I went to an estate sale at home last weekend. It was on a familiar family street, one I’d walked down a thousand times. Old sofas and Tee Vees lined the driveway and were spilling out of the porch. The liquidation company handling the sale was delinquent in marking things; there were piles of stuff in the driveway, in the garage, and in the house. According to the “liquidation coordinator” the house would be cleaned out and “on the market” in three days.
Given the scope of somebody else’s sentimental carnage, I imagined a giant dumpster would arrive and the piles of stuff would be fork-lifted from their temporary rest to their final deposition in a landfill. In 100 million years, it won’t matter.
Today, it mattered and the house was wide open and it was the quiet of late afternoon. I walked about undisturbed. I opened closets, peeked down cellar stairs, and looked out windows. I could see the past and old friends walking down the street. I climbed the stairs to the second floor.
Each empty bedroom had a big pile of stuff in the middle of the room. It looked like someone had raced in, dumped the contents of any desk or bureau, and just left a mountain of pictures, books, sheets, and knitted afghans. It shocked my orderly sensibilities.
In one room, there was a pile of old pictures. I stuck a few in my pocket; regular readers of this blog know I’m a bit morbid about old memories and old stuff.
Until I was forty or so, I didn’t think much about my roots. My mother’s family was French-Canadian and my father’s family was German. In my mind, Germany was a monolithic country of people eating sauerkraut, drinking beer, and speaking strong multi-syllabic words like umweltverschmutzung.
The truth is much different.
Now, I think about these roots all the time and I try to piece together the old photographs with dates and things I can confirm from history. I want to know who I am and where I came from and I’d like to leave it in a neat and orderly pile. I don’t want someone like me pawing through a mound of my old tube socks, college papers, and photographs when they bury me under my father’s Hackmatack tree.
I’d better get my papers in order.