Friday, August 14, 2015

Estate Sales; Sad Nirvana


With an average age of 78 years, Sun City, Arizona is the Mecca for folks who have a fondness for modern antiquities.    With demographics like this you can imagine human turnover is pretty frequent.  Two of three things are going to happen within a couple of weeks of when the first responders haul the body away;  1) a "home for sale" sign is installed on the front yards and/or 2) the deceased relatives show up with a U-Haul truck and haul Grandma or Grandpa's stuff away or, more likely, 3) the family just calls up one of the two dozen estate sale companies who thrive in the area.  They'll sell Grandma or Grandpa's most valued possessions and take ten or twenty percent of the take.

When I first moved to Sun City I was a relative "young buck" at 56.  For the first year I went to dozens of estate sales, to find a few things for this "old-new" home, and also finding and buying things that captured my fancy.  I finally had to quit going; these visits just became sad and creepy.  You get in line with other weekend bargain hunters and you begin traipsing through each room in the house.  And you find things that you love and things that you would never buy....a half tube of Ben Gay, or hemorrhoid cream, an enema bag, a toilet brush...those kinds of things.

In the large majority of homes you find outdated furniture, fabric headboards, big heavy dressers, nubby fabric on the chairs, shag rugs and knotty pine.  You find old 33 1/3 albums of Montavani and Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller.  You see entire libraries of VHS tapes; Season 1through 8 of Dragnet, travelogs of Europe, Mexican sombreros from a trip down to Mexico, coyote figurines, Reader's Digest Condensed Books, an entire Leon Uris collection, Melmac dish ware, Gene Autry lunch boxes, leisure suits from the 70's, a Telly Savalas ornamental dinner plate with the inscription "who loves you baby?"...most likely an anniversary gift from some hubby who knew no better.

And I feel creepy fondling the deceased's precious possessions.  It feels intrusive and I can only imagine the dead dear ones spinning in their grave to see their wonderful Mikasa dish set going for one single "Andrew Jackson".  

But, yes, when I was still going, before I gave much reflection on the practice, before it became depressing, I did buy things.  One recently gone fellow, someone from Chicago, had saved a whole series of newspapers that chronicled the most important events of the war years.  There was the first Chicago Tribune edition announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  And here was one for D-Day, and VJ Day, and one that published the entire text of Macarthur's "old solider's never die" speech before Congress.  After 65 years of saving I picked those treasures up for $5 bucks.  And I was delighted to find that one fellow had every American Heritage magazine published since 1955...and I scooped them up and lugged box after box to my van and carried them home.

Perhaps most poignant, and most representative of estate items, was the belongings of an immigrant from somewhere in Eastern Europe.  He was a photographic hobbyist and his old Leica camera, and beautiful leather case was for sale.  Piled next to his camera gear were stacks of photo albums that had captured this immigrant's life.  There were beautiful photographs of his native mountains, pics of bright, young, vigorous faces, smiling into a camera lens 70 years ago...their whole life ahead of them.  He had chronicled his arrival at Ellis Island, a slavic family standing on the porch of their first home in America. pics of picnics and ethnic festivals and school graduations and anniversary dinners.  Though I found these albums fascinating, I just could not buy them; they seemed to be too personal and much too intrusive.

So, after a year or so of estate sale visits I gave them all up.  I just found them so sad.  And, at this stage of my life, I need to start thinking about shedding possessions rather than collecting them.  But I'm gonna be very pissed in my afterlife if my Rosewood writing desk does not bring a handsome price.  They can let my Lazy Boy recliner go's got a spring loose.  But I've been accused of having a spring or two loose myself.


Frank K said...

I would suspect that anything of "real value" would be removed and sold separately. Don't find too many Picasso's or coin collections just laying around?

Darlene said...

Well that just gives me something new to reflect on.

A Modest Scribler said...

Frank K., you'd be surprised. Folks have found some pretty valuable stuff.

Brian Clancy said...

When we moved back out here 3 years ago I went to work installing appliances for Lowes as a subcontractor. (Hey, you do what you have to do.) Sun City was one of my favorite areas to work, the people were the nicest and most appreciative.

A Modest Scribler said...

What a nice thing to say, Brian. We do have a few crab apples, some affected by age, but, for the most part folks around here are pretty nice.