Monday, January 17, 2011

Take My Punchbowl......Please

I grew up in a world of yard sales and garage sales. My mother loved them. During my childhood we were constantly stopping at yard sales and rummaging through other people's "junk" looking for an item or two that, to us, would be a "treasure".

The love of yard sales was ingrained into my existence and  followed me into adulthood, much to my husband's dismay. Fridays, after dropping the boys off at school, would be spent following a well-laid out, specific grid of the best streets and neighborhoods in which I could get my yard sale "fix" in those few short hours. Even today, when we pass a yard sale, I get a tinge of excitement because I want a "fix". I am a self-professed yard sale junkie!

As much as I loved going to yard sales, I sometimes had to face the fact that I had collected too many "treasures" and had to clean out my burgeoning closets and cupboards and have a yard sale of my own.

Jim's "man-cave" would be converted into "Garage Sale Central" where every item would be inventoried, tagged, and prominently displayed for sale.

Now, the one aspect about any type of sale is the inevitable "price wars"; the seller's  belief that an item is worth one thing, while the prospective buyer believes they can get a better bargain.

I have never felt comfortable with this juncture of ANY sale; car, insurance, protective undercoating, oven mitts!!!

"Chewing down the price" is a practice I have never felt comfortable participating in; as buyer OR seller. I refuse to put myself in that position as a buyer and I generally will avoid the immediate area where anyone else is attempting to do so. And I certainly feel more than uncomfortable when somebody does it to me.

Already feeling uncomfortable with this seemingly acceptable practice, I was all-the-more uncomfortable when I was enlightened to the fact that "chewing down the price" was, in fact, also referred to "Jewing down the price" which obviously, is an offensive and stereotypical term. I expect that the "chewing" term is a spin-off of the latter, and therefore more acceptable in the eyes of those who utilize the term, perhaps unaware of the origin.

So, now I have even more reason to dislike price negotiations. Then one day, an experience brought things to light for me in a whole new way.

I was knee-deep in one of my yard sales and was doing a very good job at standing by the prices I had written on the stickers. If someone didn't want to pay me what I thought an item was worth, they had the option of simply returning said item to the table and they can move on to the next yard sale!

Towards the end of the day, there were a few shoppers left in my garage; in particular, an elderly woman and her care giver. Of  interest to this woman was my crystal punch bowl set. It was a  rather striking set with beautiful cuts in the crystal bowl and cups that would radiate rainbows of color when on display. I had marked the item at $10.00, which I felt was more than fair.

On more than one occasion, this elderly woman had tried to "chew" me down to $5.00 .... and again to $8.00. But I was steadfast on the price...and proud of myself for sticking to my belief that I had established a fair price, at that! Eventually, the woman relented and gently placed the bowl back on the table... she would run her hand along the upper rim of the bowl and smile. I could tell that she truly liked the bowl and I resolved that if she liked it that much, she'd be forking over that $10 before she left !!! I would be victorious!!!

She had also shown interest in a bedroom set that I had on display. It was a beautiful set that Jim and I had paid top dollar for and I was letting this furniture go for the bargain ( and I really mean it was a bargain ) of $300. The woman had stated that she would really like to purchase that bedroom set for her granddaughter and would I consider taking less, to which I would, of course, decline.

This entire time, the woman retained her pleasant disposition, sweet, with a smile on her face. She had determined that she was going to pass on the punch bowl and had returned to her car, her care giver behind the wheel. Before they pulled away, she had called me to the car and asked if she could leave me her number in the event that the bedroom set didn't sell; she'd like to purchase it if I would consider a payment arrangement for the full price. She was on a fixed income, but really wanted to make some arrangement so her granddaughter would have a bedroom set.

I agreed to consider her option and provided her with a pen and a piece of paper in which she could write her contact information.

I watched her as she wrote her name and number on the paper, and that's when I saw it. She didn't mean for me to see it; it was obvious that she tried to keep it covered. But I had seen it, and my life would not be the same. There, on the edge her forearm, peeking out from her sweater, was her identification number.

Her WWII Holocaust Identification Number. I had just spent the last 20 minutes haggling over a measly two to five dollars with a soul who had experienced atrocities in her lifetime that I would never be able to comprehend.

That moment was one of my lowest in my life. Who was "I" in the grand scheme of things to get such a feeling of power by standing by my self-imposed guidelines of what holds value and at what price.

I collected the paper from her and asked her to wait a moment. I ran back to my garage and grabbed that punchbowl set. With tears starting to well up in my eyes, I returned to her car, opened the passenger door and placed that punchbowl on her lap.

She genuinely seemed confused and stated that she didn't have the $10.  Through my tears, I told her that I didn't want the money; I just wanted her to enjoy the beauty of that punch bowl!  She offered the $5, I vehemently refused. I would not take any amount of money from this woman. You can't put a price on the lesson I was learning!

Again, she stroked the edge of the bowl with a slight smile on her face...for that moment, and if only for that moment, I had provided joy in this woman's life .....

and it didn't cost either of us a single penny !!!

This woman, had unwittingly, "Jewed me down" in the most literal sense....and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for that lesson; I believe that I am a better person for it.


  1. Tears in my eyes, seriously Alicia. Well written.

  2. wow...what a powerful story is all I can say!!

  3. Thank you, ladies...

    It's amazing how "life lessons" are taught to us, isn't it? When I think back about it now, I wonder if her mother, or maybe her grandmother, had a similar punchbowl and that was why she would lovingly rub the edge of the bowl...

    I still cry when I think of this ...and it's been close to 20 years since that day.

  4. I get a lump in my throat when I think about this event and how beautifully you wrote about it. Thank you for reminding me that some things are without a price tag.

  5. Ok, I read this one the other night, at about 1am. Had me crying. So well written honey. luvs

  6. Oh my goodness, what a powerful story. Let this be a lesson for ALL of us - everyone has a story before they get to you.