Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Estate Sale

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.


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  2. Oh, that is just sad. I couldn't do that either, I don't think.
    From what you described, it almost felt like a violation from where I am sitting.

  3. When we are gone it is sad to think that all that was left was stuff. But, perhaps, there are those that loved them that had better memories and took the memorable stuff.

  4. I love a good Estate Sale B&B. I always ask if the "owner's" are in.
    Tell Karen I said hello and to check your cell phone to see all of the calls and texts you keep making to me. She's gonna be mad and you're gonna be in trouble.
    I left you a little plug on me post today :)

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  5. I almost felt like I was there with you. You described the atmosphere very well. Its difficult to visit a house under those circumstances if you are an introspective person. I would also steer clear. You are very observant though. Did your wife find anything to buy?

  6. What a great post. Very touching. And yes, I stay away from estate sales too.

  7. Thanks for the comments. I agree with all of them. For me, it did almost seem like a violation, although if I were the one who was gone, I would want people to use my stuff. And Karen did get some glassware. Not my usual Baggish humor...back to that later. And I'm sure I'm in deep doo doo with Reggie Girl and I don't even know her!!

  8. Reggie girl is stalking you it seems :)

    I don't like em either.....or selling estate houses, it always feels like you're intruding.


  9. We spend our entire lives building possession, but most importantly, building meaning behind our possessions. Such an intense concept.

  10. Your header photo is perfect for your theme!!! It's SO great!

  11. Your post has me thinking too. What does my home/possessions say about me? What will they say when I've left them behind for good? But, like you, will go out in sunshine now and think of other things. C

  12. Great post, nice new header, too!

    My folks lived in a rambling house chockablocka full of stuff. I have only a few things of theirs, mostly things of handmade beauty: photographs my mom took, memories of her playing the piano, a metal sculpture my dad made.

    This post also reminded of Gandhi, who left behind few possessions: a pair of glasses, a pen, a loincloth, a few holy books. He also left behind remarkable achievements, mainly independence for his homeland gained through nonviolent action.

  13. Thanks for the reminder, Dan, of the really important things (that are not things) that we leave behind.

  14. B&B Good evening to you three.
    I found I became more and more depressed as I read along with you. I don't think we have estate sales like that. Usually the family carts the furniture to the auction rooms or second hand shop or if there is no family the Public Trustee disposes of it through contractors. I think I would be uncomfortable trespassing over someone's life and haggle over their belongings.

  15. P.S. Bagman looks rather menacing...