Picking through the Flotsam and Jetsam of a Life

I went to an estate sale the other day. It was not in some huge mansion full of antiques or precious jewels. It was a small, 1950’s style ranch in a non-descript neighborhood in Providence. One of those post-war neighborhoods that dot this country.

My sister-in-law is a fan of these things. When she told us about the latest one, we decided to tag along.

We arrived about an hour or so after it opened. Many of the larger, furniture type items were already marked as sold.  The remaining few looked like they had been ordered from the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. They appeared well-cared for and, other than being from the last century, quite serviceable.

I wondered how many memorable moments took place while people sat there.

In the basement was a pool table covered with pictures. Most were 8X10 black and white images. It struck me how these images captured a moment in the life of people. People unfamiliar to those of us wandering around. The treasure hunters would pick up a picture and turn it over. Looking for something that would make it valuable. Finding none, they would toss it aside.

These images were the product of a much different technology. One a world apart from the immediacy of today’s digital images. Someone had to compose the image, take the picture, develop the film, then enlarge the print. They were then cherished by those shown in the picture.

At the time, these images brought some joy to those who saw them. They captured a moment in the life of those depicted in them. They held these memories until the bearers of those images, or those who knew them, passed from this life.

Now, they were mere distractions to those seeking something to buy and perhaps sell. Images of someone known only to their families carry no such value.

In another area was a tool bench. Hammers, nails, pliers, nuts & bolts lay scattered around in no particular order. I wondered when the last person to use that work bench walked away if they realized it would be for the last time.

I felt almost as if I were interrupting a funeral. Wandering around, looking at things that meant nothing to my life. Yet they meant everything to the life of someone else.

It reminded me of the scene in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his death. The scavengers are selling the items they took while Scrooge lay dead in his bed. Laughing at their good fortune in his demise.

Wandering around this house made me feel the scavenger. I decided not to disturb the remnants of these lives and leave them to their past.

There was nothing I could buy that offered any true value.


5 thoughts on “Picking through the Flotsam and Jetsam of a Life

  1. My parents did this for a living. They were both antique dealers and auctioneers. But unlike some of their competition, they treasured the memories attached to the personal affects of those who passed. It was a great life-lesson to learn growing up. Sadly, during a time when I was first married and money was tight, I had to sell some of my own family’s photos – the ones imprinted in glass inside velvet-lined boxes. I’d give anything to get them back. The things we do when we’re young and stupid, eh?

  2. I guess it is the Sociology professor in me that makes me love flea markets, yard sales and consignment shops . I love to see the tools people used, personal items such as a shaving mug or a hand mirror they may have held and the clothes they wore. You are right – it can be very sad. But it also is a learning experience and chance to appreciate “how it used to be”.

  3. I had to dispose of my parent’s house and the contents – it was exactly like a funeral. I wept remembering when they got this or that – and most of everything ended up in a dumpster, including album after album of photos. I took many photos home with me, but couldn’t take all. I felt like I was throwing 80+ years of life away.

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