Persistence of Memory” in Spanish class.

I don’t miss the misguided affection for a past that doesn’t really contain all that much to be proud of. (I say this as a very proud Southerner. I am proud of the certainty that whoever enters the store in front of me here will look back and hold the door. I am proud of the people who are as true to themselves and their family and friends – often interchangeable concepts – as the red-dirt earth. I am proud of my accent, which elongates vowels and drops g’s somethin’ fierce the longer I stay. I am not proud of, and do not celebrate, so often being on the wrong side of history.)

I don’t miss the front-page newspaper story on National Day of Prayer. (I have no problem with praying. For my thoughts on gussied-up praying in public, see Bible, The Holy, Matthew 6:6, red letters.) I don’t miss the Waffle House cook whose eyes narrow at the white man and black woman coming through the door.

I also don’t think that racism, or sanctimoniousness, or ignorance are regional blights. Would that they were. The offending sections of the country could be quarantined and starved until sanity prevailed. But as current events have made clear far and wide, it’s gotten a bit beyond that now.

I’ve never found sticking my head in the sand to be a helpful approach, as anyone familiar with my occasional social media rants may realize all too well. But I admit, it’s getting harder to engage with an outside world that leaves handicapped women stranded on the side of the road or obsesses about exactly which bodily instrument is doing the peeing in a public bathroom – and does so in the name of Jesus.

So some days, I get up at 7:30 on a Saturday and go yard sale-ing with my mother, find a $5 microwave, and call it good.