Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Cheryl and I were playing Santa Claus. We were giving away stuff so we can begin a badly needed makeover of our living room.

The three biggies that needed to go: a treadmill, a wood-burning cast iron stove and an upright piano.

Why offer perfectly functional items for free? Isn’t there some coin to be made here?

I guess I was impatient. “Free” would move the items faster.

I feared that if we went the “for sale” route I’d have to take endless phone calls and looky-loos would want to negotiate the price. I’ll do practically anything to avoid haggling.

Figuring the treadmill would be the easiest to deal with, I offered it a couple of weeks ago to readers of this column.

How many responses do you think I got? Five? Fifty?

Actually, just one. An older woman living in Lake County saw the column while on a Sunday trip to Napa County and rang me up.

Her response wasn’t nearly fast enough. Hearing of the free treadmill offer, a coworker had snapped it up.

“Snapped it up” is an exaggeration. She and her husband came by for a detailed inspection that lasted nearly an hour. They did at least a quarter mile of testing. Only then did they take it.

Watching the treadmill sail away in the back of their car was pure jubilation. That was one bulky thing to scratch off our list.

Next, the Fisher wood-burning stove. It had beautifully warmed the living room for 30 winters, but the times were a-changin’. The Bay Area air district keeps mandating no-burn days just when we want to burn the most.

When we talked to a gas fireplace salesman about a replacement, he told us a brutal fact. If he carted off the cast iron stove, he would not only charge extra, but he would be required by law to destroy it. Bay Area rules didn’t allow it to be resold.

Cheryl was appalled. She called her brother who lives in the Sierra foothills. Can you help?

Two days later Don showed up in his diesel-powered pickup to claim the wood stove for reuse in God’s country. We wrestled the 300-pound monster out of the house, down the porch and across a plywood bridge buttressed by 2X4s onto the bed of his truck.

Don didn’t know exactly what he would do with the Fisher, but he wasn’t about to let a perfectly good stove be cut up for scrap.

The stove’s removal left ugly holes in the living room floor and wall. We discovered that a hive of wasps had been nesting in the stovepipe.


Cheryl had a bout of remorse. A wood-burning stove would still function in a natural disaster. The replacement gas-burning fireplace with electrical ignition wouldn’t. What had we done?

Next up: the Baldwin upright estimated to weigh 400 pounds. It had become redundant when Cheryl acquired her childhood piano some years ago.

Cheryl polished the wood. I cleaned the keys. Then I posted an ad on Nextdoor.

Even with “free,” my expectations were low. I’d read stories about perfectly good pianos going to the dump because people now prefer space-saving electric keyboards. Uprights are not the mark of middle class respectability that they once were.

If no one would take the darn thing, I had my own backup plan. I, a non-piano player, was prepared to chop it up and stuff it bit by bit into our household garbage cart.

Cheryl let me voice this fantasy without saying a word. Under no circumstance would she have allowed it.

My Nextdoor ad, with photo, was a hit. I got three inquiries the first 24 hours, a total of eight over five days.

One responder wanted to replace a grand piano that had been consumed in the Atlas Fire. Another wondered if it was on wheels and would be suitable for a classroom. Others had a child in mind who would need lessons. One fellow offered a case of wine if I’d move him to the head of the queue.

These responses were all worthy, but what I most cared about was how soon the “buyer” could commit. I scheduled back-to-back week night showings for the earliest callers.

We waited and waited, but neither party showed. Cheryl and I had delayed dinner for nothing.

I wondered if the problem was the piano’s price. Maybe people don’t respect “free.” The chop-it-to-bits scenario again flashed through my mind.

The next night was the charm. A mom and her daughter-in-law drove over from Sonoma. The moment they saw our gleaming Baldwin, they both squealed with delight.

They had won the Courtney piano lottery.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.