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August 30, 2012

Great, echoing space!

JIM ATWELL
FROM FLY CREEK

— All that wonderful space is now in our garage, barn, and basement, which all look so much bigger and better than before. The result follows on our part in mammoth Fly Creek Yard Sale, a tradition that’s become a valued part of  the hamlet’s life — not to mention a prod for procrastinations finally to hoe out rooms, corners, and closets, and make some loot, to boot.

And did we hoe! Anne and I, plus more than a little help from good friends Doug Zullo and Rich McCaffery, hauled up from the cellar’s darkness all the yard-sale stuff that didn’t sell last year (and mostly did, this time!), plus  clinking boxes of wine bottles from our cidermaking days, plus a bunch of furniture that we two thought we might use again someday, but never did. From barn and garage came a parade of duplicate tools for garden and repairs, dating from Anne and my combing households fifteen years ago and then getting too busy to cull things out. And lots of guy-toys also came to light, farm and shop implements that I’ve used across my own twenty years here, and all the way back to when my dear Gwen and I bought Stone Mill Acres in 1977.

But now I’m too shaky to handle the bigger guy-toys safely, and it’s better for all that they go.

And did they go, as crowds closed in on Fly Creek from all the compass’ points. As I chatted up customers, I ran an informal survey. My gosh, they were here from Milford and Oneonta and Morris and Laurens; from Otego,  Unadilla, and Sidney! From the north, they’d poured down from Schuyler Lake, Richfield Springs, Mohawk, Herkimer, and even Remsen. And a clutch of Uticans was in the crowd, too.

“We’ve driven down every  year,” one of them said. “It’s a pretty ride, we have a great pancake breakfast, and then we scavenge all over the place!”

In our own build-up to the big sale, Anne and I have had great help with an even broader pattern of thinning down the contents of our house, garage, and barn. Donna Sheffield Greene, who lives up in Pierstown with her husband  Doug, quietly advertises her services locally as “The House Whisperer.” The name is really apt. Donna will come to your home, survey the contents with you, and then help you plan a careful culling of the contents. But she is not  a bustling taskmaster. As “whisperer” suggests, hers is a very gentle approach, one aimed at opening her clients’ eyes to an objective view of what surrounds them and what they really want to retain of it.

Her very best advice (especially to me) was this: As you survey your possessions with an eye to reducing them, don’t start at the top. That is, don’t snatch up this memento or clap your hand on the back of a chair as say, “I can’t  do without this!”

No, says Donna quietly.  Start at the bottom end of the accumulation, since probably fifty percent of it surrounds you because of inertia. You just haven’t faced up to removing it. Well, she’s right! In weeks before the yard sale,  Anne and I worked at our own offices and files. And, without exaggeration, I’ve driven a literal quarter-ton of duplicate files, outdated manuals, and yellowed correspondence to MOSA. It got to the point that Dumpmeister Lee  Winnie, never one to waste words, would simply smile and say,

"More?”

“Yep,” I’d say. “And more to come!”

By last week’s sale, we’d cleared away all that detritus, ranked what was left, and could spot the stuff that we didn’t use or need, but might have value to others. One such item was a potato cannon, or “spud gun.”

Wolfgang Merk, a man of endless skills, had crafted it to match one he already had made for himself. He’d taken a four-foot length of four-inch plastic pipe, screwed it into a standard PVC clean-out box, and screwed a  sparkproducing igniter into the box as well.

Loading and firing is simple. You ramrod a spud down the long tube, then unscrew and remove the clean-out box cover.

You squirt a small puff of hair spray or ether into the box, quickly replace the lid, put the cannon upward, and click the igniter. There’s an immediate, gratifying THWOOP! and the potato soars upward, perhaps two hundred feet —  unless you’ve sprayed in too much vapor. Then nothing happens. Or unless you’ve added not enough. In that case the gun emits a gassy sigh and the potato rises perhaps a foot and then flops to the ground. For some reason,  women invited to watch the firing find this failure hilarious and laugh themselves to tears. I’m left crestfallen, hoping I don’t get what they’re laughing about. At one point, Wolf Merk, John Phillips, and I all had potato cannons and  gave thought to forming a precision drill unit for the Springfield Parade. But by temperament, each of us marches to his own drummer; we could never have kept in step, much less fired a synchronized volley. And so we all used  the spud gun only occasionally to entertain visiting kids.

They love it, of course. With Rich McCaffery, Donna and Doug Greene spent the whole of yard sale day with us. Donna and Doug had even brought some furniture and  clothes from their home to expand the sale.

At the sale’s end, and with Wolf’s blessing, I gave Doug the spud gun as a token of gratitude. Those two have a deck off the home, with a view across the wide valley. A large pond  accents the view about a hundred feet out from the deck. I can imagine that gratifying THWOOP! echoing softly across the valley and the potato arcing up, up, and then swinging down gracefully to plop into the pond. Their  grandkids are going to love it!