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This post has no illustrations. I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. But sometimes, you have to let the words tell the story.
Not long ago, I went to an estate sale. It was a spur of the moment decision, having seen the sign as I passed by a fairly upscale neighborhood en route to somewhere else.
It was the second day of the sale and nearly 1 p.m., so I didn't have great expectations for special finds, the sale having been picked over by neighbors, dealers and others earlier. While I tend to snatch up things no one else would ever think of, I entered with low expectations. They were accurate.
When I left, I had purchased a Michelin guide to Paris (I mean, really. The buildings are old and historic. Do I care that the prices are different?); a "little blue book" of all sorts of facts for 1964 (purchased because it was small, funky and would be a good tear-up for projects) and a biography of Mozart for Rick. At 75 cents, it was a good stop.
But what I found most interesting during my brief spree was how much this sale -- this sale of leftovers, really -- told about someone's life. What is revealed in piles of leftover crystal, books, paintings. The leftovers of a life together. A life for sale.
It became fairly apparent that the couple -- and it was, or had been, a couple -- living here was well traveled with guide books from Florence, Israel, Paris and London -- many with markings in the margins. They loved music and had a large collection of sheet music, mostly classical (which in retrospect I should have bought to tear up), and it clearly had been used, with bent corners and tattered margins.
They attended the theatre, keeping Playbills as memories. I wish I had bought the program from a long-ago London production with Barrie Humphries (now Dame Edna) and Julia McKenzie (now PBS' Miss Marple) in the chorus. But I let it go. Enough's enough!
It was apparent that he was a physician and most likely, a dermatologist or perhaps plastic surgeon, judging by the large collection of heavy tomes on the topic. They appeared to be Jewish, with a number of sacred texts, prayer books, and documents written in Hebrew, I presume. (They also had three copies of "Exodus," which is a wonderful book, but three copies?) They had excellent taste in art and it appeared as though the items on the walls -- still high priced at half -- were selected abroad or reflected their experiences. There were several old cameras, lots of slide sorters and a light box. An interest in photography was clear.
Someone in the family probably smoked (there was a stale tinge of tobacco in the air of the house) and they had the ashtray collection to prove it. (A sign of the times that on day two of the sale there was still an enormous selection of ashtrays...?) The basement, with its immediate access to a lovely backyard, was relatively unfinished, with a plain linoleum floor, outdated curtains and a ratty plywood bar at the back. Seemed a shame -- it would have been a wonderful room to enjoy.
What was left of the china, serving pieces and glassware was nothing to write home about, but remember, it was the last afternoon of the sale. I suspect what remained were the old bits that had long ago been replaced by nicer pieces. There were a few straw hats -- nothing remarkable. No millinery flowers. But on each door hung a bejeweled evening gown ensemble -- and there were a few other nice pieces in the closet. They did things -- elegant things.
And finally, a postcard addressed to the that home. With the names of the owners (which matched up in name to a certificate for the man of the house.)
From this one piece of junk in the house (not that I've ever considered postcards junk!), I suddenly realized I was in the home of some highly respected civic leaders in our community, whose volunteer roles had included board positions in numerous charitable organizations. I didn't know if he was still in this world, but she is still very much alive and very active.
It felt really creepy.
We often put up parts of our lives for sale -- usually in the front yard or garage -- and we're there along with it. People argue about our trinkets, trying to talk us down from a dollar to fifty cents and we either agree or say, "no, that price is firm" and end up hauling it back inside for another sale or a trip to Goodwill.
And while they may think, "Wow, that was a good sale" or "What a bunch of crap," or maybe even, "That person is just like me!" (at least, that's what goes through my head), for the most part, the endgame is mild diversion and non-involvement. It is, after all, our junk we're getting rid of -- the things that we know we'll not use again. But it isn't really the leftovers of our lives.
But when you've been plowing through someone else's estate leftovers, making up stories about their lives and discover it's someone you know -- or know of -- well, it felt creepy. It's not like they're dead. Or even if they were...
I guess I can make up all sorts of scenarios -- maybe he died, she's remarried and who needs his out of date medical books or memories of that life? Or he's still in the picture, retired now. Or maybe they're moving to a condo and who has space for all that stuff. Maybe she's ill and going to die soon and why not settle now instead of later. It's pretty easy to make up little mysteries based on the remnants of her life, and it's kind of fun.
But it's also a little creepy.
(Note -- l later relayed this story to a colleague from work. Without my telling even everything that was there, she said, "Oh, that's Dr. Abcdefg. He died; she's moved to Florida." Every now and then, things like this remind me that I live in a small town.)
Once a year, Rick threatens to bring a dumpster to my house and get the junk out. (He has done this to his mother's house. I really felt bad for her, because he's a maniac!)
I politely decline. Most of the stuff I have is because I like it. Yes, it's WAY too much and I should purge, but I like it. Some is old, passed on from family; some is acquired. And then there are the presents -- the ones you love and wouldn't part with for the world and the ones you'd kill to part with but just can't. It seems so wrong to throw out something given with love. And of course there's the sentimental stuff.
We art-types are our own breed. We collect weird things, like broken jewelry, empty Altoid and sardine tins, scraps of ripped up paper, trims and ribbons and beads and flowers. Yarn is stacked in baskets -- and don't throw out that tail of eyelash yarn -- you can use that someday!
We say -- "I know I can use that for something." And do I? Sometimes. Not enough, I fear.
I suspect if my life was up for sale, folks could tell a lot about me. What I loved, what I liked, what I did, where I'd been, what mattered. They could also tell I'm a pack rat, but then, they know that already.
Maybe that's kind of neat. But it's also a little creepy...
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