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May I take your trash?

For a Guatemalan immigrant, yard sales were a bonanza – and an export opportunity.

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Yard sale in Lutz, Fla.

Zach Boyden-Holmes/Newscom/File

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The first time I went for a walk around my father-in-law's neighborhood it was garbage day, and I was shocked to see what people were throwing out.

Being from Guatemala, where families wish they could own a radio, a television, or any of those electrical appliances I saw being dumped, I was tempted to pick up every item. But I knew my new American family would not approve.

Then spring arrived. This was back in 1981, and I recall going for a walk to a pond near where my wife and I were living. That's when I saw all these people gathered in someone's front yard.

As I approached to see what was happening I got my first introduction to yard sales. For the few dollars I had in my wallet, I was able to buy my own seven-inch black-and-white portable TV. I also bought a flashlight in a country that almost never goes dark, because my mind was still thinking of Guatemala where the electricity goes out every night during the raining season.

The following weekend, at another yard sale, I saw a 14-inch color TV being sold for almost nothing. I felt I could not miss this offer and bought it. Now I had two sets and couldn't wait to see what else I could afford the next weekend.

Spring ended, and by then I had accumulated almost every type of electronic equipment I had always wished to have back home.

In conversations with my family in Guatemala, they were amazed to hear the deals I got and the number of things I had acquired in such a short time living in North America.

Then this new idea came to mind. I had heard about a fellow Guatemalan who lived in the next town over and traveled back home every few months. He drove a truck from Massachusetts to Guatemala stacked high with boxes that people were sending to relatives, each full of new and used stuff.

I called my father in San Marcos and made an agreement with him that I would send as many types of items as I could so that he could start his own resale business.

Every few months I would gather several boxes of American "junk" – televisions, toasters, fans, deep fryers, hair dryers, electric shavers, videotapes of cartoons and action movies (even though my family didn't understand English), car audio systems, trinkets from people's travels, etc. – and ship them off.

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