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All these things...

By Alma Barkman


The sign was posted on the median: “Estate sale. Everything must go, including house.”

Although seldom attracted to garage sales, for some reason I was mysteriously drawn to this one on a late Saturday afternoon. I parked the car at the edge of the street and walked leisurely up the gravel driveway.

A man about 50 years old, probably a son, stood in front of the open garage, where makeshift tables were loaded with odds and ends. “Lots more stuff in the house as well. Everything you see is for sale.”

I browsed through things that are left over when a handyman lays down his equipment for the last time-screws and bolts and dented cans splattered with paint, electrical components, scraps of wood — the same kind of stuff cluttering our own workshop. I bought a plastic watering can for a quarter and moved on toward the house.

Probably built in the 1940s like so many others around here. Huge fenced lot, extending about four hundred feet deep. VLA (Veterans Land Act) property, no doubt. After the Second World War, each returning soldier was offered assistance to settle on a half acre lot, where he was expected to build a house, raise his children and grow a garden to help feed them.

Suburban development had resulted in subdivision of the deep lots, but not for the late owners of this house. Over time they had allowed the unused portion of the back yard to return to prairie sod, where I imagined rows of potato plants once grew, all neatly hilled, and closer up, a flourishing vegetable patch. The flower beds that had once graced the front foundation of the house were now overgrown with weeds and grass.

It appeared that those in charge of the sale had simply opened the doors of the storey-and-a-half white stucco house and let bargain scavengers ransack the place. Cupboard doors hung open, exposing mismatched cups, chipped dishes and a few old pots and pans. A modern fridge hummed quietly, its price tag stuck to the door. I could envision this kitchen as a cozy corner where kids bounded through the door after school, enticed by the smell of fresh cookies. Now the table and chairs around which they sat were gone, with only a few scuff marks on the inlaid tiles marking their spot.

In the front room a scattering of dust bunnies on the dull hardwood floor indicated where the sofa once stood, opposite the fat-bellied TV ($10 OBO). The sound of my footsteps echoed in the empty room as I moved on.

One of the two small bedrooms was evidently a music room, where a shiny black apartment sized piano boasted a bold “SOLD” sign. A well-used Bentwood rocker sat in the corner. Beside it, a few classical music books were all that remained on a built-in shelf, along with a lone amp minus its speakers-probably sold to a teenager.

The other room contained a sagging bed covered with odds and ends of clothing and blankets. Someone had left the closet door open, revealing a few outdated dresses and a faded blouse or two, the styles indicating an elderly woman had last occupied the house.

At one point she had probably taken great pleasure in wallpapering the bathroom with a flowery design and then hanging the mirror with its ornate frame over the basin. Now a rude bargain hunter was scorning her taste in decorating by loudly warning a companion to “Stay out of the bathroom or you’ll get crazy dizzy!”

The basement was littered with cardboard boxes, the remains of their contents strewn across the concrete floor along with golf clubs, old leather skates and Christmas decorations that spoke of happier times.

So this is how 60 years of family living comes to an end, I thought as I sadly climbed the stairs and slowly made my way back to my car. I pondered what would become of our own possessions once we leave the scene — the tools with which my husband built our house over 40 years ago, the leftover painting supplies with which I decorated it. My kitchen cupboards are full of dishes and canning supplies and “just in case I need them” items. My husband’s music room is crowded with radios and choir books and old vinyl LPs and cassettes and CDs plus all the equipment needed to use them. Every available space in my sewing room is crammed with a stash of quilting materials, our closets full of clothing. Seasonal goods fill the shelves of a storage room in the basement — gardening equipment, preserving jars, outdated sports items. What would become of it all?

Later, when I shared my concerns with one of our sons, he put it all in perspective. “Yeah, Mom, the only thing that truly lasts is the memories we have of our loved ones. In the end, everything else we accumulate is just junk.”

“Prepare thee stuff for removing,” said a wise old prophet (Ezekiel12:3). This month I am doing just that — emptying, sorting, selling, donating, recycling and tossing — the spring cleaning of a lifetime. I have seldom felt more refreshed.

Barkman is a freelance writer who lives in Winnipeg (