Monday, August 27, 2012



The other day, my uncle called and told me he’d been cleaning out his basement and was going to toss out a few things. But first, he wanted to know if I might want any of them to sell on eBay. 

Past experience had taught me that first of all, because my uncle worked construction for so many years, he’d amassed a collection of interesting finds from old buildings he’d torn down, and secondly, people will buy just about anything on eBay.  So I said, “Sure, bring all of it over!”

He arrived with an assortment of interesting items, the most interesting being a cast-iron fireplace grate from the late 1800s.  It was rusted and sooty, but I could make out some interesting raised designs on it.  One looked like a flying lion, another like an angel paddling a canoe, and another like a horse on steroids.

He put it out in the garage for me before he left.  The next day, I studied it, wondering if the symbols on it represented a family crest or maybe some secret society.  I went inside, grabbed my camera and headed back out to photograph the grate for eBay.

The rakes, shovels, trash cans, cardboard boxes and cobwebs in the garage didn’t exactly make a great background for the photo, so I decided I’d take the grate out to the driveway and photograph it there, enhanced by the splendor of nature (a.k.a poison ivy and dandelions).  I bent to lift it.  The only thing that moved was my sacroiliac.  That’s when I learned that the grate, because it was made of cast iron, weighed about as much as my refrigerator.

I noticed it had little wheels on it, so I tried to push it out to the driveway.  Inch by inch, I managed to get it to the doorway, then gave it a mighty shove outside. Because our driveway is dirt and there had been a recent downpour, it was muddy. The weight of the grate made it sink up to the tops of its wheels. 

I took a few photos, including close-ups of the symbols, then went inside to put it up for auction on eBay. The problem was, I had no clue how to describe the grate or estimate what it might be worth.  I searched the Internet for something similar, but found nothing.  So I listed it for an opening bid of $25. I also stipulated that the person who won it would have to pick it up in person because there was no way I could ship it myself.  In fact, I was pretty certain it was going to stay in the mud out in the driveway until someone arrived to lift it out.

Immediately, there was some local interest in the grate. Questions about its dimensions, weight and origin came from people in Goffstown, Concord and Massachusetts.  A few people from other states wrote to ask me how much it would cost to ship the grate if they won.

“I have no idea,” I wrote back, “because I can’t even move it to weigh it.”

The grate finally sold for $27…to a woman in Michigan. She paid for it immediately, using Paypal.

“I’m so excited we won this!” her e-mail said. “We’re going to use it in our outdoor barbecue. We’ll come pick it up. I’ll be in touch with the details.”

I said to my husband, “They have to be crazy!  They’re going to spend about a thousand dollars on gas and tolls to come get a $27 grate?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Hmmm…you think they know something about that grate we don’t?  Maybe it’s like one of those items on Antiques Roadshow, where something that looks old and rusty turns out to be worth a hundred thousand dollars!”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I mean, she said they’re going to put it in their barbecue. They wouldn’t be grilling hot dogs on a valuable antique, would they?”

The woman called the next morning and told me that two of her friends were heading up to Maine on vacation, so they would pick up the grate for her.  She said they would call me when they arrived in New Hampshire.

A couple mornings later, I awoke to find a message on the answering machine.

“Hi!” the voice said. “We’re on 495 in Massachusetts and should be arriving at your house within an hour or so to pick up the grate.  See you then!”

The problem was, the message had been left on the machine over three hours earlier. Although I was still in my pajamas and my hair was in curlers, I rushed out to the driveway, hoping I wouldn’t find the people still sitting there waiting for me. And if they were there, I also hoped my appearance wouldn’t scare them away.

There was no sign of them…or the grate.

“Well, I guess they found our house OK and picked up the grate in the driveway,” I said to my husband when I came back inside.

“Either that, or some antique dealer who’s an expert on old grates saw it and took it,” he said.

I’m still curious about what the grate actually was worth. With my luck, I’ll see it on the Antiques Roadshow in a few months and the appraiser will be telling some guy it’s a one-of-a-kind grate that was made especially for a fireplace in Buckingham Palace and it’s worth $1 million…and maybe even more, if he scrapes off the hot-dog and hamburger grease.


