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In Our Own Backyard...Every garage sale tells a story

I've never been big on garage sales. It's not that I don't find them alluring -- I do. The thought of finding some unexpected treasure at a bargain price is intrinsic in most of us. It's just that I already have a house and garage so crammed with "stuff" that my husband calls it a "staging area for the dump." And so, I resist the siren's song of the garage sale ads as much as possible.

Last weekend I found myself with some free time on my hands while visiting a big city. A random walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood led me to a garage sale that was impossible to resist.

It was early morning and the homeowner was out in her yard just setting things up. I was walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street when I spotted the sale. What I saw lured me in, hook, line and sinker.

The woman herself was willowy and delicate looking, with hair piled in an elaborate updo on the top of her head and dyed a striking shade of auburn. She wore a satin blouse and beads, her nails were manicured and polished, and out in her driveway she had set up a scene that looked like something out of a Hollywood movie set.

An antique wood dining room table was set up as if for a gracious dinner party, complete with place settings of bone china, sterling flatware, crystal goblets and a lace tablecloth. The centerpiece was a giant porcelain vase filled luxuriously with silk flowers.

A nearby glass-fronted hutch held a set of robin's egg blue dinnerware, complete with all the serving pieces, and in another section of the driveway was an antique bed frame and mattress sporting a beautiful hand-crocheted coverlet. Atop it was a variety of organza and beaded evening bags, ivory vanity accessories, elaborately framed mirrors and dainty women's gloves. It looked like the lady of the house had just gotten ready for an elegant dinner party and swept down to the ballroom to await her guests.

Oh, there was ever so much more. An antique wrought-iron and rattan doll carriage with big wheels and a graciously curved handle was lined with a blue silk cushion. When I exclaimed over it, she said, "Do you think I'm asking too much for it?" The price tag read $15.

There were antique end tables, coffee tables, wing chairs and even a "fainting" couch. When I asked if they were all hers, she admitted some were and some weren't. She explained that she's into buying and refinishing antique furniture and that she's redone the interiors of eight of the city's gracious old homes.

She pointed to the set of robin's egg blue dishes in the hutch and said those had been in her family for several years. She said it was a pattern popular in the 1950s and over the years she's bought all of the pieces she could get her hands on to make up for the ones her kids broke along the way. And even still, the hutch held a complete service for 12.

She explained that the pair of ornately framed photos of winged fairies once hung in her daughter's room. The set of green silk placemats shaped like giant leaves had attracted her eye because they reminded her of rhubarb leaves.

My eyes opened even wider as I spotted a nearly life-sized replica of a carousel horse propped up against the street sign on the corner, with the woman's garage sale sign taped to the side of it.

"Is that carousel horse yours, too?" I asked.

She nodded proudly and said, "Yes -- that's my show stopper. I thought it would help get people's attention as they drove by."

I guess she must have been glad of the company, and of my obvious admiration for all of her cherished things, because she took time out from her set-up duties to chat for a while. She asked where I was from, what brought me to town and if I had a husband and children. She sighed as she shared with me the fact that she'd just found out that her "first love" is dying of cancer, and that she, herself, has been widowed for many years.

When I complimented her on how beautifully she'd staged her garage sale, she smiled softly.

"I had to haul all of this out and set it up by myself," she explained. "And believe me, it's not that easy ­-- when you're 82!"