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Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, Published May 19 2013

Ryan Bakken: Treasures big, small found rummaging

GRAND FORKS - Among the many bargains Doug Thomasson has found during his time as a serial rummager, he said his hands-down best acquisition came in a garage in rural Warroad, Minn., in 2008.

The prize was his future bride, Denise.

But Denise put a qualifier on his best-ever label: “I was in the free box,” she said.

Free-box or overpriced, that meeting led to a romance that will celebrate its third wedding anniversary this fall.

It was love at first browse. Being a romantic, Doug made their first date memorable. It was shopping. At Menard’s. For duct work.

The first-date activity didn’t trouble Denise, who admits to being a power shopper. Instead, her hesitancy was about the five-hour round trip from Warroad to Grand Forks.

“I knew who he was, but I didn’t know him,” she said. “I’m riding five hours in a car with a guy. What if I don’t like him?”

She did. Married two years later, they’ve shared their passion for rummage sales “pretty much every weekend,” Doug said.

However, they’re less frequent buyers now.

“We’re more picky after combining two households into one,” Denise said.

That was evident Friday as they were two of the eight participants in the highly coveted Rummaging with Ryan contest/promotion, which attracted more than 900 entries this year. Yes, that Ryan, your favorite newspaper columnist.

I inherited the gig from Rona Johnson, who wrote frequently about rummage sales in her earlier stint as a columnist. She was a professional shopper; I was the amateur who initially looked down his nose on rummage sale shopping. But I’ve evolved from snob to convert over my seven years as the host, coming to recognize the thrill of the hunt, the satisfaction at landing a bargain and the camaraderie of the shoppers.

Each year, I ask the shoppers to name their favorite purchase. Almost without failure, the answers aren’t about the best bargain, but the most meaningful find.

For instance, Denise’s favorite purchase Friday was a baby monitor ticketed for her first grandchild due in November. Doug’s favorite was a decoration featuring a grandma snow lady snuggling a snow baby, a timely addition to Denise’s collection of more than 200 snowmen.

Other favorite buys were holiday lawn decorations and a Norman Rockwell puzzle/picture that was remindful of a deceased father.

But not every cherished purchase was sentimental. For instance, the favorite find of Joan Anderson of Roseau, Minn., was a tiny bench with the words “Timeout Bench.” Why?

“Because I have grandchildren who need a lot of timeouts,” she said.

So, whether it’s sentimental or practical, rummaging has value.