Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

Saralee Perel

My Mom Was the Great Deal

Many years ago, my mother helped me move to Cape Cod. We found a one-room apartment in Falmouth that we furnished with stuff from flea markets and yard sales.

I remember one drive down Route 6A. “Stop!” Mom shrieked as we approached an estate sale. “They’ve got Windsor chairs.”

They were selling 5 chairs for $100. My mom had the talent of whispering and shouting at the same time. “Don’t look at the chairs!” she screamed quietly in my ear.

“We already have chairs, Ma.”

“They’re such a good deal.”

“We don’t need them.”

Softly, she yelled, “If anything’s a good deal, we need it.”

She asked the guy, “How much for one?”

“Twenty dollars.”

“Feh! I’ll give you $30 for two.”

“You better agree,” I said, “or you won’t get rid of her.” He agreed.

We became yard sale addicts. “Let’s look at the sales on Route 28,” I said. “We might find some good touristy things from cottage rentals.”

“You think I want someone’s used sheets?”

“Ma, everything we buy at a yard sale is used.”

“If it’s from a tourist, it’s used. From a local, it’s an antique.”

I received lots of Mom’s training in deal-making at the Wellfleet Flea Market. I really, really hate bartering. At one vendor’s table, I picked up a Boy Scout watch I loved. “How much is this?” I asked the fellow.

Mom grabbed the watch from my hand, put it back on the table, then turned us around so we had our backs to the seller.

“Never ask ‘how much?’ when there’s no price tag. Vendors are trained in mental telepathy. They know what you’ll pay.” 

“This is so embarrassing. Why are we facing away?”

“They all have degrees in lip reading,” she said.

“When we face him, tell him you only have $5 and don’t let him see your eyes.”


“Because you have that fifty I gave you. Vendors take classes in lie detection. They know your pupils dilate when you’re lying.”

“Oh God, Ma. You can’t be serious about all this.”

She was. She turned us back around. I looked down at the ground, shuffled my feet and muttered, “You don’t want to sell it for $5, right? I mean, that’s all I have, sort of.”

“To be honest,” he said, “I paid $25 for that watch.”

Mom whispered, “The yutz is lying.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he said, ‘to be honest.’”

She led us away, then said, “Did you see him look to the left?”

“Sheesh, Ma. That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Left means lying.” You see, my mother was a trained lie detector too.

At the next table, I saw a gorgeous gold ring. The dealer heard me say, “Oh Mother! It fits perfectly. It’s exactly like Dad’s bar mitzvah ring he gave me that was stolen from my high school gym locker. We’ll never get another chance like this again. I love this more than words can say!” Then I asked the dealer, “How much?”

He said, “Two hundred dollars.”

I’d never seen the look on my mother’s face that I saw at that moment. I waited for the reprimand of a lifetime. Like a scared 10-year-old girl, I got even more worried because she didn’t say anything at all.

Instead, she simply bought me the ring.

And so, when Mom and I were through furnishing my tiny apartment, I didn’t want her to leave me. But she had to go back to Baltimore. She had her life there and I needed to find the courage to begin my own, here on the Cape.

Sometimes I can still see the two of us, just like in an old-fashioned photograph, where we’re standing together in an oval-shaped splash of sunshine on the dry, dusty grounds of the flea market. Our foreheads are touching, so tenderly, as we’re looking down at the ring on my finger.

Of all of the belongings I still have that we bought on those wonderful days together, my most valuable treasures are my memories.