Picking the Bones At An Estate Sale

I just got back from an estate sale in my neighborhood. The people whose belongings were being sold were an elderly couple who lived just around the corner from me. I never met them, but I knew who they were. They both appeared to be quite old, but both were always working in their yard to keep it immaculate. They always had something blooming, no matter the season.

And now they’re gone. The gentleman passed away some time last year; I don’t know the details of his passing. The wife is still alive, but living in Texas in a “retirement community” near her daughter. I’m told she’s struggling with Alzheimer’s.

And so this weekend her family came to sell off everything that was left of their lives together, in order to get the house ready for sale. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the family, as I know that these things have to be done, but while I was looking through what was left for sale, I got very sad. Scattered around were all sorts of bits and pieces of their lives that showed what they liked and what they liked to do. The wife, for example, apparently loved to quilt. She had what appeared to be about 30 – 40 years of quilting magazines in the basement. There were numerous pieces of cross-stitch and embroidery on a table, too.

It looked like the husband had been in telecom, as there were spools of wire and loads of antiquated telephone equipment in the basement. There was also a framed award from 1980 presented to him from his employer. One thing of interest to me was a booklet produced by the Travelers insurance company for their employees in 1972, detailing their policies on reimbursement for moving and living expenses. I don’t know which of them worked in insurance.

So what did I pick for myself? I have a thing for food photography from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and there was quite a collection there. I bought an almost-complete set of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cooking series from 1962; it’s missing the last three volumes. I also bought a 1972 edition of the standard Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (red and white checks) and a cookbook from 1974 called “Favorite Recipes of America’s Home Economics Teachers.” One non-cookbook also made it into my hands. It’s a book called “Papa Was a Preacher,” which was published in 1944. It’s a memoir of the youngest of six children of a rural minister. She wrote the book with the intention of dispelling the myth that being a minister’s child is a joyless existence. What was also neat about this book is that on the copyright page the publisher explained how “Wartime Books” were being printed in ways that conserved paper and copper for the war effort.

So why did this make me sad? I think it’s because these two people spent two lifetimes together collecting all this stuff. Now one is dead, the other can’t be far behind, and all of their things are being scattered in every direction. I know once you’re gone you can’t keep your stuff, and children don’t always want to keep the things of their parents, so I suppose selling it certainly beats throwing it away. Still… I felt sad and somewhat guilty to be picking through their lives.