Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What They Leave Behind

Estate Sale. Those two words bring up different emotions in me. First, it means that there will be a house full of treasures that a family no longer wants. Second, it means that there is a home where memories are being erased and the things that were part of everyday life have come to the end of their needfulness.
Those are the things that draw me in. The things that tell the story of the woman that lived. The small things, the humble things, the workhorses, the utilitarian things that aren't thought twice about. You know them by these names- paring knives, pot holders, clothespins, dish towels, pastry cutters, rolling pins. The list is endless.
You can tell a lot about someone by how these things are worn. The well-seasoned rolling pin tells of a mother who baked pies or cookies for her family. What were their favorites? Did she let them help her as she gently blended the flour, butter and water into a soft, silky dough? How many times did she rub her floured hands along the length to prevent that dough from sticking, creating a smoothness unmatched by any sand paper? The pot holders that kept those hands safe from the heat of the oven and stovetop.
A paring knife, worn in the handle with a blade much smaller than when new. How many apples and potatoes did it peel with the help of a mother feeding her family?
Last year I went to a sale up the road from my house. Sitting on tables and in cupboards were the pretty things that adorned the life of the woman who lived there. I went directly to the laundry room. When I came home, I wrote this:

The Clothespins
It was a small brown bag, tucked just inside the laundry room door, that caught me eye. A humble thing, tied with a simple knot around a clothes hanger. Attached to it was a small piece of tape stating it's monetary value- fifty cents. It came home with me.
Turning out the contents. the years of this little bags life tumbled onto the table. Clothespins, none of them new, lay before me each with a story to tell about the rhythm of an everyday existence.
I doubt if the children realized the connection their mother had with these small bits of wood and wire. These were the things that held up her hopes and dreams. Could they possibly have imagined that something so utilitarian would touch this woman's heart?
Tracing the shape of each pin brings to mind a vivid picture-
Brand new tawny pins, standing like little soldiers across the line, grasping onto crisp cotton sheets and linen dishtowels, a gingham apron and a new husband's shirts, tails up and arms down, caught in an ethereal cartwheel.
Slightly weathered pins, side by side, bearing the smallest of burdens- soft pink layettes, smooth white diapers and the grins of little bibs dancing like scalloped trim against the edge of a brilliant blue sky.
On and on across the line they go, trusted friends always, clinging to a rapidly changing life. A family of tutus and training bras, muddy shoes and tear-stained handkerchiefs. Each pin fulfilling the measure of it's creation in the boundless sunshine of joy and the shadowy days of sorrow.
Like the woman who used them, they have developed a roundness and a softness that can only come with age. Tinged with gray, they mirror her hair. Splayed and twisted they have become extensions of her once nimble fingers.
This woman, now gone, remembered to hang them back in their place one last time. A familiar routine at the end of a day, at the end of a life.
Now they are with me, this fifty-cent bag of memories. The mundane tools of a woman who nourished and nurtured a family, set aside for more precious treasure, are waiting for the dawn of a new day. One filled with fresh air and sunshine, billows of clouds and clothes.
They mingle together with my pins newer pins now- tawny, clean and straight as they once were. In my handmade clothespin bag with softly faded strawberries and green and white checks, they wait for me. It is a suitable home for those things that will hold up the threads of my life.
So, out we go together into the soft breeze and the bright sun; me, this bag of clothespins and a cart of damp clothes. It's laundry day. It is my everyday.

If you happen by an estate sale, look for me. I'll be the one wearing an apron, clasping a lifetime in my hands.


GardenGoose said...

very nice writing. I too get those little bitter sweet twinges at a estate sale..wondering often times why the families don't wish to cherish some of the items I see. I picked up a scrapbook made back when Roosevelt was in office, newspaper clippings and poems.
Enjoy those clothespins..I know you will.

madrekarin said...

Thank you, Tina! I am going to one tomorrow morning with my mom and brother, who is here visiting. The woman that is running it knows me and she is will direct me, as soon as I get there, to the things I like. I had given her a copy of the essay and she said she will never look at things like clothespins in the same way again.
I bet your scrapbook is amazing. We go to the little White House, where FDR died, in Warm Springs every year. I just love it there.

BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

What a beautiful post! Wonderfully written. I too think of the memories that are for sale at estate sales... I often wonder why if I, a stranger, could develop such a love for a stranger's treasure, then why couldn't some family member see the beauty of the object. I think orphaned family photo albums are the hardest thing to see up for sale.