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A life recalled through a garage sale

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By Janny Wilcke

Yesterday was gorgeous — sunny and pleasantly cool — the kind of day that evokes a good mood. As I headed toward Louisville to do some errands, I saw a sign for a garage sale next to a driveway beside a lawn overflowing with boxes and tables strewn with books, pots, pans, dishes — all manner of household items and personal belongings. I will admit it. I love garage sales, although I don’t seek them out. I prefer simply to stop when I happen upon one during my various trips. It was a welcome treat as I meandered along Kentucky 146 on a nice day to come upon this unexpected treasure trove.

As an aside, I think garage sales are great because they are one of the last vestiges of free enterprise. I shudder to think of governments regulating them by making folks buy a tax permit beforehand. Sorry, that just had to be said.

As I browsed the tables, the lady running the sale invited me into the house where more boxes lined the walls of the several downstairs rooms. She informed me that an elderly relative recently entered a nursing home and now her house and belongings were being sold. The musty smell and slanting floors of the old home hit me with such a strong longing for the past that I had to catch my breath.  Here were the remnants of someone’s life, and I was being given permission to sort through them!

Naturally, my imagination took off. I could see this woman at the old stove using the pans that lay before me. I had to smile at the vast amount of Tupperware among the boxes, surmising that she must have cooked in large batches and so had to deal with many left-overs. Maybe, I thought, she once had a large family but had trouble adjusting to an empty nest and a need for smaller portions when her children left.

I know that she sewed. I heard someone offer ten dollars for her sewing machine as I rummaged through a box of thread, lace and material. I chose a long piece of flowered fabric and wondered what she’d intended to make of it.

One box held a packet of old cards and letters. I yearned to buy them but thought that perhaps such personal items had been included by mistake, and I was too embarrassed to ask the price. I did find an old doll quite covered in mold and I thought about some little girl who mothered her many years ago. I bought the doll with the idea that a bath in a diluted solution of bleach might restore her beauty, which it did.

There were many boxes of old figurines. They didn’t appear to be expensive, and so I wondered if the lady had collected them as souvenirs on trips, or if some may have been gifts from children. Like the movie “Back to the Future,” I wished that I could go back to learn the history of those treasures. But I was stuck weaving threads of memories in my imagination, spinning stories entirely of my own creation.

After I had made my selections, I looked around the house some more, trying not to appear too nosy. The past overwhelmed me as the owner lived again, briefly, within those walls. And I so wished that I had known her.

As I left, I visited briefly with the lady running the sale, guessing about her relation to the owner of the home. We talked about growing old, and then my mind played a trick on me as I imagined my own daughters years from now poking through my things. “Mom was such a packrat,” they say. “Let’s have a garage sale.”