One weekend morning a while back I found myself driving out of my neighborhood on a donut run when I spotted a very tempting fluorescent red sign which read “Estate Sale.”
Like any great delusional appreciator of fine vintage gear I had heard tales of people coming across some well-preserved, priceless instrument at these sales and immediately had thoughts of picking up some gem for less than the cost of an Indonesian Stratocaster.
So, armed with this false hope, I parked the Prius and wandered in for a look. Inside I found a very neatly kept older home with lots of interesting and well cared for items. I saw old pipe collections, beautiful hand-knitted blankets, and an official Easter egg commemorating someone’s attendance at the Reagan’s White House Easter egg hunt. I also happened to notice a seemingly useful small kitchen whisk that caught my eye and which I quickly picked up.
In the kitchen I noticed a very busy woman in her 50’s who seemed to be in charge. She was efficient and decisive in her responses to the other visitors’ inquiries. I heard her say,“That’s over there; they’re $4 dollars each or $6 dollars if you take both of them.” She was obviously directing the proceedings which began to appear to me as the dismantling of a lifetime of somebody’s very nice belongings.
So where is the part where I find the guitar case in the closet you ask? I didn’t. I discovered something far more interesting. Over in the family room was a very elegant antique couch upon which sat a neatly dressed woman, probably well into her 80’s. She looked very much like an older version of the stylish young woman in the 1960’s portrait I’d noticed hanging in the hallway earlier.
In the portrait she shined like a young Jackie Onassis; pillbox hat, demure, beautiful, and with all the history of this house lying well into her future. I glanced over at her as she sat quietly with her head down seeming to accept whatever fate lay ahead. A realization that all of this was now behind her was clearly visible with the expression on her face. All of the cherished mementos of a life well-lived were being picked through frantically like a Walmart bargain bin.
Did the memory behind each item occur to her as she witnessed complete strangers handle her former belongings? What was she feeling as she watched them falsely grimace when they were told the paltry sum being asked for something once so dear to her?
I felt the need to walk over to the couch where she was seated and politely ask if I could sit down. She motioned to the seat next to her where I gently took my place. I showed her the whisk I had found and asked her quite nicely if she minded if I bought this from her. She said with resignation, “I really don’t have much of a say in this.” I replied, “No, of course you do, if you don’t want me to have it I will of course put it back. In fact if you would like to keep it, I would be happy to buy it for you.” She smiled very widely and said, “I would love for you to have it. It belonged to my mother and was part of a set; I don’t know where the rest of them are.”
After our brief exchange I somehow began to feel like a friend to her and separate from the other visitors callously roaming through her home. I saw her face brighten and could tell she appreciated the sentiment of my offer. I thanked her and rose from my seat wishing her well as I headed back to the kitchen. I quickly paid the lady in charge the .25 cents she wanted for the whisk and made my way out to the car.
Someday, undoubtedly, I will be in a similar position and, of course, all the gear collectors will be ogling over my guitars and amps but they will undoubtedly miss one of the much more valuable items – at least to me. The little whisk on the kitchen counter that I will have cherished for years.