I was just riding along, and I saw a sign that said “Estate Sale.” These are always sad affairs, a garage sale of everything, including the coasters and the spice rack.
I parked my bike and walked in. Everything in the house had a price tag on it. Some person’s life had been reduced to bargaining over the cocktail glasses.
The dead person was a woman. She was old. Her husband had died a long time ago, I could tell, because there were hardly any remnants of man anywhere. His study had a few uninteresting books that hadn’t been opened in decades. A rusted vise was bolted to his work bench in the garage. Against the workbench leaned a bicycle, a Schwinn Varsity that had already rotted and rusted to scrap before the turn of the century.
The woman was a member of the local symphony’s governing board, attested to by a plaque thanking her for her service. She had a pretty 5-foot Kawai baby grand piano, but none of the trappings that go with a musician. There was very little sheet music. I opened the cover and plunked a few notes. It hadn’t been tuned in a long time. The estate sale folks were asking “$7,000 or best offer” and tacked on a note that said, “DON’T PLAY THE PIANO.” They hadn’t priced a used baby grand piano lately, and they didn’t know very much about how to sell pianos.
I think that dead lady would’ve wanted them to put on a sign that said, “Play this piano with the heart and love and passion and emotion and sadness and joy and brilliance of a breaking heart or conquering hero or wandering madman.”
Or maybe she would have liked the “Don’t play” sign. Maybe for her it was a piece of furniture, like guys who have $100,000 guitar collections and can’t play any of them worth a lick.
We all have an estate sale in our future. After the family has stripped the good stuff, someone will be hawking your bed sheets, your silverware, your ugly clothes that you bought on the spur of the moment but never wore. Each thing in the house was something that this lady had carefully considered. For some reason it was the right thing at the time. But now it was junk, $3 or best offer.
The sale organizer wandered through the house. “Everything’s gotta go!” she said cheerily. “Make me an offer!” She was right. Everything does have to go.
I think the best estate sale you could have would be a couple of boxes’ worth of items and a bike. Or two.
A Dutch oven.
A couple of good kitchen knives.
An electric mill to grind flour.
Three or four mixing bowls, a whisk, some steel measuring cups and spoons.
A couple of glasses.
THIRTEEN BICYCLE OUTFITS.
Some bike lights and chargers.
Underwear but not many.
A pair of dress shoes and a belt.
A notebook with your private musings. Someone would pick it up and think, “Scandalous!” and buy it for fifty cents.
Three unread books, a pillow, a couple of blankets–both made by your grandmother. One of them would have embroidered, “To Billy with Love, 1973. Grandma.”
A hummingbird feeder and a bag of sugar.
A pocketknife, wrought ful clene and wel.
A thank-you note from someone who cared.
A photograph of a little boy petting a dog next to a picture of a smiling young girl.
That would be a sale worth going to, if only so that you could see the detritus of a life that someone tried his best to live well.
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