Spring is disturbingly cool this year, but no matter, garage sale season is in full swing.

According to Calgary bylaws, only three garage sale signs are allowed, and only same day.
Researchers say garage sales build a happy community. Talking to neighbours, getting out, rifling through stuff, finding a bargain — it’s a brain chemistry-boosting experience. You can feel good about garage sales.

And so I end up at a garage sale. It’s a sunny morning, the birds are singing, and I’m drawn to a cardboard box full of gold Christmas tree bulbs. It’s marked $2.


The $2 price seems low, so I ask the man overseeing the sale if this is right.

“Are you going to Jew me down?” he says.

My grip loosens on the box and I fumble for a toonie.

The woman behind me says:“You know I said that to a real Jewish person, once. I didn’t think, but they were quite upset.”

Damn, where is that toonie in my purse? The sun’s rays are now a glare and the birds’ chirping is sharp and wrong.

Another voice chimes in: “You just can’t say anything anymore.”

To be honest, I thought that anti-Semitism in Calgary must be faint at best. The Jewish community here is small. And we’re doing OK as a multicultural society, right?

"Jew me down?" Maybe these are stupid comments by people who don’t know better, but their effect is immediate: This is not going to be the brain-enhancing experience of garage-saling.
Worse, I haven’t found the right words to say — and if I do, will they change anything?

I hand the man the toonie. The exchange forces flashbacks. My father-in-law lost his father to a German bomb in London. And, in good part, I had children because I was a volunteer visitor for a Jewish woman. Her family was murdered during the Second World War.

Later, her new husband was too fearful to bring Jewish children into the world. He died early, so she was alone in a nursing home.

“Don’t be like me, have children,” she urged. I did. Two.

That box of ornaments is still in my trunk. It cost $2.

– Janice Paskey teaches at Mount Royal University and is a volunteer with Westwood Hockey.

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