I spied the Estate Sale sign as I drove into work early Saturday morning while the village still slumbered. Even though the morning was not yet tickled with soft light, the sign was visible under the old fashioned stop light’s illumination. I made a note to stop by when I got out of work. Even the hours of exhausting customer service and management duties did not dim my anticipation of the hunt.
As I approached the house, the street became clogged with cars parked on either side, under the shade trees, leaving little room for my small car to ease through. The driveway was lined with items and clumps of people pawing through the wares. Bits and pieces of one’s life were scattered about and a large sign on the house door informed all of the hunters that another three floors of sale items were just waiting inside to be discovered.
A slender older woman, perhaps 60 or so, held the post outside, answering questions that were being fired at her left and right. Obviously, the sale was from the estate of her parents and I wondered absently how she felt about strangers touching pieces of her past. The littered driveway was like the conclusion of a story that had already been read. It was easy to get a feel for those who had passed and a broad idea of the path their lives had taken.
Many old wooden chairs, most in disrepair waiting to be re-caned, were stacked near the detached garage. There were rockers, straight backs and petite child seats. I imagined the patriarch of the family collecting these with the idea that he would get the time to fix them at some future time. Not to be left out of the creative pursuit, many bags of fabric took up space on tables, ladders and trunks; the remnants of Mom’s quilts, dresses and tablecloths. If these were a testament to their younger selves, the walker, humidifier and canes were proof that long lives had been lived here in this sweet county home.
I decided to enter the house, although at this point I was feeling more like an intruder than I was comfortable with. Even more people were milling about in the small rooms, amassing pieces of a stranger’s life as they staked their claim to the memories of another. More family members were answering questions and taking money in the formal dining room and living room. From the conversation taking place between them, they were the former owners’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As I lightly fingered the several sets of silver ware, glassware and creamers, I wondered about the family dinners they serviced. What were the conversations about? Was this a happy family, joyously reliving favorite tales of times past, or was there a feeling of forced intimacy over obligatory holiday get togethers? In my heart, I hoped for the former. I stood at the kitchen sink overlooking the back yard and wondered about the private thoughts of the woman who stood in this place with her hands immersed in soapy water. Did she watch her children from here, was she thankful for a blessed life or did she harbor secret unfulfilled dreams?
I followed the stairs to the second level, more interested now in what I would find upstairs that would shed more light on the lives I was invited into because I followed signs on a road. The stairs were charming; a set of three steps to a landing, a turn up a full flight of steps to a second landing and a final turn up three more steps. A six over six pane window graced the stairway; the breeze blowing through the screen added life to the lace curtains. I wondered whether Mom made these on her old fashioned sewing machine, a machine that would miss her particular touch and the way her feet powered its stitches.
This part of the house was supposed to be private. In these bedrooms children were raised, love was made, and doors were slammed during adolescent trauma. Even though I felt like an uninvited observer, I knew that I revered the souls that made their lives here and I became protective over the patches of life that were displayed in each room. As I watched people carelessly sift through the treasures that lie on the dressers, flip through the old musty books that lined the bookshelves and open and discard the lovingly handmade quilts on the beds, I wanted to ask them whether they realized that they were touching lives, not just things to be bought and sold.