A Rummage Farewell

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A longtime teacher and sale announcer bids goodbye to Rummage
From the Winter 2010 Caller

By Sid Eaton

I married into Rummage. When I married Margaret (Meg) Shepard Patten ’58 in 1964, I became son-in-law to her mother, Elsie Failing Shepard Patten ’29, a 24-year volunteer for the Catlin Gabel Rummage Sale. In fact, during my first fall at both Rummage and Catlin Gabel, I was invited to attend a luncheon in Elsie’s honor, the venue for which was the then sorting center at the corner of NW Thurman and 28th Avenue. It gave me a preview of coming attractions, of the care so many put into the project known as Rummage.
My previous hints of what I was getting into were four in number. First there was Schauff, Manvel Schauffler, then headmaster of Catlin Gabel, who spoke so often and warmly of Rummage during his many visits to my previous employer, the Charles Wright Academy, up in Tacoma. He never had to say, “Sid, you have to come and see the Rummage Sale.” So tantalizingly did he speak of the Sale, I wanted to come and see it in action, invited or not.
Near the end of my 10 years at Charles Wright, I got the chance to see a bit of the Sale in preparatory action. The Sale was still at the Journal Building down on what is now known as Tom McCall Waterfront Park, but it was not yet in session. Caravan Day had occurred, and the spoils of that year’s collection were everywhere. Silent though the building was, I could sense the growing excitement. I still recall Elsie and Meg talking about one of the off-duty policemen serving as security who would honor the Sale by serving as a cashier during the early moments. Thus was my second preview of coming attractions.
Third was Meg, who had virtually grown up at Rummage, not quite like a waif out of a Dickens novel, but to the manor or manner born, the highlight of her early life being when she was asked to sort buttons or something of that sort all by herself in the sewing department: complete responsibility at an early age, something she did again during Alumni Night on the Tuesday preceding this year’s final sale. She loved it!
Fourth was working in the Rummage Truck during my first student contest. I remember Eddie Hartzell, my colleague from a previous teaching life at the Cate School, and I were unloading a load of plywood table tops when the load shifted, just missing Eddie’s head by a non-existent hair. Rummage could be dangerous, exciting, hair-raising.
Then came loading week, an entire week committed to loading up some 20 semi trailers; Caravan Day, an entire Sunday devoted to unloading them over at the Coliseum, just days before the Trail Blazers would open their season; Pre-Sale, the nervous time during which parents and alums would eagerly await the arrival of the school’s fleet of buses, loaded to their windows with eager shoppers; finally the sale itself, which opened at 10 a.m. the next day with a swarm of humanity charging through the doors after waiting in line outside for many hours.
I had to tend shop my first year at the school (four English classes in the Upper School), so I missed the sight of this human tsunami, but I heard enough about it that I managed to be present thereafter at the official start of each succeeding sale. Someone had asked me to serve as the Sale’s announcer. It was chaotic, happy madness. No one had warned me of how many shoppers would ask their party to meet them in front of the snack bar, nor that one had to broadcast their requests in the order received or face intimidating stares from the denied populace.
There were light moments, to be sure. I remember one of our workers coming over from Housewares to ask me to ask the lady who had bought some bed pans to come pick them up. With all due seriousness I made an announcement about the bed pans, made it several times in fact as the buyer hadn’t shown up yet. The worker then reappeared with the same message, and again it went over the PA system, to the amusement of all in the building. Finally we discovered that the worker, who had a strong Balkan accent, was referring to bread pans.
There are many stories, and that’s just one. Come to think of it, maybe we need a Rummage reminiscence reunion, annually perhaps, where and when all associated with Rummage over the years can gather, share their memories, small and large, and say farewell to Rummage as it deserves and as we knew it. Something will be missing when Rummage ends: the bargaining in Hardware, the mental game of knowing what items to sit upon waiting for the next bag sale vs. not holding a bag sale too soon, the sheer pleasure of finding something one wasn’t seeking, and the experience of interacting with the public and the Catlin Gabel family. This was a two-way experience. This is what I hope so deeply the school, via a series of meetings being planned for this winter, will find ways to match. I shall miss the Rummage Sale very much, but I’m sure the school will find a way to extend all of its positives into the next 65 years of Catlin Gabel School’s existence.
Sid Eaton retired in 2001 after serving as admission director and teaching Upper School and Middle School English at Catlin Gabel for 30 years.