Goodwill Hunting

October 28th, 2014

Writer Randy Fitzgerald's column from the Oct.-Nov. 2014 issue.

Let the downsizing begin! The same woman who has spent 50 years collecting little tchotchkes, 40s-era juice glasses, small rocking horses and a zillion books is now having second thoughts. The many side tables and painted lamps and pottery vases so patiently collected over the years at innumerable yard sales are no longer looked upon lovingly at our house. The pulpit chair from an estate sale in Montpelier, the beautiful early-1900s pool table we bought out of someone’s basement and the canopy bed in the attic are apparently all doomed. The DVD player, my spare set of golf clubs and three kitchen stools have already gone Goodwill hunting. Barb is cleaning house and clearing out.


She walks around the house these days asking, “Could we get along without this chair?” I’m seeing this new fixation as the reversal of the nesting instinct she had when she was pregnant. “Now that I find myself in my seventies,” she told me yesterday, “I want to get rid of everything that’s not essential. Simplify, simplify.”

I’m hoping the “essentials” still include me. Everything else seems to be fair game.

It’s sad in a way. I have many fond memories of Saturday mornings spent in various front yards in the far West End, of overcrowded garages in the Fan and tag sales as far away as Tappahannock.

A favorite family story is of the time Barb and I were in a line to pay for her purchases at a yard sale in Westhampton and, assuming that she was still right behind me, I was talking animatedly to her, only to find when I turned around that she had left the line, was across the yard inspecting more potential purchases, and I had been talking to a strange woman.

I began to stammer an apology to the lady, saying, “I’m sorry. I thought you were my wife.” And she looked me up and down slowly and carefully and said, “Not in this lifetime.”

Barb, in the process of returning to the line, overheard this and has never let me forget it. “Not in this lifetime” has become one of her favorite lines, used good-humoredly in more than one private situation.


Gee, no more yard sales. Yard sales have provided me with some of my best “jerk gene” material. The male jerk gene is the mutation responsible for all the stupid things we guys can say or do at any given moment, like putting the cat tuna can in the fridge without a top, or sucking up the cord on more than one vacuum cleaner in a six-month period, or overflowing the bathtub and flooding the house — all of which I have been known to do on occasion.

Yard sales allow me to exercise the junk gene with less fallout. Like the time, wandering around a tag sale in Midlothian, I found an item I could not identify. Taking it to the homeowner, I asked what it was. “A breast pump,” she informed me. Thinking about sanitation, I asked, “Is it legal to sell these used?” She gave me a suspicious once-over (see description above), and said, “Probably not to you.”

Another time, idly passing the time while I waited for Barb, I picked up a neti pot for her, thinking it was a small teapot. And let’s not even talk about the domestic response to the pillow that said, “If a man speaks alone in the forest, is he still wrong?” Needless to say, none of my personal yard sale picks are still available for the recent discarding.


I guess this clearing out process is good — at least it means that the kids won’t have to bulldoze the house when we’re gone, as daughter Sarah has threatened to do if we don’t get it under control.

And, good news for the rest of you, we’ll eventually be having one heck of a yard sale.


Randy Fitzgerald was a longtime public relations director at the University of Richmond and columnist for The Richmond News Leader and later the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He then taught modern American literature at Virginia Union University until retiring in 2012. Contact him at


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