Sometimes, my sense of humor falters. It doesn’t actually go away, but sinks down slowly into an observant crouch like a cat in the corner when a stranger enters a room.
Estate Sales do that to me. I haven’t been to many, Karen usually preferring yard sales and auctions. But enough so my reaction didn’t really surprise me as we walked up to the Kruger House. It was a large, split level reddish wood home under live oaks with Spanish Moss hanging. A vertical sign that said “Kruger” had been screwed into the trunk of a tree near the driveway long ago; the tree had grown around the sign, embracing it almost to the letter “K.”
Seated at a card table in the garage was a young woman with an adding machine and a metal cash box, checking out people who came out of the house with their new treasures. She smiled at us as Karen and I passed her and entered through the door to a hall near the kitchen. It was not crowded, less than ten people wandering around, picking up items, looking at the price tags, putting them down.
Karen, efficient and focused, began her orderly search from room to room. Without any purpose or desire to buy anything, I was first drawn into the livingroom, where I just stood, feeling a sense of a space where someone had recently lived. I didn’t know whether the woman had died, gone to a nursing home, or somewhere else, but watching people come, look, and leave with various parts of her life, I knew she wasn’t coming back to this space.
Why did I know, somehow, that an older woman had lived here last? I couldn’t define it exactly. Maybe it was the bird prints on the wall, the sets of dishes, the Tony Bennet and Perry Como records, the curtains. Men have those things too, but…maybe it was more the lack of something.
I moved on through the house and the feeling grew. It lacked a sense of vitality. Then again, I told myself, the people in charge of the estate sale had pulled everything out of drawers and placed them in boxes and on shelves. Whoever had been here was gone. Of course it lacked vitality. But I couldn’t shake the sense that it had lacked vitality before that.
The furniture was all 1950’s, no modern leather, but no antiques either. Cloth sofas with worn spots. 33 rpm record albums and cassette tapes. No CD’s.
Then I was in the large bedroom, a double bed with bare mattresses. A large closet was open, about half full of hanging clothes, each with a price tag written in magic marker. All dresses and women’s clothing. It didn’t surprise me. Another closet in the hall had the same thing. Both were half full. Both, I thought, were half empty and had been for awhile.
I was ready to leave and went back to the living room to wait on Karen. This time, I noticed the golf bag. It was bulky, seemed a bit sparse on clubs, and was very dusty, as if it had been just pulled out of a shed or attic. There was one pair of very large men’s golf shoes, tied together and draped from the clubs. They were covered in dust as well. Why had she kept these and nothing else, I thought.
In the bookcase (“all books 50 cents”), surrounded by paperback romance novels, I spotted immediately the plain dark blue cover of a familiar book, the “Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.” It made me smile. I looked in the front and saw it was a 7th printing, 1957 and on the fly leaf was the inscription, “Nonnie K. – 1962.” Two years before I even started drinking! And I tried not to judge but couldn’t help it. The book was not underlined or well worn and I hadn’t noticed any of the other little sayings or signs or clues I usually see in houses of people who are strongly into recovery. Maybe she had stayed sober all those years. Maybe not.
And finally, sitting on a worn sofa just before Karen came down with a couple of serving dishes, I discovered and look through a fancy gift book from the 1987 Augusta Masters Golf Tournament. There was a typed letter taped to the flyleaf that began, “Dear Buddy. I’m sending you this book to commemorate the wonderful time we had and to thank your company for helping co-sponsor the reception. We hope you and your wife will be back next year.”
Before following Karen out to the check-out table in the garage, I pulled two quarters out of my pocket and grabbed the Big Book off the shelf, even though I already own 8 copies.
We didn’t talk much on the way home; I couldn’t think of much to say. But as soon as we got home, I took Sally for a longer walk than usual, and I spent the time looking at puffy clouds in the sky, smelling the new chlorophyll of Spring in the air and working to stop imagining what our own closets would look like with little white price tags hanging on all our clothes.
I think I’ll stick to yard sales and auctions and stay in the car the next time we hit an estate sale.