My trip took less than a day and a half but, oh, the travel through time and space! Just how far is it between the spot by the sump pump where I watched Mother hang laundry (on lines Dad had strung from the floor joists above) and a snowbank behind Sister Larkin’s where I helped yesterday’s estate sale customers load their SUV? Or how do you measure the space of memory? How did I know, without seeing in the predawn, exactly where to lift the weatherproof flap to turn on backyard lights, then lead the first wave of secondhand dealers into Dad’s shed? What is the distance back to the dining room to total up another sale–a guy had lined up four pairs of ice skates on the turquoise couch–and explain my father was serious skater, he and my brother filed grooves into the blades by hand–and then bid up his offer?
Today my body seems to have measured the ground I covered, the loads I lifted. But my heart sings that I am lucky for it. Blessed for this trip home . . .
Friday, 2:17 pm driving Brad’s pickup, I call Karen. Almost out of the canyon; she times our meeting at the house. The sun is shining–an opportunity in above-freezing temperatures to carry some great stuff from the shed to the garage–load after load on the worn out bearings of Dad’s “new” wheelbarrow crunching through the snow and along the path David had shoveled the day before . . .
But not before Karen watches me get my bearings in sunlight streaming through sheer curtains in the laundry room, the first and only tears I shed . . .
Even with all the lights out after Karen and David left that night. Alone. I hear unfamiliar churning of the new heating system. I turn some lights back on. More looks at the drawer handles, the cupboard doors, floor molding, scroll work trim, the gold kitchen stove, the flagstone, the window locks, roller blinds, Mom’s and Dad’s closet. I turn off the lights again, do my stretches on the carpet, long thick pile, green even in the dark, feel the padding is mostly gone. I’m not lonesome. I’m home. But the mattress is too soft. After a few minutes, I drag it to the floor.
Saturday, 3:26 am. I check the time using my cell phone. The master bedroom is cold; the new living room is not. I wrestle the mattress through the door but don’t lie down again. I’ll just letter some signs to get the ideas off my mind. I go to the white formica kitchen tabletop we have set on the round fern-later-lamp table and sit on one of the white vinyl-padded metal gold chairs: “More good stuff downstairs” and an angled arrow. “Shelving make offer” for two places–the basement door and the stairway ceiling that curves to become that head-cracking corner. An hour or more down there pulling things from corners into the light. I get the second florescent fixture burning and decide to leave it on–so close to morning now. I open the fruit room door and find Mother’s textured Bakelite bread pans. Many trips upstairs. I arrange a sampling of 1960s vintage on the front porch (will thieves come at this hour in sub-freezing air? the occasional car goes by): the Cooks’ large, square two-tiered blonde end table, Dad’s clock radio, hula hoop, a “Pillow Talk” videocassette, the Singer canister vacuum with its high-impact plastic accessories in the original cardboard caddy (yellowed now. I remove the shiny nickle nozzle left from our old Electrolux–whose roar I used to be afraid of. Put the treasure in my suitcase with the sliverplate flatware Karen carefully collected on the kitchen bar and gave me the night before.) I need a bread knife for my kitchen. I take one, no two–the trouble with being at an estate sale where the prices are this negotiable!
Scale seems smaller since I’m an adult now–except for the the tall, wrought iron plant stand–sprayed avocado–I find behind the coal furnace (which I needn’t have bothered to dust and lug upstairs since it sold to the first customer for the price I asked). About 6 am, I center a table in the main part of the basement, empty sacks of fabrics (I collect a few bright ones for myself and children by the stairs). I post a photo on Facebook to notify those of you online: “Mother’s last remnant sale . . . . ”
While I’m taking a bath (that’s a nicer tub than any I’ve owned these years) the doorbell rings! This earlybird does some shopping on the porch while she waits to see if–with all the lights on–someone really is in there. She has an eye for the good stuff; others like her soon arrive. Karen, David and Keith jump in with the sale in full swing. Dave is our cashier.
One careful customer–searching books downstairs–finds a small box of personal letters and reels of 16mm black & white film–Dad’s shows on KUSU TV. She brings them to us.
Seems most folks who visit estate sales think we’re all one family. Some are–ward family anyway. The two women who loved our parents still live around the corner, spend a good part of the morning with us, take the upright vacuum, Dad’s mowing hat, two heavy afghans Karen and I put our heads together to identify–blue and gray one from someone on our parents’ mission; turquoise blue one knitted and donated to the Relief Society bazaar by Marie Chambers–from whom Mom hid that it didn’t sell by buying it. (Someone else fell in love with the loose-crocheted beige and blue one Mother kept adding onto. I sold it with a twinge having heard from Karen the night before that it said “mom” to her like no other. We had draped it with other blankets on the ironing board. The crochet-covered hangers didn’t sell.)
Young families needing a start or start over were a theme. Janis (maiden name Seeholzer) and her husband walked from their house on 5th East looking for furniture to help a young woman they knew. They bought the crushed velvet swivel rocker. David used his pickup to deliver all three. And the boat-long blue couch Karen sold to a young mother of teenage boys who lets them have the bedrooms in their 10th North apartment. The couch will be her luxurious daybed. This young woman was also thrilled with Dad’s reproductions of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration, and topographical maps I gave her from his stash in the basement. The refrigerator went for $40, the washer ten.
A jarring order out: One young man called to see if he could haul intact a basement shelving unit. I measured. One seemed narrow enough. He came with a friend. He first sawed through and broke the 2×2 crane Dad had added to maneuver heavy packages. Got the unit to the upper landing where Karen handed the friend tools to pull the hinge pins from the garage door (two Spanish-speaking men and I were trapped downstairs during this process). Despite forceful ramming, still too wide. The guy used his fist to break off 1x cross bracing. I was watching from below but Karen and Keith only heard the sounds of our house being prematurely torn down. The guy also took the wheelbarrow and I threw in the horseshoes set. We got $20, surprisingly no scarring, all the doors still lock.
Representing his life-long tie to Grandpa, Keith went for the riding mower. His in-laws came with a heavy snow blower to make a path from the shed to the driveway. The lawn mower didn’t start so they towed it and then, by hand, pushed it up a ramp onto a large RV trailer. Keith said, “My in-laws have the best big toys!” (Now he does too!)
Karen kept to schedule, ended the sale at noon and began loading for DI. She had freshly laundered Mom’s house dresses for display in the front closet. By chance I caught the moment perhaps most representative of the day: Karen took one of the dresses for herself then, on her knees, laid the others still on their hangers in a pasteboard box. She said–mostly to herself– “Must be done,” quickly closed the flaps. I realized we were seeing the gathered necklines, the jersey fabric florals for the last time. Karen was laying to rest decades of caring for our parents, their physical needs, even saying another goodbye to our mother from whom she drew her strength, whose traditions she keeps alive.
I had miles to go. I took a suit Mother made for Dad–there was one still left! Other surprises from the basement–things we left seven years ago–were stashed in the cab of the truck I was driving. I told Karen I wished I had taken more of Dad’s clothes seven years ago; we found belts and cardigan sweaters. The Christmas tree (for Linda) and the tall blonde chest from Mark’s and Roger’s south bedroom (for my apartment) were loaded in the back.
Don’t know what David took–except the money.
We hugged. Karen said, “Thanks for the day.” I said, “Thanks for the chance to come home.”
I had people to meet, places to be.
With love, Dan
Find what’s yours . . . truly! danscir52
copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved