Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COLUMN: Estate Sales

I have a friend who hosts estate sales for a hobby. I'd imagine it's one of the most interesting pastimes a person could possibly have.

If you have a loved one who's passed or moved away and you need a house cleaned out, my friend and her team will come over, go through everything, price all the items, and then run the estate sale for you. Her knowledge of antiques and their market value is astonishing. It doesn't matter if it's a wicker chair, milk jug, handkerchief, or odd Christmas ornament. She can take one look at it and usually tell you when and where it was made, what it's worth, and what you can expect someone in our area to pay for it.

A lot of people are addicted to estate sales, and I can see why. Beyond the lure of bargain hunting, there's something kind of exciting about seeing someone's entire material life laid out in front of you. I think it's human nature to be a little bit voyeuristic and inquisitive, and there's a certain thrill in being allowed to snoop through a stranger's life to see how they lived it.

At the same time, it's important to treat an opportunity like this with the reverence it deserves. The sad reality is that an estate sale often means that someone is no longer with us. I doubt that any of us collect material goods in the hopes that one day a horde of strangers might rifle through them. I've been to a few estate sales early in the morning when they first open, and it can get ugly. I have no interest in gathering with other hardcore bargain hunters like vultures, fighting for position in line, and racing through a house to claim dibs on someone's prized possessions.

But my friend tipped me off to this one. According to her, there was a decent music collection at this sale, and she told me I should probably stop by. I suppose that when my inner music nerd comes out to play, I turn into one of those prize-hungry vultures myself. Personally, I like to think that I'm repatriating any musical treasures I might find back into the caring hands of a true music fan. I'm no vulture, no sir. Instead, I'm SAVING those records from the vultures. At least that's what I like to tell myself.

My friend said it was the home of an elderly woman -- let's call her Jane -- who had passed away. My first glance around the house could've told me as much. The front room was filled with the kind of small collectibles that hold residence in all of our grandparents' homes. A few dolls, some dusty books, a metric ton of delicate glass figurines, and china sets way too fine to ever actually use.

It made me feel like even more of a stranger. This wasn't my stuff. Heck, it wasn't even my KIND of stuff. I can respect this woman's possessions until the cows come home, but I'm just not one to appreciate antiques. I wouldn't want a home full of delicate breakables, because I'd spend half my life worrying about breaking them. Part of me just wanted to gingerly ease my way outside.

The only antiques I care for are twelve inches wide, made of vinyl, and spin at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute -- and finally I found a box of them. Next to that was FIVE boxes of CDs and DVDs. It was mostly the standard fare that I call MMML - Music My Mom Likes. There was a wide selection of Streisand and Josh Groban. Both Neils (Sedaka and Diamond) had a strong showing, and I'll be honest, I didn't know Mac Davis HAD so many albums out.

Then I spotted the first anomaly -- a pristine copy of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." I smiled, imagining sweet old Jane polishing her figurines while the guitar solo of "Brain Damage" wailed behind her. That was followed by a few other surprises: The Police, Michael Jackson, Will Smith. Maybe Jane was a little cooler than I was giving her credit for.

"Oh, duh," I thought to myself. "I bet these belonged to her kids."

But then I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. In front of me sat not one, not two, but THREE John Barrowman CDs.

You're probably going, "Who?" And you're absolutely dead on the money.

In America, few people have heard of John Barrowman. In England, he's a household name. In addition to being an accomplished stage actor on London's West End, John Barrowman is most well known for playing the beloved Dr. Jack Harkness on the legendary British sci-fi show Doctor Who and its spin-off, Torchwood.

There are a few litmus tests I use to determine someone's worthiness as a human being, and being a fan of Doctor Who is a biggie. It's a show truly for the nerdiest of nerds, and it takes more than a passing fan to be familiar with Barrowman, let alone own three of his CDs, which were only ever released in the UK.

Then I looked at her DVD collection, and there sat the entire Torchwood box set in all its glory. Next to it, the box set of a little-known British drama called "The Last Detective," a show that stars another Doctor Who alum, Peter Davison. This woman wasn't just a passing fan. Still, the voice reminded me, these probably belonged to her kids. That's when I saw it, right there on the cover.

"To Jane, with love, Peter Davison."

That sucker was SIGNED. This wasn't any average elderly lady. This woman was a full-on Whovian. There's no way to know for sure, but I reckon she went to a convention and stood in line for hours to get that autograph. I've always wanted to go to a convention and stand in line for hours to get somebody's autograph.

I no longer felt awkward being in Jane's house. Jane was my people. Suddenly I wasn't sad that people were wandering around divvying up Jane's stuff without a thought in the world. Instead I was sad that I never got to meet Jane. I bet we'd have gotten along great. Not only did I pick up a few CDs, but I even wandered around and took a second look at the other stuff again. When I went back by the table of collectibles, I saw something I'd missed the first time: a collectible TARDIS, Doctor Who's time-travelling spaceship. I wonder how many people wandered through that house and wondered what was up with the weird guy staring at the figurines with a wide grin on his face.

Here's to you, Jane. I hope you led a life filled with love and happiness and all the fictional time-travelling space aliens you wanted. I hope it was okay that I invaded your privacy and pilfered some of your stuff. Rest in peace, and please know your Torchwood box set will be well cared for.    

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