A while ago, one of our older neighbors passed away. I didn’t really know this man. He lived up the street from us, and I only saw him periodically when he came out to get his mail, and I happened to be walking our dog. He was friendly enough to say “Hello,” and chat a bit about the weather, but we never had a real conversation. I always recognized his full head of gray hair and his gray mustache when he jogged near his house or drove his maroon Mustang, and I sometimes saw him working in his garden or smoking a big cigar nearby as he relaxed afterwards while reading the newspaper. As I said, though, I didn’t really know much about him — until I visited his estate sale.
After this man’s death, I found out that he left behind a wife who decided that she didn’t want to live in that house by herself, so within the last month or so, I saw the “For Sale” sign go up out front, and just last week, the realtor added “Sale Pending.” I didn’t even know about the estate sale until I noticed a crowd of cars outside and decided to go in. I have always been intrigued by neighborhood garage sales and estate sales because sometimes I find exactly what I need, and at other times, I am just a nosy neighbor. On this day, I was a nosy neighbor. I wanted to see this man’s house, and I wanted to see what he left behind.
In the living room near the foot of the stairs, I noticed a display of possessions I’m sure he used daily: a wristwatch, a letter opener, reading glasses, ordinary stuff that we all possess. Near the dining room, though, I saw other possessions that told me more about him. Apparently, he was a big sports fan, and he rooted for the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. He had a small collection of their memorabilia — old trading cards, yearbooks, and game programs. Apparently, he was even fortunate enough to attend a World Series game and a Super Bowl. I wish I could have talked to him about those experiences.
On a nearby bookcase, I saw a few paperbacks by John Grisham, a big, old Webster’s Dictionary, and, to my surprise, a few books by Shel Silverstein. During my 25 years in the neighborhood, I had never seen any signs of children or grandchildren at this man’s house, but I’m guessing that he either read these books as a boy himself or read them to his young children before they grew up and moved out.
I breezed through the dining room and kitchen, noticing only a few souvenir glasses from a nearby racetrack, because I was much more interested in his garage. There, I saw all his gardening and household tools, and I also noticed he had two bikes and a couple of bike racks as well. The Mustang was gone, but he had a small supply of motor oil, transmission fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Near his workbench, I finally saw something that I actually needed, a small tree saw that would help me clear out the brush near my side yard. “I’ll come back for that,” I told myself, “after I see what’s upstairs.”
In his bedroom closet, I saw a nice collection of suits and sport coats, but I am a bit taller than he, so I passed quickly. The other bedrooms contained only furniture, but his office contained more of his personal treasures. I saw a large map of a city that is about 90 minutes from our neighborhood, the city where he likely grew up. I saw a large collection of CDs piled high; Sarah McLachlan was on top. And I saw about 20 old, cigar boxes. Though I am not a smoker, I was intrigued by these boxes because when I was a boy, I used to keep my baseball cards in similar boxes that a great uncle had passed down to me. I loved their sturdy makeup and their flip-up tops. I decided to buy the nicest one to house the miscellaneous junk that clutters the top of my bedroom dresser.
Finally, I picked up his folk guitar. It didn’t have a case, but it rested in a stand and stood guard over his computer desk. One of the estate salespeople said it was an older Gibson model, an Epiphone, and it was in tune, and it sounded good. Again, my memories grabbed hold of me. When I was fresh out of college and serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, I had purchased a guitar there and tried to teach myself to play. Though I enjoyed dabbling with the instrument, I was never disciplined enough to really play well, and I sold it to a friend before I returned to the States. Now that I’m approaching retirement, I think I might like to play again. Yes, I bought it.
So after spending roughly 30 minutes browsing through this man’s estate, I walked away with his tree saw, one of his cigar boxes, and his guitar. But I also walked away with a better appreciation for this man and for his life. I now wish I had made more of an effort to engage him in conversation when I saw him. Who knows? We could have been friends.