In 1934 a young bride who was new to Pasadena bought the furniture for her first home at a rummage sale given by the Pasadena Auxiliary of the Boys Republic in Chino. For 52 years she never missed any of the sales that were eventually billed as the world's largest.
She told her story to Mary Dick, an auxiliary member working at the last, biggest, longest, and for many the saddest, World's Largest Rummage Sale last weekend. The two-day event ended a tradition that began in 1915, because it is running out of volunteers like Dick.
"Why is it the last?" the woman asked. "Because we're too old," Dick told her.
And then the woman walked away sorrowfully, arms laden. Nobody knows her name but everybody believes her story because it's not exceptional.
On the first day of the final sale last Friday, people lined up four abreast down the street, around the corner and up an entire block. The earliest arrived at 7 a.m. and waited for two hours at the entrance to the huge old building that once housed the Home Laundry, another Pasadena institution that has come to an end.
The mood was festive but subdued. It had been an eagerly anticipated event for hundreds like the woman who had been coming for 52 years, and nostalgic for almost all. First in line were Pat Knight of Arcadia and her son and daughter, Terry and Karen, who were attending their 12th Boys Republic sale. They called it "lots of fun." Behind them was Mary Soto of Hollywood, at her seventh sale, and she called it "fantastic."
Children squirmed, bikers in leather and chains guffawed, strangers gossiped and bejeweled matrons languished and puffed cigarettes in the morning sun until the doors opened. With admirable restraint, they all moved at a steady crawl, but once inside they speeded up. With the instinct of born rummagers, they dashed directly to the section of their choice. It took 10 minutes for the 9 a.m. crowd to enter, and 15 minutes for the bedspread counter to be completely cleaned out.
For two days the building was a steady hum of busyness. Pots and pans got too hot to touch in the courtyard sun but were a sellout anyway, along with jewelry, furniture, china and glass.
As the sale ended Saturday at 4 p.m., auxiliary President Marjorie Rees called a countdown from the loudspeaker and the last reluctant customer had to be escorted out the door 10 minutes later.
On Monday, when the doors opened for the cleanup, there were a few racks of clothing, a heap of paperbacks, empty shelves and tables, and 50 auxiliary members completing their master work. They moved with unrelenting efficiency as they folded and packed leftovers.
Their work was done, forever.
The sale and its perpetrators have had it. It is too difficult for this last remnant of gentility, 60ish-and-older women who were always homemakers and who always expected to volunteer for charitable causes. With younger generations of women going to work, there is no one to replace them.
Through 71 years of rummage sales, often with two held a year, the auxiliary has raised more than $1 million for Boys Republic, a home and school for teen-age boys who are wards of juvenile court. The sales once filled the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and later its Convention Center. Auxiliary members did all the work, collecting the used items, marking, selling and conducting the sale.
This week, the auxiliary expects to complete the purchase of a building in the Pasadena area, where it will run a thrift shop to replace the rummage sales. Rees said the auxiliary will keep its long list of donors and will continue to collect their castoffs for the shop.
"We'll never get out of the rummage business," she said, but she refused to guess if the thrift shop would ever match the rummage sale's proceeds.
Early estimates indicate that the final sale drew 4,500 customers and grossed $41,000, perhaps topping past records.