Easton -- Linda Homan is a woman on a mission.
"We're late," she calls cheerfully from her car.
It's only a little after 7 o'clock on this humid Saturday morning, but Linda is pumped. Both she and her husband, Bob, are dressed for summertime action -- shorts, T-shirts and, above all, comfortable shoes. We two late arrivals join them.
"Spring and fall are the best seasons; the weather's better. But, you still want to get there early," Linda murmurs as she drives onto a residential street in this Talbot County town. She perks up at the sight of so many other vehicles. "This is it," she says, climbing out of the car and walking briskly toward the front yard of a modest brick rancher in a neighborhood of modest brick ranchers.
She scans the scene. About a dozen people are inspecting someone else's worldly goods piled high on folding tables, happily pushing through someone else's clothing, hung on clotheslines between two trees. "You see," she whispers, "the stuff's already been picked through. They've spread the rest out fill in the gaps."
To most people a yard sale is a yard sale. Bot not to Chestertown resident Linda Homan, mother of two grown daughters, secretary and budding anthropologist.
For the past year, as part of her studies at Washington College in Chestertown, she has visited scores of yard sales across the Eastern Shore and discovered a fascinating window on American culture.
A yard sale, she has learned, says lot about people's lives -- how men and women see the world differently, when a family's fortunes take a turn for better or worse, when someone discards an old passion for a new one.
She's also discovered a sub-culture with its own language and customs, a world populated by regulars who seem to know one another, by early birds who often annoy sellers, and dealers who always annoy everyone.
And, of course, she's found some terrific bargains.
Linda, a pleasant 55-year-old with cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a twinkle behind her glasses, began exploring yard-sale culture in 1994 when she returned to school after raising her two daughters, Valerie, 32 and Victoria, 21.
Her pursuit of an undergraduate degree in sociology led her to "Doing Anthropology," a hands-on course taught by Dr. Jeanette Sherbondy. Linda's assignment was "to go someplace where people gathered to watch the social interactions."
As a full-time student with a full-time secretarial job at Kent & Queen Anne's Hospital and a household to run, Linda couldn't run off to Borneo and live with the locals or hang around a college sorority house. But the prosaic yard sale, an American tradition, was close to home and convenient.
And so she set out to become the Margaret Mead of yard-sale culture, spending Saturday mornings traipsing from one sale to the next, interviewing the people who put their old stuff up for sale and those who give proof to the truism that one man's junk is another man's treasure. She will present her findings in a paper next spring, just before her graduation.
"Linda is unique," Dr. Sherbondy says. "Very little research has -- been done in this field."
Always in tow is Linda's husband, Bob, an affable man with a brush-cut hairdo and a can-do attitude. He freely admits yard sales aren't his thing, but the carpenter for Washington College and home handyman can at least amuse himself by looking for tools and other guy things.
"Bob's been very supportive of me," Linda says, gazing fondly at her husband of 35 years. "And he gives me the man's point of view."
"Every once in a while, I find something I can use," Bob, 55, says
with a grin.
At this morning's first yard sale, Linda marches up to a group of women seated in lawn chairs behind their jumble of stuff -- appliances, clothes, kitchenware, toys, children's clothes and things that haven't been in favor since the '70s.
"Good morning," she says brightly. "My name is Linda Homan and I'm a student at Washington College in Chestertown. I'm doing an anthropology paper on yard sales, and I wonder if I could ask you a few questions."
Alicia Carroll and her friends return Linda's smile. "Sure," they agree. A cluster of small children clutch at their mother's shorts and stare. The men are sitting on the porch.
"Is this multi-family?" Linda asks. Alicia says yes, and introduces the other sellers. They're all friends. This house, belonging to one of the women, has been chosen for its central location in Easton, Linda is told.
"Location is important," Linda agrees. "I see that you've spread your stuff out," she continues. "You must have already sold a lot?"
"Oh, we had people here at 10 after 6," Alicia says. The start time was 8 a.m.
"Early birds," Linda observes, thanking her informant. "Mind if I look around?"
"You can tell a lot about a person by their stuff," Linda says. "What they sell, what they buy."