The Garage Sale After Death: My Mother’s Life Categorized and Labeled in an Estate Sale
My mother died recently. I won’t get into specifics in this post, nor will I do a psychoanalysis of our relationship. Those are topics for another column, or possibly a book.
Instead, I’m focusing on an odd reality of post-maternal death. My mother was a collector of things. Anything that amused her, she bought it. There was no rhyme or reason. Her home was an eclectic mash-up of contrasting styles and ideas, right down to her small bookshelf that showed off all her Rush Limbaugh books, with a book about the Dalai Lama squeezed in between.
After her service, we went through the house and each took a few items that were of most value to us. I took a stained-glass window that my mother made (it was a hobby of hers), for example, while my daughter rescued the Dalai Lama book from the clutches of Rush Limbaugh. We also rescued all the family photos we could find. The rest, we agreed would go to an estate sale. My mother left behind a lot of debts and had heavily mortgaged her home, so we are selling all we can to make the estate come out even with as little debt as possible.
Today, the photos of the estate sale were put online by a professional company. The sale will be in her house, but the professionals had rearranged everything by category.
It was odd to peruse through the photos today and see my mother’s life organized, categorized, labeled and stamped for review and critique by complete strangers.
Looking through the photos, I saw many items that I had grown up around, such as her faux ship’s captain wheel that hung on her living room wall, her giant dresser with the full-length mirror that she had for what seemed like forever, and an old wooden steamer trunk that I’m pretty sure she inherited from her mother. I saw the garden gnome I bought her one year for Mother’s Day.
There was the glass plate with a painting of Santa Claus on the bottom that inevitably came out in December and always had cookies in it for the entire month like it magically refilled itself every evening.
There was the small stone dragon that she used as a doorstop for several decades, right next to a set of faux silver utensils in a red-felt-covered box. There was the stereo she made me move the last time I visited her (earlier this year) and the box set “100 Years of Jazz Guitar” that I bought her many years ago for a birthday.
It was hundreds of items, all on display. Each had an emotional attachment to her because she kept them. For us, many of the items triggered memories, with my sister calling the photo display “freaky to see it all out of context.” But for the strangers who will file through the house this weekend, they will mean something different when analyzed through their individual lenses.
Some items that we thought were meaningful will be labeled junk by others. Other items that we thought were worthless might complete a collection or trigger memories for someone else and could be the most valuable item in the sale.
No one will know that these items were all once held by a woman who had amazing potential to be a great artist, but never got the support from her family to follow her dreams; or that she was pressured into having children she never wanted, and while she never got over the disappointment of being trapped in a family life, she still did the best she could with the abilities she had. Nor would they know that she was a great lover of music of all kinds, and always jumped at an opportunity to see, here or try something new, including when she took harmonica lessons for an entire year or random trips to various zoos and parks around the country.
In the end, my mother’s life has been distilled into a giant yard sale of knick-knacks and kitchenware, to be traded as freely as a pack of gum in a grocery store.
We are what we accumulate. It is the system that we live in and the system we have all willingly come to accept.