Saturday, January 22, 2011
The Estate Sale Diaries
With the exception of underwear and pantyhose, almost everything I own is second-hand. I buy at consignment shops, junk shops, the Salvation Army Store. I buy at garage sales and estate sales, though as I grow older I drive to more of the latter than the former. Some see no difference between garage sales and estate sales. But I do. Garage sales sell what people no longer want. Estate sales sell what they leave behind. They are a momento mori, reminding us that our painted cabinets, our Limoges, our cookbooks, our lamps and rugs will outlive us and be touched by other hands.
Picture a garage or yard sale: three young matrons sitting outside a carport on a quiet street ending in a cul-de-sac. It is a Friday in May. It is 8 am, and already too warm. Three Kurdish women drive up. They are here for the children's clothes. Everyone who parks now is here for the clothes. Two Hispanic couples in a red truck. Mothers- to- be from poorer neighborhoods. Someone will buy the golf clubs, and the computer monitor. They will ask if the lamp works. No one will pay 50 dollars for a treadmill, so rather than push it back inside, one of the young women sells it for a ten dollar bill. A buyer is looking for the mate of a girl's red satin ballet shoe. She is too late. The house Boston Terrier has taken it under the crape myrtle and is tearing it apart. Now the women fear the afternoon thunderstorm. Everything goes for a dollar. And when an older woman in a old truck arrives looking for flower pots, the women give them away for free.
And then there is the estate sale, advertised a month in advance. It starts at 9am, and as always the dealers are first at the door. The sale's organizer may fear a crush, and may limit the people in the house to 30 at a time. One has to park blocks away and walk. There might not even be a sign, for the monied neighborhoods forbid them.
I know this from experience, for many a weekend I have left my apartment with a little money and my old companion Whim. It is he who convinces me to spend two dollars on a vintage "Spanek Verticle Roaster". Or a china goose soup tureen. I will stand in the kitchen of an empty condominium in River Plantation wondering, along with four other women, why the late owner has 12 old electric coffee percolators in a lower cupboard.
"She must have done a lot of church work", someone ventures. We all nod, for it is as good an explanation as any. I buy her china canister set. When I bring them home I find she stored her cigarettes in them. That smell lingers. I found it too late on a pair of gloves I bought. But I was lucky. How often does one find a 12 inch Made in America Revere Ware skillet in good condition? With a lid-
Yet, as I stood in the line in the once living room, waiting to pay up at the table, I see something no one will buy. A framed montage of photos of the late owner's fat old beagle. Lying on a couch. Playing with a stuffed animal. Looking up at its owner.
At thirty I would have seen this and been indifferent. But at sixty- there is sadness and the chill of time passing-
Note: More on the Verticle Roaster in a future post. Was it worth counterspace and two dollars?