The Second Life of Paul the Armadillo

by Stewart Engesser

When my wife and I have people over for dinner, it’s only a matter of time before someone asks about the stuffed armadillo dressed up like a pilgrim in the center of the dining table.

To some people, Paul is an alarming stuffed desert mammal that may be harboring disease. To others he is a curiosity, a point of interest, or the inspiration for lively debate about the relative merits of taxidermy.

But to my wife and I, Paul is a badge of honor. That’s because Lela and myself take pride in being thrifty, and while one might expect to spend upwards of $40.00 on a stuffed armadillo on eBay, we snagged him for a dollar one early Saturday morning in June, at a yard sale in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Some people enjoy getting up early on the weekends and going fishing, or jogging, or heading out to the porch with coffee and the paper. Others seem to enjoy chopping up wood with power tools, or simply revving the engine of their motorcycle. My wife Lela and I like to pile into the car with coffee, bagels, and our six-year-old daughter, to cruise from one yard sale to another, haggling with strangers over items they are hawking from card tables set up in their yards.

In our five or so years of hitting the yard sales of Southern Maine, we’ve seen a lot of surprising things for sale – used pornography, buckets of clams, long expired over-the-counter cough syrup. Who in their right mind would attempt to sell these kinds of items? Who would ever buy them?

Trust me: people do.

We’ve also found treasures: An entire collection of mid-60’s soul 45’s, a ship’s bell, a heavy old wooden easel, a trunk full of sea charts, and an entire box of lurid men’s adventure books with calamitous titles such as Terror Stalks the Land, Night of the Grizzly, and The Pool Where Horror Dwelt.

In an age of waste and disposability, yard sales represent something sensible: the belief that not even the oddest, lowliest junk should be just tossed away when it still can serve a purpose, or at least be sold for a bit of money. Maybe that’s why when I start to think too much, and feel that old black mood of despair descend upon me, I sometimes go into our dining room and sit down at the table, and say hello to Paul the Armadillo, and feel a little better.

It would have been easier, probably, for the people we bought Paul from to have simply thrown him away, rather than sell him. But that’s not what they chose to do. Instead, they said to each other, well, maybe there’s someone out there looking for an armadillo dressed up like a pilgrim. Let’s set him on a table under the maple and see.

Since then he’s inspired countless conversations at parties, been the centerpiece at dozens and dozens of wonderful dinners, and even been a guest at a good friend’s wedding. That’s what I like best about yard sales: they give the odd bits, the outgrown clothes and banged-up toys, the tired old heirlooms and the bottom-sprung easy chairs
another shot.

I hate shopping, but I like yard sales. Maybe that’s why.