I never met the elderly man who lived down the block. I knew that he fussed about his automatic sprinklers a lot. And that his wife had died some years back. When he passed away, his kids put on an estate sale. Instead of hiring an outfit to do it, they did it themselves.
There were four of them. A thin woman at the front table taking money. Her sister who wouldn’t come down on any price. Their other sister who sat in a chair in the kitchen, picking through the utensil drawer and trying to look like someone too busy to approach. And their overweight brother whose domain was the garage. He’d haggle. He enjoyed it. He had a full cooler of beer next to his lawn chair. The only time he’d sit in it was to open another beer.
The kids had put price tags on everything, save for one room where they were keeping their own take-aways – expensive furniture and appliances not for sale.
Estate sales are a gold mine for source material. This one didn’t disappoint even though I bought a locked safe, took it home and opened it to find nothing. (I still haven’t changed the combination. I dream about that old man coming back to rob me of my grandfather’s two-dollar bills.)
It’s what I didn’t buy that sticks with me. The house was a museum of a long life. Actually two lives – one of a couple, then one of a lonely man. He built ships in bottles, and out of them. Ships were everywhere.
He was a decorated Naval officer who proudly hung his medals in frames. He traveled with his wife across the globe. She was stunning when they were young in Japan and Paris and Italy, yet her features dropped markedly after 1975. After 1978 the pictures of her stop. Then it’s mostly photos of him with tour groups, veteran functions, his grandchildren, etc.
I know this because I looked through all of their photo albums – they all were for sale with the photos still inside. Even his medals had price tags on them.
When we die our things of value are marked down and scattered in sales such as these. The new owners can’t know their prior value. And, apparently, sometimes not even the inheritors know it, or want to know it.
Looking over this man’s stuff reminded me of another item I found at a bookstore’s going-out-of-business sale – the above embroidery. The knitter had it framed in order to give it someone special, on behalf of many other people. I didn’t read what was on the back until I got home.
I bought it for two bucks.