I've been to a couple of estate sales before. You know the drill: houseful of stuff that belonged to someone who died, and the heirs don't want it, so it's basically a house-wide yard sale. What was different about this, though, is that I know the guy whose house it was, whose stuff it was.
Sort of. He was our across-the-street neighbor, Frank. And I've never gone to the estate sale of someone I knew before.
When we moved in here nearly four years ago, Frank came across the street to introduce himself. He told us that he'd lived there for twenty years, since the subdivision was built. The first owner of our house was his best friend. That's all he ever really told us about himself. From then on, we would wave and yell, "Hi!" across the street to each other if we happened to be getting our mail at the same time. I knew from his bumper stickers that he enjoyed refinishing cane-bottom chairs and that he was worried the earth is getting overpopulated. He was an old guy with white hair, and later a cane, and that's it.
Around Christmas and Thanksgiving, there were usually a couple cars parked outside his house. I remember one Easter, there was no company over there, and I briefly thought of running over and inviting Frank to join us because we had a houseful of friends already, so one more would not be a problem. But I didn't because I was busy, and I was shy, and I wasn't sure if he'd be like, "Why would I want to eat Easter dinner with a bunch of strangers?"
So I never got to know Frank, not really. I don't know the couples who live on either side of us much either. They have their lives, we have ours, and they rarely intersect, other than to say "Hi!"
And now, Frank is dead. Cowboy found his obituary online, and I learned more about Frank from that than I ever did from the man himself. He was married, but his wife died a few years ago. No children. No close relatives, and the ones that are alive live overseas.
I went over to his house for the estate sale this afternoon. I'm always in need of book shelves, and sure enough, I found a small one for ten bucks that's now in our basement, ready to hold junior fiction. I also bought his wind chime, because I love wind chimes, and ours keeps breaking.
It was eerie, walking through the life of a person I kinda knew. Looking at my house through his windows. I'm a storyteller, and people's lives fascinate me, so as I walked through his house, I couldn't help imagining him there. Did he look out his bedroom window and see my kids playing in the front yard, and smile? Or did he see them and think, "Not those noisy kids again." Which rooms did he spend the most time in? The garage, living room, and a sort of office upstairs, I think.
I learned a lot about Frank from his house today. He loved gardening. Either he or his wife loved to cook -- they had dozens of well-thumbed cookbooks. And he loved history, especially British history. He had shelf after shelf of books about King Arthur, about medieval England, Britain during the World Wars, every era you can think of. And he liked mysteries -- I bought his complete set of Thin Man movies and some Sherlock Holmes movies I've barely heard of. He was definitely a Holmes fan, with several copies of canon stories, some radio plays, different movie and TV versions. I wonder if he ever saw me wearing my deerstalker and recognized our common interest. I wonder if we could have been friends. If I'd introduced myself by saying, "Hi, I like Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare and superheroes and westerns and so many things in between," not just, "Hi; yeah, we're moving in; yeah, I'm 5 months along with kid number 3; man, it's hot today!" I like crotchety old guys -- I get along really well with them. Who knows.
What I thought about the most, though, as I walked through his house and looked at his things, was how meaningless it all was. All the Mount Vernon Christmas ornaments and the cuff links and the collection of little painted castles and the cookbooks and the record albums and the pots and pans. All the stuff we acquire while we're alive. We can't take it with us. After we die, at best, our kids will keep some of it. Most likely, it'll be like when my grandma died after living with my parents for her last few years: my mom put all her clothes in the trunk and took them to Goodwill. We enjoy it while we're here, and that's great, but it's ultimately meaningless.
"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)I bought two books in particular that make me sad, because there are no relatives to cherish them, and I felt like someone who knew Frank at least a little bit ought to have them. Inside The Pillars of the Earth is written, "To my loving wife who loves the past as much as I do. All my love, Your Frank." Inside The Arthurian Book of Days is written, "To my king, from his queen. Merry Christmas."
These are the sorts of things that Cowboy and I write inside books. One day, we too will leave them behind us. Maybe our kids will want a few of our books to remember us by. Maybe they'll put everything in the car and take it to Goodwill. Who knows. Who, in the end, cares?
It's been quite a day. A good day to remember what Christ told us:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)I'm planning to have a yard sale in a few weeks. I think all this might make it easier for me to let go of some of these earthly treasures. They're nice, but they're ultimately meaningless. I don't need them, I just like them. All I actually need is the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Thank God I have that to treasure.