The opening of Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts this weekend prompts me to post this essay I wrote in Spring 2010, in response to an assignment I gave my Oregon class: “Hometown Events.” The face of fundraising in Carmel has certainly changed since the 1960s when the community turned out to fund a swimming pool. Now it’s the $126 million Palladium. Good luck paying for that one, Carmel.
The Carmel Sale
A community empties its closets—and fills them.
By Sarah White
In 1965 the community of Carmel, Indiana needed a new swimming pool. A pool required money, and that meant fundraising. The whole community kicked in.
I’m sure many kinds of fundraising went on, from bake sales to arm-twisting of the founding families for private donations. But the part I remember is the Carmel Sale.
Shortly after school ended in June of that summer, a big tent went up on the grassy lawn south of the High School Auditorium. The high school was located directly behind my house, and had been my playground from earliest toddling. Of course a circus-style tent appearing overnight got my attention. Volunteers by the dozens appeared, assembled tables in long rows from plywood sheets laid across saw horses, and started unpacking box after box of stuff.
Everybody shopped the Carmel Sale. Everybody donated old stuff, everybody came to paw through the stuff, and everybody went away with some new stuff. Not once, but over and over, for the full course of that summer.
For kids, it was as if a combination of the circus and Walmart had come to town. Bored? Go over to the sale. Nothing to do? Try out something you bought at the sale. Not all of it could be used right away—the wooden skis my friend Janet bought would have to wait for winter—but there was plenty of novelty in just being able to have all the new stuff you could conceive of wanting. At prices ranging from a nickel to a dollar, even a nine-year-old could expand her holdings significantly.
The purchases I remember most vividly are the two pairs of baby-doll pajamas and the seven pairs of underwear with the days of the week embroidered on them. Being the only girl in my family, I had no hand-me-downs from big sisters, and these filled that void in a most satisfying way. These were the girly-est items of apparel I’ve ever owned.
My brother David, a year older than me, remembers buying a short-wave radio. He hooked a wire to it and found he could pick up the BBC, and also Radio Moscow broadcasting communist propaganda, the Cold War still being hot. To this day he is a ham radio enthusiast.
My brother Andy, a year older than Dave, remembers nothing about the sale—which shows you what a difference a few years make.
All that summer new stuff kept showing up at the sale. People all over the community were cleaning out their closets. Volunteers re-stocked the tables as bare space appeared. All that summer new stuff followed us home—board games, novels, roller skates of both the clip-on and shoe variety, army-surplus gear so handy for playing war, coats and boots for next winter, who knows what-all. The grass wore down to dust under the Carmel Sale tent.
As a fundraiser it was a great success. By the next spring, ground was broken for a new swimming pool, across town at the new Junior High where in a few more years I would start classes. And as an occupation for a community’s kids, it couldn’t be beat. The Cameral Sale provided every one of us with new toys to play with, new sports and games to learn, new books to read.
I wish memory were a camera and I could zoom in on the pictures in my mind. I want to revel in all that was so ordinary—the egg-beaters and bottle warmers and Bakelite mixing bowls—all that was kitchy and trashy and plastic—the Betsy-Wetsy dolls and games of Mousetrap and Operation—all that was so odd it defied identification. There sat a community’s stuff circa 1965. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, they say. Never was that truer than at the Carmel Sale.
If there’d been a volcano instead of a cornfield nearby, the stuff might have been captured and preserved like Pompei, ready for anthropologists to study. What would it have said about us?