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Molnar: The Townwide Yardsale

10/18/11 7:55AM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) Commentator Martha Molnar is a recent transplant to Vermont who learned some interesting things about Vermonters at her Town-wide yard sale this summer.


(Molnar) The annual town-wide yard sale offers ample opportunities for finding bargains, admiring babies, peeking at people's gardens, and for newcomers like us, for meeting neighbors.

It makes for easy first conversations, since most of the items for sale come with entertaining stories.

That embroidery hoop I bought last year? I never have and never will embroider, but it had been used by a neighbor's grandmother to monogram her trousseau! And even though we have a built-in bread drawer, I couldn't pass up a fine mid-century-modern breadbox with a storied past.

This year, we manned a table in front of the Castleton library. My husband, Ted, had decided the library was a good cause, and agreed to get rid of the ancient, made-in-India dental tool samples that had moved with us across state lines.

"Why would anyone need dental tools?" I asked. "Why do people buy anything?" he answered. "It's not because they NEED anything."

I couldn't argue with that, given the embroidery hoop and bread box sitting in the garage. And he was so right. By lunchtime we had sold out of almost every tool - more than 300 of them at a dollar a piece.

But most astonishing was the widespread, universal interest they inspired. People claimed they needed the pliers, tweezers, clamps and picks for all kinds of uses - like grabbing yarn through the underside of hooked rugs, lifting worms for fishhooks, grasping pieces for miniature cars and cleaning windshield washer nozzles, or picking away at bits of glue and residue.

Some people bought half a dozen, convinced they would find a use for each. And they will too.

With Vermonters' famous can-do attitude, self reliance, patience and Yankee ingenuity there's no doubt those old dental tools will see hundreds of uses their manufacturer never imagined. A generation from now they will be sold at some other yard sale, and some enterprising Vermonter in 2050 will marvel at these strange antique tools and speculate on their uses in bygone times.

After all, Vermonters have long been known for their ingenuity and inventiveness. It seems our small scale and harsh climate have always demanded the ability to adapt creatively. Every day, I see it in our neighbors' and merchants' admirable ability to mend or fix or make anything in the most economical way.

Most impressive is their cheerful attitude toward these puzzling projects that offer little monetary reward. Each is a test of imagination that Vermonters pass with flying colors. And that's encouraging, because our future depends on our ability to adapt to a changing earth.

The ingeniousness on display at that one table in that one town gives me faith in Vermont as a center for innovation, an incubator for new social experiments and paths to economic development.

The hundreds of dollars folks spent on clumsy dental tools paid for reupholstering the beloved reading chairs in the library. And with that kind of attitude, anything is possible.
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