I love a good yard sale. The bargain hunting, the people you meet, the range of junk and treasure you find—it’s an excellent Saturday morning amusement. (And it means I started my Christmas shopping by the end of May.)
We were out one Saturday on a wild goose chase of yard sale signs. The sight of dishes triggered my memory. There was a new, sudden refugee family arrival in only a few days. A flurry of texting later, and we had a list of items we still needed to set up their new apartment as a home.
We pulled up in front of a small rancher. In my mind’s eye there were awnings and carefully sculpted shrubs but that could be a bit of projection. Two elderly women stood talking in the shade of the lip overhanging the garage door. One was portly, wrapped in a cardigan. The other was petite and skinny. She had a canvas money apron tied to her waist like she was a carnival vendor. Their conversation floated over as we started looking. It was about nurses and medical problems and faith.
The portly woman left, and Scott asked the tiny lady about the fishing lures. She laughed at her ignorance and walked to the door that led into her home and yelled for her husband. The door was open, and the breeze wafted over the distinct smell of nursing homes and sickness. Her husband hobbled out. He had suspenders on over a white T-shirt and a large ball cap, the sort with the mesh—though this could be an image in my memory from a hazy photograph. Thick compression socks braced his calves.
I paid the woman for the silverware I’d found to add to our preparatory stash, then walked across the road to see the neighbor’s wares. When I returned, the man in the hat had Scott laughing at fishing stories. And the woman came beelining toward me.
“Your husband tells me you’re collecting things a refugee family. Tell me—what else do you need? What can I give you?”
I smiled appreciatively and tried to shrug off her offer. In spite of my polite protests, she began to make a circuit through the piles of her possessions, holding items up as she came to them. Her flitting movements were a plea: Please let me help you. Please let me give you these artifacts of my life so they can make someone else a home.
I couldn’t refuse her. A few careful yeses and firm nos later (she would have given me everything if I'd let her), I had four paper sacks filled with kitchen items and woven blankets at my feet.
With every addition, I thanked her profusely. With every thank-you, she would repeat, “Oh, honey, it’s not me. It’s from above.” Here, she gestured with both hands to heaven. “Thank you for helping these people. I’m just glad to know these things are going to someone who needs them.”
When that family walks into their kitchen and sees that massive metal strainer or the 70s-era crockpot still in perfect working order, when they make bread or cake in those pans, when they curl up under the warmth of one of those blankets, they will never know that they came from the hands of a sweet woman in a tiny rancher in our small New Hampshire town. They will never know her generosity or the earnestness of her love in wanting to make them welcome here. But I do. And I thank God for her—even though I don’t know her name.