Saturday, December 26, 2009

I've been in your house!

There's a house at the bottom of the hill, one of the big old ones in our town, that we pass every day on our way to and from our house. One day when we went buy we saw a sign that there was an estate sale going on there. We could not contain our curiosity and walked down to check it out.
The house was full- filled to the brim with stuff. It looked like the person who'd lived there had not done any work cleaning or organizing or even cooking in a long time. It was similar to the houses on the new shows about hoarders that are on all the cable channels now. Each room was more amazing than the first- the kitchen cabinets were full but with no product newer than the last decade. The bathroom tubs were full of clothing and toiletries, and each bedroom was full of clothes and other stuff. The attic had a long pole from one end of the main room up there to the other, and hanging from it were hundreds of formal gowns from a department stores- some dresses were there in two or three different sizes or colors of the same style, and most of them had the tags on them. It made us wonder about the woman who had lived there. The sale workers were understandably tight-lipped about her story but we somehow found out that she had not died, but had just... left. We didn't envy the jobs of those staffers, and knew that whatever hadn't been sold would literally have to be shoveled out, into a dumpster or two or four.
In the front room of the blisteringly hot attic, I found a pile of boxes and file cabinets full of pictures and letters and memories from the family that had lived there. They were insanely personal, from times they'd been apart, sweet letters of love and promise and hope for the future. I felt at the same time wicked and privileged to read it all and I soaked it up. I love that stuff. But it broke my heart to think it would be shoveled out with the rest of the junk.
Just tonight we drove by the house, which has been completely cleaned out and is being lived in, by someone. Some repairs have been done but it could stand some paint and the little garage out back is still broken and ramshackle. I don't know anything more about the house now than I did then, but as I drove past tonight and tried to catch a peek in the windows, I whispered to the new tenants there "I've been in your house!"


Her Harlequin said...

Estate sale today, from 1 o'clock to 4
You go and get ready, I'll go start the car
Better to be early, then we'll be the first in line
And you know how I love this, it's amazing what you'll find
Going through dead people's houses
Wonderful things they have collected
Open the drawers and trunks and closets
Don't leave a corner uninspected
(Cheryl Wheeler - Estate Sale)

On A Windy Night said...

I am always on the look out for family bibles at estate sales and yard sales, I think it is quite sad that dozens, hundreds, even thousands of family papers and photographs can be found at these estate sales, with no family members left or around to care about. I've heard that this is also a significant problem in Florida and Arizona, with a large percentage of retirement communities. Long-distance family members often don't even realize that their parents or grandparents prized silver, photographs, or love letters are there, and the objects are sold in vast packets (or worse, thrown away!) at estate sales.

At work, we sometimes get cases where clients would like us to identify the rightful owners of family objects that they have picked up at yard sales or estate sales, and bought just to prevent the items from being thrown away, even though they had no family connection to the items.

One genealogist specifically takes on cases like these, of "orphan heirlooms", and the stories of researching the items, locating the rightful owners and the moment when they are returned can be quite moving. If you're interested, here's a link to a number of these stories: