Thriftstorm #10: The Long Estate Sale

I had trouble writing this one. That happens sometimes. I’ll sit down with a subject and try to unpack it. Sometimes there’s more than I expected. Sometimes it’s not what I expected at all.

In this case, I ran into a headwind. My mom sold her house at the end of May, and had less than a month to empty it. I spent most of June helping her. On one particular day, a truck from a nonprofit that reuses building materials came, and I spent four breathless hours helping the driver load my late father’s tools and hardware. It was 90 degrees with 90% humidity. I can’t remember ever being so sweaty in my life.

Although that was a private event, it had most of the hallmarks of an estate sale, and the Long Estate Sale in particular. Estate sales are different from yard or garage sales in that everything must go. A yard sale has things selectively chosen by the owner for uselessness, which is why so many of them have Christmas decorations and children’s clothes. An estate sale is an extinction event, even if the owner hasn’t died. Especially if the owner hasn’t died.

The Long Estate Sale unfolded in a town near mine, from at least the final weekend in July (when I discovered it) until Memorial Day weekend in September. It furnished the subjects for Thriftstorms #1, #3 and #7, and may yet be the subject of more. The woman whose house it was had moved to a retirement community, and sold the entire contents of her property to an outfit that was selling it all piecemeal on the spot. It was wild.

The property consisted of two houses on other side of the same driveway. The people who were cleaning the buildings out were setting aside high-value items for an auction at the end, but first they were selling off small, low-value items on tables set up around the drive. The better part of an American life is filled with small, low-value items.

Books, shelves, dolls, boxes of magazines, more dolls, more books, shortwave radio gear, computer peripherals, more magazines, even more dolls. Mixed in throughout were the sort of miscellaneous items that rarely make it to thrift stores, the kind of stuff you end up owning without remembering how you got it. A half-full five gallon container of kerosene. A matchbook with a Japanese label. A fringed cloth, woven from white and mustard-colored cotton, that might have been a tablecloth and might have been a bedspread topper.

The overall impression I got was that the previous owner had been cool as hell, but it’s not like you can go up to someone and say, “Hi, I went through your worldly belongings and you seem rad.” Estate sales are dissociative. You can’t truly know someone through the things they left behind, but you can imagine their ghost.

Next time: Forbidden love, Canada style.