Saturday, August 11, 2012


Every time I send an e-mail message to someone, my husband gives me a look that plainly tells me he thinks I’m a traitor – the Benedict Sally of  letter writers.

You see, he’s a retired postal worker, so to him, e-mail is a four-letter word. 

“You’re contributing to the demise of the US Postal Service,” he frequently tells me. “What happened to the days when you used to buy boxes of pretty stationery, envelopes and stickers, and you hand-wrote letters to everyone?”

“I guess I just enjoy getting an immediate response to my letters,” I usually answer. “I mean, before e-mail, I’d send a letter by regular mail and it would take five days to get to its destination and another five days to get a response back.  That’s 10 days!  Now, I can get an answer in less than10 minutes.”

“So what’s the big rush?” he asks.

“Well, for example, when my friends overseas write to tell me they’re sick or about to have surgery, by the time I send them a get-well card by regular mail, they’re already healthy and off somewhere on vacation!  But with e-mail, I can send an immediate electronic get-well card, while they still actually need get-well wishes.”

“Yeah, but you can’t put an electronic card on the night-stand next to your bed like a real card!”

Back in the days before e-mail, my hobby was writing to penpals all over the world.  At one point, I was writing to nearly 100.  I would sit in front of the TV every night, a pad of paper on my lap, and write letters until bedtime.  Each letter contained basically the same information, so I’d write the same thing over and over again, as if I were a human copy-machine…with impending carpal-tunnel syndrome.

And then there were all of the birthday, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Saint Swithin’s Day cards I had to buy and send to each of my 100 penpals.  I’d say I pretty much single-handedly kept the local post office in business back then, mainly because I was going through rolls of stamps faster than Elizabeth Taylor was going through husbands.

Even my mail carrier used to joke that she was going to have to buy a hernia truss because of all the mail she had to lift into my mailbox.  Now, I receive so few pieces of mail, I actually found a hornets’ nest in our mailbox last week.

I, however, do still pay my bills by regular mail.  I write out checks the old-fashioned way, stuff them into envelopes, affix the stamps, and mail them.  And every time I do, I am sent reminders by the company or bank to “Save a stamp, pay online,” as if I’ve done something bad.  So far, I haven’t given in to the temptation of electronic bill-paying, which greatly pleases my husband.

“And don’t ever complain about receiving too much junk mail,” he reminded me for the umpteenth time just the other day…after he’d watched a news report that said the Postal Service was losing about $25 million per day. “Junk mail is gold!  It helps pay my pension.  So I say, bring it on – by the ton!”

“Well, then you’ll be happy to know that today,” I said, “we received two brochures about hearing aids, one about motorized wheelchairs, and another one offering us ‘you-cannot-be-refused’ life insurance!”

I didn’t dare mention that I’d also received 308 pieces of junk mail on my computer – everything from offers for a singles’ dating service for the over-50 crowd, to belly-dancing classes – because I didn’t think he could handle knowing how much revenue those 308 e-mails might have generated for the Postal Service if they’d have been sent the old-fashioned way.

So, even though I am ashamed to admit it, I am guilty of sitting in front of the TV every night and writing letters on my laptop computer now instead of using my trusty pen and pad of paper…and my wrist is thanking me for it.

“What are you doing?” my husband always asks, eyeing me suspiciously, whenever he sees me using my computer.

“Playing solitaire,” I answer, in the middle of writing, “Hi, Laura!  How’s the weather in Washington?”

I figure what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.


It’s that time of year again when I show my appreciation to my readers by celebrating the anniversary of my column (this month marks my 18th year!) with a contest and prizes.  For a chance to win a $50 gift card good at any Applebee’s restaurant, or one of three runner-up prizes, simply send your name, address and phone number to: Sally’s Anniversary Contest, PO Box 585, Suncook, NH 03275-0585, or you can enter online by sending the information to: and entitling it “Contest Entry.” Entries must be received by September 5.  Enter as often as you’d like! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid of our basement.

