All That We Leave Behind

My grandmother as a young woman, my grandfather’s 1923 graduation announcement, a teacup from my grandparents’ house, and an 1892 copy of The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott.

Rich and I bought our son-in-law Miles’ parents’ home in Dallas a couple of years ago. His parents were building a new home and a jokingly-made suggestion ended up a reality when we decided to take the plunge.  Since we were still in Alaska at the time, we rented the house out with the intention to move into it once we eventually came to Texas.  Our original plan was to retire to Dallas this summer, but we went slightly crazy and moved last October instead!  Meanwhile, our tenants still have a lease till June 30 so we’ve been renting a nice little apartment just a couple of minutes away from daughter Sarah and her family.

To backtrack a little, we lived in company housing in Alaska so we did not own very much furniture and we sold most of our larger belongings before we left our little island home.  When we moved into our apartment, we  purchased a bedroom set, a couch and recliner, a TV, and a small dining table and chairs–just enough to get by.  At Sarah’s one day, I noticed an estate sale down the street so we walked over and looked around.  I asked, “When Rich and I die, are you going to let strangers wander through our house and buy all of our stuff?”  She laughed. “Probably!”

With our July move-in date approaching,  off we go to check out some sales. I am slightly melancholy, almost sheepish, passing from room to room  as if eavesdropping on something private. I know that each item has a history (some more important than others) and I want to know what it is.  The plain white piano stacked with sheets of ragtime music, the antique drop leaf table, the funky knick-knacks (every house definitely has its own style and taste), the 1950s green patterned dishes, the elegant pink silk dress, even the 8-track tapes holding favorite songs from days gone by–each seems like it’s just waiting to be worked into the first sentence of a short story.  I wish I could see these people in their homes, still living, going about their daily routines–are they happy? What do they know that I don’t know?  What have they learned? What are their secrets and their challenges and their regrets and their triumphs?  My mind wanders:  Can one person’s shoes ever fit another person comfortably?  Seriously, did that guy still browse through all those car magazines dating back decades, or could he just not bring himself to throw them away? Who sat on this couch over the years, and what were they talking about?  How many backyard barbecues took place around this porch?  Why do people love dead animal heads hanging on the wall?  And why, oh why, did no one get rid of the empty bottles and broken appliances and yellowed notebooks and first generation computers?  Children of the deceased, you are not doing your job.  I know one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but oh, my.

Don’t get me wrong, some places had really  nice stuff amongst the junk.  One house in particular had beautiful antiques, furniture,  and decor, but it was super pricy and I couldn’t do it.  I did buy a big basket ($10) that I figured can hold the grandkids’ toys at the house.  At another place I picked up two summer purses ($6 each)  that look like new.  Rich made a big steal–tubes of unopened toothpaste!  🙂  Otherwise, our estate sale escapades have been a bust so far…but you never know what tomorrow will bring.

My questions are left unanswered–the residents are gone, abandoning their belongings for strangers like me to pick through. I suppose there’s no easy way around it unless we minimize down to almost nothing as we get older. What are the odds of that?  Most of us don’t plan, “I might be dead tomorrow so I’d better sort through this mess,” though I admit to having those very thoughts from time to time.  I’m not exactly a hoarder but I look at some of the junk we packed up and shipped on a boat from Alaska and wonder why in the world we didn’t sell it or throw it away while we had the chance!  I’m really not sure I want people digging through my stuff–commenting, criticizing, examining things, then putting them back down for the next person following behind.  On the other hand, I kinda like the idea of someone falling in love with something I also loved and taking it to a new home.  Who knows, my little treasure might outlast them, too, and my great-grandkids could come upon it at another estate sale someday. Wouldn’t that be funny?




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