Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the May Intelligentsia.

#31: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#27: Lost In Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#23: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#17: Ernessa from Fierce and Nerdy
#15: Tara from Turkey In My Oven
#13: St. Elsewhere
#11: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#11: Rebecca from Get Lost With Me, Darling
#10: Mel from Stirrup Queens
#6: Sara from Aryanhwy

Thoughtful ThursdayLori wrote eloquently a few days ago about attending the estate sale of her childhood piano teacher. I noted in my comment on that post:

Some of my favorite random items in my house are from the kinds of estate sales that involve loved ones clearing out the house after the funeral — the napkin holder that DH’s grandmother always had on her kitchen table; ramekins from my college roommate’s grandmother; a Shabbat candleholder from a great-aunt that I find wonderfully kitschy but which she clearly enjoyed without irony; a never-used purse from my mother’s closet that I can imagine an avant-garde teenage Tamale carrying someday. I also have a few that would qualify as actual heirlooms, some taken from the houses posthumously and some given to me while the people were still alive; the needlepoints and handmade sweaters mean so much more to me than the gold watch or diamond rings.

Buying things from a stranger’s estate sale seems icky to me, but having objects from someone special feels like keeping a piece of them alive. Using that napkin holder puts me right back at DH’s grandmother’s kitchen table, folding napkins into triangles with her.

I’ve written before about the heirlooms, items owned by loved ones that are either valuable or valuable due to sentiment. This estate sale idea brings up something else, though: having items owned by a deceased person who isn’t dear to you. The ramekins from my college roommate’s grandmother qualify here: I never even met the woman. She was close to someone who was close to me at the time, but when my roommate cleared out the house, she ended up with a bunch of stuff she didn’t need and decided to find good homes.

The Shabbat candleholder from the great-aunt also qualifies here. That great-aunt was actually a step-great-aunt-in-law, the aunt of DH’s stepmother. She met me many times and rather liked me despite despising almost everyone, but truly we barely knew each other. Again, though, she was close to someone who is close to me, close enough that I helped her clear out the house.

There are some other similar objects I didn’t mention in my comment on Lori’s post nor my heirloom post. My favorite high school teacher was also a close friend of our family. When he retired and he and his wife moved out of their home of almost 40 years, he needed to downsize his library significantly. Dozens of those books ended up at my house; my dad still has a few. The best thing about the books is that they are highly annotated, in his distinctive handwriting. I had a great fondness for him, so even though he wasn’t quite a loved one, the books do evoke wistfulness and good memories.

Having objects from strangers is, for me, another story. I just don’t like the idea of estate sales. It’s not that I object to antiques, and I clearly don’t object to used objects — the vast majority of Burrito and Tamale’s clothes are pre-owned, either by friends or strangers. What creeps me out is the idea of rummaging through a dead person’s belongings, looking for bargains. I’m sure I’ve bought something for myself at a second-hand shop that was donated after someone’s death, but at least there’s an intermediary. Going to a dead person’s house to buy their stuff feels like bad juju. There was a vintage clothing store near my old house that got most of its stock from estate sales; also feels like bad juju, as if a ghost might follow you around every time you put on her clothes (though I must say, there were always some marvelous clothes in the shop’s windows). I also get bad vibes from pawn shops, based as they are on stolen goods and drug addiction and desperation. There obviously needs to be someone out there shopping at estate sales and vintage clothing stores and pawn shops, and I’m fine with that, just not me.

In sum, I love having things from dead people that the person would have wanted (or did expressly want) me to have — me, specifically. I can tolerate having things from dead people that someone close to the dead person wants me to have. I want nothing from dead strangers, nor from sad strangers.

What’s your stance on acquiring objects from dead people? Estate sales? Other types of used goods?