One Man’s Trash: The passion of the hunt

By Amanda Rose Curtis

Staff Writer

It’s coming. It’s unavoidable. It’s exciting for some, nauseating for others. There is something in the air around this time that reminds people of it’s presence: The chill, the corn stalk sightings, the “space for rent” signs in the yards out on Summertown Highway. Whatever it is, you know “it’s” here.

All of these things are a strong undercurrent to Lewis County’s actual Oktober Heritage Festival. Downtown, guests will find food, lots and lots of fried food, arts and crafts, music, kids activities and classic cars around any corner.  This year the addition of the Modern Homestead Expo:  A Self-Reliance Fair will bring an entire new set of guests.

But, according to most, nothing says OktoberFest quite like the miles and miles of proverbial “trash.” Which, isn’t trash at all to the hunter, but is instead a treasure; a diamond in the rough just waiting to be found or chosen by it’s new owner who will appreciate it’s beauty and give it a new sense of worth.

Hohenwald, Tennessee. Summertown Highway. Mid October. You either love it, or you hate it. In-between doesn’t exist in the world  of OktoberFest yard sales. If you’re a treasure hunter, you may be asking yourself, “What is there to hate about miles of treasures?” If not, you may be asking yourself, “What is there to love about it?”

Well, citizens to the rescue! 

So, just what does everyone look for in their quest for “the goods?”

According to Tommy Wherry, “Men want socks, bundles of socks. That’s it. After we get our socks we spend the rest of the week complaining about ‘that datgum traffic’. We avoid it at all costs, but still somehow get talked into going by our women. We spend the biggest part of the day hollering out the window ‘if you wanna look, pull over and quit shopping from the dang road’. We may salvage at least some of it by picking up some Smoke n’ Willies and fried goodies from the Ricketts booth. It always ends with an ‘I ain’t gettin’ out in this mess next year.’”

Steve Dicus has similar feelings, “I’ve honestly avoided Oktoberfest like the plague for years. I loved it in the 90s, when they’d close off Main Street and have live music and dancing. But pretty soon it turned into one big yard sale with the exact same stuff every year. I might give it a try this time. As terrible as my memory is these days, I’d never know if I’m seeing the same stuff I saw years ago.”

Others share a similar change of heart.

Jennifer Salyers and Laura Horner agree that spending their husband’s money is a favorite part of the weekend. Both also agree that it’s all about finding stuff for the kids.

Laura recalls, “As a kid I couldn’t wait for October! Now as bad as I hate going, I take my kids because I remember how bad I wanted go!! I am excited this year, though, because I can look for stuff for our new baby.”

When you have kids, you become somewhat of a pro at finding the best deals.

Kashia O’Guin says her favorite thing to do is negotiate with the vendors. “It’s fun for us [buyers] and them. That’s what they come for, almost like it’s a sport to see where you will end up. Everyone ends up winning in the negotiation game!”

For some, it is about bringing people together. 

“I have always loved Oktoberfest, even before I started cooking blooming onions 15 years ago,” says Mike Ricketts. “It’s something that brings Hohenwald together.”

For Connie Sharp, it is about getting family together. “Our kids and grand kids come in from West Tennessee just for the yard sales. They wait all year to come here to enjoy it.”

Maleah Askins will also be traveling to enjoy this year’s festivities after being gone for 11 years. “We live in Columbus, Georgia now, and I’m finally getting a chance to come back to OktoberFest! I’m so excited!”

OktoberFest yard sale veteran, Shaina Collins knows all about the excitement of seeing the same out-of-town faces year after year.

“We look forward each year to see the same people that come by our tent, that trade with us from all surrounding counties and even neighboring states. That’s what makes it special. I love to see the same faces, and new ones. Over the years, it’s become a whole week to be with my family. It’s a joy to bake all night with my mom and watch daddy and big daddy talk trader talk to buyers. This year, we will really miss big daddy.”

This will be the first year without her grandpa, C.C. Collins, aka Big Daddy. Locals and out-of-towners alike will miss trading with the OktoberFest old timer.

“We have been in that spot, on the corner of Madelyn and Wayne Tharp’s big field for 25 years,” she continued. “People started randomly setting up, and the more people set up, it gave others the idea to follow suit.”

Shelly Ray and Deanne Barnes are two others that can be found set up on the premises.

For Shaina, it’s a family affair. (Queue Sly and the Family Stone). “My Big Daddy was a great trader. He would always travel around looking for buys in his younger years. And, he taught daddy, Robert Collins, this skill. They were really two of a kind. They loved trading dogs, chickens, all animals, along with trailers, lawn mowers, tools and all sorts of random items.”

“All year long, my daddy goes to yard sales, shops trade time, flea markets and storage buildings. He collects.”

That is only part of the fun for Shaina, though. As a self-taught baker extraordinaire, folks come out to the corner of the field just to purchase her treats. “I’ve always looked forward to this every year. I sell my little baked items like tea cakes, chocolate oatmeal cookies, pumpkin bread, etc. It’s always been extra money for me.”

Thankful for an opportunity to spend quality time with loved ones while upholding tradition, she says, “This week is huge, and we always make so many memories I’ll have forever.”

Hohenwald native, Sherrie Curfman says, “I love getting out of town until Sunday, then doing the ‘Mad Mile’.” Sita Rayburn agrees.

By Sunday, everyone is getting packed up to go home, but that’s the thing: everyone is ready to go home, but no one wants to pack up. Introducing: the Mad Mile – the mile or few of yard sales that are left and willing to all but give away the remaining merchandise to avoid having to pack it up and carry it back to storage.

“It’s so interesting,” says Deb Barnes. “You see lots of heart, time and money investments.” And, to most, that’s what the week is about: memories with friends, family and fun finds! And, to those like Shaina, it’s an all year event as they hunt for treasures to present during the festival.

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