My husband hoards tools and hardware like a dragon with his golden treasures, piling them up in our basement in cardboard boxes in various states of decay. He hunts these riches down online and recruits me for his journeys to strange cul-de-sacs in distant suburbs, luring me with latte promises. He says that garage sales are not worth his time, only estate sales. For “garage sales are full of the shit people are trying to get rid of; estate sales have the shit that they held onto until they literally died.”
And so I often find myself wandering through a hollow house alone, as he adventures to the tool sheds in the far corner of a backyard. I sift through the trinkets, the decorated knives, commemorative postcards, and wonder – who held these before me? I find a binder full to bursting with buttons of all types and sizes and colors. What hands carefully sewed each into place?
John says later that we could really use these martini glasses; he claims my cats broke some of ours. As I look over the rest of the glassware, there are still Coke and beer caps stuck to the magnetized bottle opener behind the bar.
Back upstairs, I stare out the window, see the blue of the sky. It is as blue as it was before this man died; as blue as it was before this woman breathed her last.
My grandmother used to collect Santa Clauses. It was my go-to Christmas gift for her for years. Their house at the holidays would be festooned with all the Santas imaginable, every size and color and shape, surrounded by lights and tinsel, singing trees, dancing snowmen. My grandpa worked so hard to make it all happen.
But then my great-grandma moved out of her house with the once-beautiful garden she loved so much (killed off accidentally when she mistook a weed killer for a pesticide) into a nursing home. And my grandparents learned how difficult it was to go through a life of accumulated objects all at once.
There were Barbie doll boxes, rooster statues, a golden clock that rang on the hour. Her paintings and quilts and candy dishes endlessly full of peanut M&Ms. The ceramic goose with egg-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Cookie jar houses with pictures of all her great-grandchildren, filled with toothless grins and frizzy schoolyears hair. And so much more.
It was a tough time for them.
And then the Santa Clauses were gone, us descendants under strict order to give them nothing for Christmas ever again. They would not put their daughters through the same trial of sorting through what were ultimately, just things.
I don’t think they really decorate for the holidays at all any more.
Did my grandparents hold an estate sale then? I don’t recall. It seems like the type of thing they’d be too proud to do.
I feel like a hyena, really; how can I not? Hurting no one, yet gathering up all I can from the aftermath, feasting on the funeral scraps.
But we are also oh so necessary to this pecuniary spiral. The things which moved into a vibrant home move out of the tomb with us to our own stone pyramids, which will someday be uncovered and excavated, our plastic bones examined and cataloged. Women wearing festive Easter bunny ears (for it’s April, after all) will stand at our door and hand out baskets for customers. They will fill them with everything that ever meant anything to us, priced at a bargain, and take them home to their own sepulchers.
Yes, that cutting board is very beautiful, but $15 is just too much.
This beaded sweater covered with birds, that gold-flecked skirt, those pastel sherbet earrings – is this all it comes to, in the end? So much here reminds me of me – of the white walls John and I have been covering with our faces, my art, our degrees. What strangers will take the frames and trash the paintings, decades on? What nails will pry up the blue painters tape fee and carefully fit in their own grandchildren for proud display?
I find three empty scrapbooks in a dusty corner of the basement priced at $4 each. Such intentions, such plans.
That afternoon, my parents email out their updated wills and trusts, all the documents for the worst eventuality. They’ve been talking about this for a while, as their previous will contained the names of guardians for their children, all now in their 30s, but the timing seems almost too apt.
I skim through them with a lawyer’s eyes but a daughter’s heart, pausing at certain phrases, wondering at others. When I call my dad with follow up questions, he tells me they found their attorneys at a seminar where they feasted on steak and lobster.
I can’t help but think that it’s a genius but macabre bit of marketing, like some sort of last meal.
This wedding dress, carefully folded into a box, preserved, visible through a plastic sheet, is just as mine is, hanging at home, waiting for me to try on again. Mine is less than a year old; this one is maybe 50 – but does it really matter?
Weddings feel like a beginning, like youth and life and vibrancy. But the vows are about a whole life and then a death, not just the start. And the clothes you wear, the fading pictures, the gifts you never really use, are all kept in careful places, still lingering after you are gone, after everyone you love is gone.
These thoughts resonate in me like the inside of a bell, the sound bleeding away but still there, hanging on, ready to knell again. I say them to John and he shrugs, looks at me with his blue blue eyes, says, “I try not to think about that too much.”
He clasps my hand as we drive away.
(Previously published by Talking Soup, April 2019)