The Longest Yard Sale

Can you imagine a continuous yard sale that stretches for 400 miles? That’s a lot of kitsch, to be sure. Kentucky prides itself in this annual event that runs along Route 68 from Paducah in the west to Lebanon on the Ohio River in the northeast. Saturday I decided to see for myself what all the hubbub was about, and so I set off in mid-morning with $70 in my pocket, a bottle of water, and a packed lunch in my cooler. Dave didn’t get to tag along since he was scheduled to work at Lowes during the day shift, much to his disappointment. While it would have been nice to have shared his company on the adventure, I was glad to be out discovering things on my own.

I drove to the start of Route 68 a few miles to the southeast of Paducah and wondered how long I’d have to go before I found the first sale. I hardly had time to get the thought from my head before I saw my first sign and a gaggle of cars perched along the berm. I drove on, thinking it didn’t look that interesting and not wanting to be too eager. Then there was another one before I’d gone a lick down the road, and another. I pulled over to investigate.

Part of the experience, I realized, was determining what your rules of engagement would be. How far did you want to go? What kinds of things were you interested in? Did it matter? Quickly I realized I wasn’t very interested in clothes so I shouldn’t stop at places that had mostly piles and racks of pre-owned faded ware. Ditto for kids’ stuff. Also, I decided that if it wasn’t directly on Route 68 I wasn’t going to bother. So that meant I ignored all yard sale signs directing me down a side road. Only so much time and so much territory to cover, you have to have a battle plan.

I realized I was interested in antique stuff, a broad category. I poked through tables of glassware and decorative items, trying to decide what interested me. Sometimes there wasn’t much to look at, and I wondered why they even bothered to try to sell a lot of what I saw. I’d have simply piled what appeared to me to be the detritus of overflowing households into large garbage bags and set it on the roadside for appropriate disposal. In the castoff Christmas decorations and ghastly faded and crumpled centerpieces I detected determined hope, perhaps misplaced faith, or was it foolishness, that somebody out there would want these pieces of their lives and even maybe need them. I drove on in search of what I might be looking for.

After several stops without much success in finding anything of even mild interest I found a sale in the shaded yard of an old farmhouse with lots of tables filled with interesting glassware, linens, and other fascinating items. There were a variety of antique chairs, desks, and even an old child’s school desk that I briefly considered for use as an interesting lawn seat. Under a tree to the side of the yard was a table with several household items including a small Mexican woven rug for $5 and a hooked rug pillow cover for $8. They were both in good shape and priced incredibly well. The chicken on the pillow cover looked almost identical to the designs the ladies outside of San Miguel make, and I wondered if maybe it was one of theirs that someone was now selling for a song. I felt its charm, and the rug had a good design and neutral enough color to go in Paducah or in our casita in Mexico. I plopped down my $13 for these incredible finds and was back on the hunt for more treasures.

My favorite spots along the way in route to Cadiz where I ended my journey, were large communal sales with several vendors. There were more antiques and more to choose from and usually no clothes or kids’ toys to detour past. At one such place I picked up 8 classic diner coffee cups for $10, reduced from the vendor’s original price of 2 for $10 when she found that I wanted the entire lot. I didn’t even have to break a sweat to get her to cave.

One of the added unexpected pleasures of the day was just getting to experience the people at the yard sales with me. Going from place to place I became privy to bits of conversations among sellers or buyers in the middle of some tale as they poked through the tables of books and broken yard gadgets. “Well, Ah tole him Ah wuddn’t gonna be thar any tahme soon.”?”Ah know’d ” Growing up in central Indiana where the Rs are pressed hard and there’s a harshness to the spoken word, these conversations of Western Kentucky had more twang with the sweet, slow movement of molasses, the vowels rounded and extended. The words became more fluid, more beguiling, more intimate. I found myself leaning into them, enjoying their cadence, savoring their earthiness, and smiled just for getting to listen in on these fleeting conversations even if I wasn’t able to get all the words. You never know what you’ll pick up at a yard sale.