We maneuvered our station wagon into what looked like a good position, set up a card table and began unloading.
"Put the games over there," I directed. "Pile the books and records neatly on the table and hang the clothes along the side of the car. Who's got the tape for marking the prices? Don't tell me we forgot it -- oh, thank heavens, here it is in my purse."
"Mom, how much should I charge for my Brownie uniform?"
"Mom, I'm running upstairs to see if the lady with the jewelry from England is here."
"Dad, this man wants to buy our chairs, how much are they?"
"Dad, there are some great tools over there, let's go look."
Some families look forward to weekends so they can go hiking or to sports events or driving in the country. Mine looks forward to the Swap Meets, and it's hard to say which they enjoy more: selling old things for always-needed extra money or spending that same money on new things.
Swap Meets -- held the fourth Saturday of the month, April through October, at Rockville's municipal parking garage -- attract huge crowds from all over the area; finding a parking space after 9 a.m. takes some doing and more than a little luck.
Any resemblence to a garage, however, ends with the name. It looks like, to me at least, the granddaddy of all flea markets or a Mideastern bazaar. Costly jewelry, antique furniture and fine apparel are offered side by side with electric appliances that almost work, plants, toys, used clothing . . .
People park their cars and display their goods in front of, around or on top of them. They set up tables, spread their wares on the ground and even hang things from the overhead railings. The sheer number of things, the colors, the variety, the noise and the hordes of milling people are almost overwhelming.
"Remember where we parked," I always warn everyone (I'm usually the only one who gets lost), "and be back in half an hour so you can sell while I look around."
No offer refused. Make us an offer. We negotiate. Everything half-price.
Children (mine included) swapping and trading. "I traded my old soccer ball for these two Frisbees," Jeffrey told us proudly, "and I sold that dumb game I hated for a quarter."
One daughter tries to buy up all the stuffed animals. "Look at this cute little thing," she said, dragging a huge green plush dog who had seen better -- much better -- days. "He's only a little torn, I can sew him up again, and he only cost $1."
Another daughter tends toward plants and makeup, and the third goes mad over jewelry. "Look at this gold chain," she gloated. "It's from France and it only cost $4." It was beautiful, I dashed over and bought one just like it, and every time I wear it people compliment me on it.
As I walked around I was tempted by a really gorgeous chandelier ( $15), a hanging bar complete with glasses ($8.50) and a huge dollhouse ($5), but sweet reason won out and I settled for several John Denver tapes (50 cents each), a turquoise swivel chair for my office ( $5) and several shades of eye makeup from a salesman who was selling last year's samples at half-price.
There were all kinds of other things to buy, bicycles and lawn equipment and barbecue grills and baby carriages and high chairs and strollers. "Heaven forbid," my husband said, pulling me away. "Don't even look at that stuff." What I liked most was the matching outfits for triplets, being sold by the triplets.
A daughter who leans toward the unusual in clothing found a beautiful brocade jacket for $3. "I bargained a little," she said. My husband deliberated and finally selected a chess set and a bronze martini pitcher.
He also made a real find. "I was rummaging around in this box of dusty old magazines and I found these 78-rpm jazz records. "They're practically collectors' items,' I told the guy, but he didn't care."
There were books, records and games. My kids sold as fast as they bought, and we left with a carful -- "more than we started with," my husband complained.
"But it's different stuff," I said. "Anyway, there's another Swap Meet next month."