Cakewalk Chronicles – Selling years of accumulated possessions

Esther Darlington MacDonald's monthly column of observations while living in a small town.

Yard sales

Isn’t it amazing what the average household accumulates after a few short years? Do you ever wonder, as you contemplate your garage, possessions, inside and out, however you managed to acquire all this? I think most of us do. That is why Ashcroft is alive with yard sales through May and even into June. Every neighbourhood sprouts with signs, coloured balloons, displays of every kind of everything from soup to nuts. Some of it is useful. Some isn’t; books long ago read by yourself and others many times over, all manner of useful household items and some you’ve forgotten the function of. “What is this?” It’s been in a drawer for years and years.

Let’s face it. We are a Consumer Society. That is our function. To consume. That is what makes the world go around. That is what makes the commodity markets boom on Wall Street and at the Vancouver Stock Exchange. When sales go down, the economists gloom and doom. When sales revive, all is well again. We will continue to live and produce and spend for another while. We are ant hills of productivity. We never stop. Not even when an elephant steps on us, or a Tsunami swamps us temporarily, destroying so much of what we need and use. We continue to go on. Of course, we do. What else can we do?

I had two yard sales this month. We sold a good many things. I say “we”, not the Queen Victoria “we”, but the we that is Bob and Kirsten who sorted, priced, displayed, so much of what Sherman and I had accumulated in two short years here at No. 46, Mesa Vista Court. What I hadn’t realized after the first yard sale, was the stuff in Sherman’s puttering ground, the metal shed behind our home. It was full of tools of every shape and description.

Many people came, despite the spotty weather. They came from miles around. The posters I put up on Railway Avenue did their work well. Bob said they were the best yard sale posters he’d ever seen. Hmm. Have I missed my calling? Should I have been a sign painter? Years ago, when I was a teen, my dad used to go to the Bus Depot Cafe for his weekly Newsweek mag and his cigarettes. The proprietor knew Isaac’s daughter was a budding artist. Would she make some signs for me? “You know, Hamburgers, sandwiches, – that sort of sign”? Dad came home and asked me. Sure. I cut out pieces of card, got some poster colour and pens, and made the signs. And do you know what I got the most satisfaction from? It wasn’t the $2 I received. It was going into the Bus Depot Cafe with my buddies, seeing those signs over the mirror across from the stools and the counter.

The Art Exhibition

On May 2/3, an exhibition of my paintings was held in St. Alban’s Hall in Ashcroft. Friday night sales were brisk. I’d priced them very low. To decrease my inventory. This was essential. Moving into the seniors’ apartments at Thompson View Manor, meant I had to really pare down what I had. Friends Martina and Jim urged me to get more work and they would hang it. We brought eight more paintings into the hall. They looked grand against the white wall. All the color and movement came out under all that indirect lighting. Thirteen paintings were sold in all. A very successful exhibition for six hours of viewing time. Now people have an Esther Darlington Ashcroft streetscape, or a lanescape, or a landscape, or a still life. I am hoping to find a permanent home for the rest of the work dating back to the 1960s. It is portrait and figure work mostly. Somebody in the bakery recently asked me if I had painted nudes. ‘Yes, but they sold’. Merritt was the main market for my work for well over a decade.


How often have I been asked, ‘Why don’t you write about your own life?’ Yes, I’ve written countless biographies of the lives of others in the Cariboo. But writing about your own life is an entirely different challenge. I have more or less completed the first drafts of my childhood. What emerges has fascinated me. The major influences. The events that colored our times, the houses we made homes. Our life living with our grandparents in 1939, at the height of the Great Depression, and just before the Second World War was declared. I was old enough to recall the effects that Depression had on all our lives. On my uncles particularly. Work was practically impossible to find. And even if you did, you received so little. One uncle complained that the only work he could get was delivering groceries on his bike for $5. a week. A strong, handsome young man he was, too. Another uncle worked as a theatre usher for $2.50 a week.

I’m sure there are still a few of my readers around who have experienced the Depression. Many will have their own stories to tell about those years. People certainly knew the value of the dollar in those days. Every penny counted. It is impossible for younger people today to imagine a time like that. Let us hope it never happens again! The outbreak of the Second World War had my uncles join up immediately. They were able to marry, finally, after years of courtship. Army, navy and airforce. They had finally found work. But what work! Uncle Jim fought in France and Germany. He never wanted to talk about those years. Four of them. And so, life moves on.


The textures of the world that we build around us, and call “neighbourhood” is what provides the colour and beauty for our eyes, minds and hearts. I have walked the back lanes of Ashcroft for many  years, looking at the fence boards and the backs of cottages, the overhanging branches of lilacs bushes and honeysuckle. The odour of lilacs in the spring is thick. The air in Ashcroft in the spring after a day or two of rain is pure sweetness. You can smell the earth in peoples’ gardens. The sunflower hanging over a high board fence is one of my favourite sights. The fence is grey and weatherbeaten. The sunflower is fresh, yellow, its long stalk drooping over the fence boards, looking down on the gravel of the lane.

I’ve been in other towns as small as Ashcroft, and every one of them has its own textures. Red brick walls. Striped awnings over a shop. Tall elms, dark trunks, apricot laden trees in back yards. Every town is unique in its textures and colours.

You can walk from one end of Ashcroft to the other in less than 10 minutes. But the colour and variety you will find is infinite. Now, lay all that against a backdrop of burnt sienna and burnt umber mountains that change colour as the light moves over them…and you have the stuff that artists paint.


My family in Maui is recovering from the aftermath of the near fatal illness of my grand daughter after the birth of her third child this month. Nalani is up and around again. For her recovery, we are supremely grateful.

I am receiving a steady stream of pictures of my great grandchildren. The pictures usually come on week end mornings. What a wonder it is to see them grow and develop. The Internet is a great bounty isn’t it? It unites families who are separated by oceans. To think how the world has changed in 25 years. One generation has brought unparalleled changes we couldn’t imagine. The speed of communication is almost instant. Incredible!

I sign off this column with the hope that you are all enjoying this wonderful spring weather. That your gardens are showing those first signs of bloom. That you are visiting our local farms and hanging your flower baskets. That you are enjoying your coffee and munchies in our local bistros and cafes. God bless!

Esther Darlington MacDonald