In my search for books, I have hit many yards sales and flea markets. I have also gone to estate sales, and the writer in me walks through those wide-eyed, with the mental notebook scribbling away so fast, I can almost hear the scratching of the pencil on the paper. One of these estate sales has stuck out in my mind, so I thought I would take you with me as I walk through my glimpse into a woman’s life.
I try to ignore the sadness of the event; the fact that one person’s entire life is reduced to a rummage sale, with strangers wandering through and haggling down the prices. I wonder why her belongings haven’t been passed down. She must be the last in her line, I decide. I am not willing to consider it possible that her heirs just don’t care.
I look around and see the pictures on the wall of a well-loved husband or son dressed in his military greens, proudly standing beside his plane. I don’t know much about planes, but I know that one is old, and the mental pen scribbles faster as a ‘creative biography’ takes form. So many pictures in the hall of the beloved soldier, and tears well up in my eyes.
I walk into another room, stepping around a woman. She takes a picture down from the wall to examine the frame – to decide whether it is worth two dollars. I want to say something to her, I want to defend the soldier’s worth, but I don’t. Instead I cast my eyes over a tiny room and ponder the use it must have once had. Behind the canary yellow paint I see the vague outline of brightly colored balloons. A child’s room converted into a sewing room. I wonder briefly if the child who slept here was the soldier on the wall in the hallway, and in my mind’s eye see flashes of him growing up – playing in the sandbox, blowing out birthday candles, going to school, riding a bike, kissing a girl, graduating high school, enrolling in the Forces, standing beside that first plane to take the picture. I stop the movie-like flashes of this man’s life before that plane flies into a war. I don’t want to see that outcome.
There is a rickety old Singer sewing machine built into a table. The machine looks to be made of cast iron. Though it has an electric pedal, I think it might be one of the first models that did, and I marvel that she never replaced it with a newer one. I can almost hear the humming and the clacking sounds that must have filled this room for hours on end. There are sewing patterns in baskets on the table, the windowsill, the floor. There is a closet full of stylish dresses with hats that matched lining the upper shelf. My heart lurches with the knowledge that she has moved her hobby room into her son’s room, spending most of her relaxing time with him – with his energy and his memories.
I move on throughout the house, each room exposing something about the woman who used to live there, from the room full of fur coats to the hidden bookshelf, halfway up the stairs. It was filled with works of literary wonder – the complete works of many of the classics, varying in flavor from Shakespeare to Twain. I approach the top of the stairs and see that there is another shelf of books and puzzles. There is a rocking chair in the corner with an old lamp set up beside it. I wonder at the life of the woman who had to sneak upstairs to exercise her mind. And I worship her for it.
As I make my way out, I am in awe of the person I have just been introduced to, my mental notebook still scribbling away, wishing there was a complementary mental photographer as well.
The sadness and loss I feel for this woman startles me. I feel in the moments I spent walking through her life I have gotten to know her quite well. She could have been my great-grandmother, and I hope that in her last hours she had someone beside her when her son came to take her home.
A smile creeps across my face. Somehow, someday, this woman will live again through my words. I only hope that I am capable of properly capturing her loving heart and her secret brilliance.