Monday, July 28, 2014

Or Best Offer

“I have half of a ‘Garage Sale’ sign, two dozen surgical masks, a bucket full of crab apples, and a traumatized chicken. How much?”

I have never been a fan of estate sales. The idea of complete strangers riffling through my bra and skivvy drawers, pricing my ratty old towels, and messing with my mother-in-law’s dishes both irritates me and frightens me to no end. I cannot imagine uncaring hands touching precious artwork crafted with love by little hearts. The clay polar bear and her cubs; the ceramic fish, blue and yellow, with eraser-less pencil top imprints; the wooden mallet that I have used over the years to crush walnuts for my much asked for banana bread; the red pot; the pastel flowers; the gumball machine crafted by an eleven year old contemporary artist wannabe. I want to haunt the strangers pilfering through these things. I want to haunt them and tell them that no price is big enough for the look of pride in a child’s face as he presents his mother with such a gift.

I spoke, once, to a woman whose job it was to organize and place value on the belongings of dead people. I spoke to her, of course, as I was rummaging through the living room of the recently deceased in search of the perfect stained glass lamp to go above my basement pool table.
“I just go through the house with my black pen and stickers and price everything that could possibly have a tag,” she tells me. “Everything?” “Everything.”

I did find the lamp, but I couldn’t help imagining what my own estate sale might look like, what oddities one might find while wandering through my house. Would one find value, for example, in the dozen or so lids that once went to bins meant for storing baby clothes, holding homemade Christmas tree ornaments, and moving teenagers into and out of dorms? I have no idea what has happened to the bins themselves, but for the life of me cannot bring myself to throw out the lids. Although, in in my head, I know that a lid is pretty much useless without its counterpart. Then there’s all that godforsaken yarn in the basement. Anyone with children knows what I’m talking about here. If you have a child, you automatically have huge supplies of things nobody else understands—scraps of yarn, beads and buttons, margarine tubs, toilet paper rolls, pencil stubs. I have an entire box of unopened school supplies despite the fact that I no longer have anyone in my house who is in need of such. Spiral notebooks. If you need one, I’ve got it. Of course, it will be half written in, but there are still many good pages.

And what about my little dog? He’s old and losing control of his back legs. He’s crotchety and has a habit of passing gas at inopportune times. His new owner should know that it puffs up his pride to visit the beauty shop. After a manicure and trim, he thinks he’s a doggie badass. If I don’t make provisions, I know, he could end up in a shelter, passed over for cuter, younger pups, marched off to the gas chamber at the end of his allotted stay. He’s a good dog. He really is a good dog.

There are those things, too, that are valuable to me but not so much to anyone else. The cookie jar that belonged to my grandmother from which I snatched many a treat as a little girl. Black, ugly, in the shape of a potbelly stove. It was a gift from my parents to my grandmother on their first Christmas together.
My Oldmom, as I called her, would stuff the jar full of sugary goodies on my every visit. I would wait until I believed the room was empty, then reach on tiptoe up to that laminate counter. My Oldmom caught me every time. “Quick,” she would say, “Take it out back behind the big bush before your mom finds out.” Aiding and abetting. That’s what she did. She was my first lesson in unconditional love. I still have the quilt, too, that she stitched for me when she discovered my mom was pregnant.
It’s not much more than a rag of a thing now, but it’s beautiful in my eyes, a piece of love from the heart of a woman who lost her life to alcohol, loneliness, and depression. Most thought her ornery, stubborn, cantankerous. I saw her softer side. I know it’s not everyone’s typical memory of a grandparent, but I fondly recall lying in bed with her while watching Pretty Boy Bobby Heenan and Dick the Bruiser, her police scanner scratching out urgent messages to anyone in the area, and a six-pack hiding under her bed.

What price a life?

I have a high school "Rules of the Track" sign, two dozen bungee cords, a bucket full of sidewalk chalk, and a slightly neurotic thirteen-year-old cat. How much?