When I was growing up in the heart of Manchester, I practically lived in the basement of our apartment building.  My father even built a small stage down there where I could practice my ballet and tap dancing. 

It was a creepy-looking basement – dark, with dirt floors, natural rock walls and low ceilings, yet I loved the place.  In fact, my friends and I spent a lot of time down there during the summer months because it was always about 15 degrees cooler than outside. We thought of it as our own private cave.

My family sold the house in 1965 and I never lived in another place that had a basement…until now.

The basement in our current house is large, about 1,700 square feet, and it’s all concrete.  I’ve managed to fill most of the space down there with about 250 big boxes of stuff I refer to as “valuable collectibles that will feather my nest egg and allow me to live comfortably when I’m 85.”  My husband just calls it junk.

Even though the basement is brightly lit, thanks to six 100-watt bulbs, the place still gives me the creeps.  For one thing, it has what I refer to as the black hole.  No one has been able to figure out the purpose of the black hole or why the contractor put it there, but it’s a large, square hole about the size of a picture window in the basement wall.  It’s about four feet up from the floor and leads to an area underneath the breezeway that connects the garage to the house.  Why anyone would want to crawl underneath the breezeway through a hole in the basement wall is beyond me.  All I know is I’d feel a lot less jittery if the hole didn’t exist.

And then there are the spiders.  The minute the basement was built, the spiders arrived by the busloads, as if they’d seen a real-estate advertisement offering new family housing for anything with eight legs.  Believe me, I have seen some spiders in the basement that make me wonder if they are from somewhere other than this planet.

There are big brownish-tan ones that like to make webs in the all of the basement windows.  Then there are smaller tan ones that look as if they have a mothball glued onto their butts. I don’t know if the mothball things are egg sacs or if the spiders are just some big-butted species.  And the prize spider I once saw down there was a huge black and bright yellow creature with a zebra pattern on it.  When I described that one to my husband, he told me I needed to get more sleep.

It didn’t help that I also watched a horror movie one night about a bunch of mutants living underneath the staircase in someone’s basement, and whenever a resident of the house descended the stairs, they’d grab him by the ankles, yank him underneath the stairs and then, with a lot of slurping and growling noises, turn him into mutant chow.

So now, every time I walk down the basement stairs, I’m waiting for scaly hands to reach up and grab my foot.  I’d prefer to run down the stairs, but they’re so steep, I’m terrified to set foot on them unless I have a death grip on the railing.

The other day, my husband happened to mention he’d noticed that the water was starting to leave brownish stains in the sinks and toilets.  I’d also noticed the staining, but pretended I hadn’t.  Why?  Because it meant I’d have to go down to the basement to check the level of Pot Perm (some kind of potassium-based black sand) in our water filtering system.  The system just happens to be located in the darkest corner of the basement…right next to the black hole.

Gathering my courage, I went downstairs to check.  As I removed the cover on the part of the system where the Pot Perm goes, I couldn’t help but feel as if eyes were peering at me from the black hole.  And in the corner right behind the filtering system, I happened to spot a web that looked as if it had been built by a spider the size of a Volkswagen. 

That did it.  I grabbed the container of Pot Perm and dumped enough into the filtering system to cause it to smother and die.  Then I bolted back up the steps two at a time, slammed the door and locked it.

“Was the Pot Perm level low?” my husband asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to catch my breath. “But I can assure you it’s not low any more.  In fact, we may not have to worry about it again for the next 15 years or so.”

Last night, I once again had to venture down into the basement – this time, to find a shipping box.  There, lying in the middle of the floor, was a live earthworm, a big night crawler.  Where, I wondered, in a concrete basement without even a floor drain in it, had an earthworm come from?

At that very moment, I heard a scraping noise coming from the black hole.  I’m pretty sure the speed in which I made it back upstairs would have qualified me for a spot on the Olympic track team.

Starting today, I think I’m going to set aside some money every week so I can hire someone to fill in the black hole.

Or I suppose I could just wait and let the spiders build a web big enough to seal it.