Monday, June 10, 2013

Lessons Learned from Estate Sales

Carolyn J. Rose

A few days ago a neighbor and I went on the prowl for yard sales hoping to find a small stroller I could use for Bubba’s outings while her torn ligament heals.

We didn’t find the stroller, but we found a generous woman who gave me a front pack dog carrier she no longer used because she had a new one. It needed a little mending, but it worked well and Bubba seemed to like it. And the woman seemed to like that I took it off her hands and spared her a decision about whether to put a price on it or toss it out. 

On the next block, we found an estate sale and walked through a split level house with a shop stacked high with the kinds of things my father would have hung onto: rusty lawnmower blades that might work on another mower one day, hoes and shovels with broken handles that might get fixed when someone got around to it, jars of screws and nails that might be needed for a project some time in the future.

Upstairs there was evidence of sudden and unplanned-for departure: boxes of cereal and cans of soup bought on sale, a candy thermometer still in its plastic wrapper, a new package of napkins. Alongside these were things that were far from new: a battered strainer, warped cookie tins, an ancient pressure cooker. And there were oddities: seven lazy Susans, several bags of mismatched stainless steel utensils, a frying pan with a broken handle.

In a way, walking through the rooms of the house was like walking through a graveyard. The stacks of items, the racks of clothing, the books and Christmas ornaments, the recliners, and the pictures on the walls were like inscriptions on tombstones. They told me about the people who had lived in that house. The items gave me clues to their age and beliefs and relationships. They gave me information about what these people were planning and hoping for.

I came home and looked at my house and all it holds with fresh eyes. And for the next few days I’ll be asking myself, “Why are you keeping that? How many blue blouses does one woman need? Why don’t you admit you’ll never lose those six pounds? What were you thinking when you bought two of those? Are you really going off and leaving such a mess in the kitchen? If you can’t stuff in another shirt, isn’t it time you emptied the laundry hamper?”

That estate sale reminded me of my Uncle Donald’s saying: “There are no pockets in a shroud.”

I can’t take it with me.

And I may well be embarrassed by what I leave behind and the condition it’s in.

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