The GGA Project -- Day #91 "A Life for Sale"

As you may have gleaned from an earlier post, I love recycled things.  I consider it absolute victory to find something cool (especially something vintage cool) at a good price because it's used.  I will battle any thrift store crowd or grime in the name of the treasure hunt.  My friend Nicole and I will stand in line until one of us literally faints with exhaustion and lack of food (not gonna mention who, but you should ask Nicole about it some time) to get in on half-off days at Savers.

But one thing I don't do enough of is garage sale-ing.  My other best friend Kelsi is the Queen of the Garage Sale.  When asked about them, she'll report that about half the cool things I find in her house came from garage sales--and most of those she never planned to be at.  She is just the kind of person who is out and about early enough on the weekend to get in on the best offerings.

What's extra nice about garage sales is that, while thrift store prices are pretty much set in stone, there is a lot of bargaining room at garage sales, given that most people--having made the decision to get rid of something--would practically pay you to take if off their hands rather than bring it back into the house (that is, of course, if they're doing it right.  Some people treat garage sales as if they were Christie's auctions, as if their broken down junk were their ticket to early retirement.  Skip those sales).

Anyway, one used-stuff-for-sale realm into which I'd yet to venture became

Today's New Activity: Visiting an Estate Sale

I suppose that to be technically accurate, I would have to say that I've been to *one* estate sale before, but there is no way I'm counting that.  A few years back my ex and I were heading to Hakone Gardens when, just outside of downtown Saratoga, we saw a sign advertising an estate sale.  I was very curious, so we pulled off the road and followed the arrows down a super steep hill and into what seemed like a squatter's hut at the edge of a clearing.  It was exactly what I would have pictured if there'd been an estate sale scene in Silence of the Lambs.  I couldn't even tell what was for sale...there was just a whole bunch of fit-for-the-dump garbage lying around outside the hut.  And it was obvious these things hadn't been laid out especially for that day's sale...they were lying in heaps with the cobwebs and the rust and the soot of years.  I started to believe the estate sale sign was really just bait meant to lure unsuspecting victims, especially when the old curmudgeon who lived there invited us into the hut and I saw all sorts of jars filled with off-colored liquids and unidentifiable matter.  Still, we managed to purchase an ironing board from him, which we then had to lug back up the hill...good to be alive though!

This estate sale--on the other hand--was as legit as they come.  About 8 houses up from ours, an elderly woman recently passed away at the age of 101.  Today, her daughter and son-in-law opened her house up to strangers, offering them what seemed like the whole of this woman's life--every last bit of it, from the towels in the bathroom to her baggies of buttons and felt and beads, to the entire contents of her closet, each garment hanging there in stunned silence and perfect order.

I have to say it was strange and eerie to be walking through the rooms of a home whose owners I didn't know.  Even more strange was knowing I was doing so in the interest of purchasing something from the life of this stranger, removing a tiny piece of all that was left of that person here on earth.  For her kin, I imagine the Herculean task of unloading 101 years' worth of this woman's collected things was outdone only by the sadness at the thought that (if all went according to plan) those things, those memory keepers, would soon be gone forever.

I believe anybody who says he or she is not afraid of death is lying, or simply hasn't given the concept the in-depth thought it deserves--thought which almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that death is a pretty frightening prospect.  Maybe people aren't afraid of the dying itself, but I don't know that people are really considering the weight of the unknown that follows death when they say they're not afraid to face it.  Unless one is deeply religious and believes, albeit in the complete absence of any proof, that death is the beginning of a better existence, it is hard for me to see how the idea of death cannot but give one at least a pregnant pause.  Like, way past-due kind of pregnant.

I was standing in the deceased homeowner's bedroom and thinking, 'this is what it all leads to...One hundred and one years of life, of sleeping in this bed and clothing her body in this clothes, of crocheting these little hen-shaped tchatchkes and cooking food on this stove...it leads to strangers romping through and hauling it all away, to prepping this house for sale, to closing up shop on this life that seemed so all-important when the living was taking place.'  And certainly it was, for all the people this woman touched.  But standing in her empty bedroom, staring at the perfectly-aligned sensible loafers in her closet, I couldn't help but wonder where, if anywhere, she was now.


  1. you know, i can't help but think this sounds like the beginning of a great story! i think about death, like, every day. i just can't help it. i've had a grim sense of curiosity about the subject from a very young age. i used to ask my mom what death felt like or what if felt to get hit by a car. i still wonder. and i'm terrified to die. or maybe just more stubborn or in denial. lately, i've been dreaming up ways to live forever (usually involves aliens or living long enough until some kind of sci-fi future where they download your brain into a new body) i've been to a few estate sales (always the best vintage sheets and sewing supplies and other weird goods i like to craft with) and i always feel like i'm attending a funeral. i try to pay my respects to the dead stranger's stuff i'm rifling through. at one, i picked up an old manilla envelope that i thought was full of a few sewing patterns and it ended up being these two beautifully cross-stitched birth announcements! i felt so bad when i got home and realized what they were. i thought, these are the kinds of things the children should've kept. maybe they didn't even know where they were. i wrote a little bit about it here: http://kinueko.blogspot.com/2010/03/spring-is-in-full-bloom.html

  2. Oh yes, estate sales are wonderful. And the season is just starting. That is kinda spooky though, being in someone's house with all of their worldly goods after they've passed. Stuff is so lifeless, but so important to us. Takes me back to lessons learned in Moisis Ghandi.
    I don't know about death. I don't think I'm afraid of it. Maybe I just don't factor it in, except in moments like yesterday when Mo crossed the street by himself after running away from me on a walk. Then I think of the possibility of losing him. But just for a split second before I turn on my parenting, problem-solver brain and think of how to get him to stop doing that! And then there's Max and he just emanates life, openness to it, so responsive to it. I think I'm more contemplating birth these days.
    But I'm also one of those spiritual people and believe in reincarnation. And I expect to see you and Nika in my next life.. if you believe in that.