We went to an auction today in Richmond, and I'm not sure I've ever really seen quite such a dichotomy--perhaps quite so many dichotomies--in action at one time.
This particular auction was an estate sale for a woman named Anna Marcum. She was elderly, of course, and from some of the items in the sale, one could tell she'd been in poor health (they sold a hospital bed for about $12.50, I think). The first thing I thought going into the auction was how very sad it was, seeing all of this poor woman's life laid out for public consumption.
Perhaps I shouldn't say that she was a poor woman. My great-grandmother wanted everything of hers to be sold an estate sale, and most of it was. But I still couldn't feel quite right sitting there and watching everything be sold to whomever came in.
A good number of the potential buyers were junk dealers, and there was quite a bit of junk, probably accumulated from the garage. There was also quite a bit of very nice furniture, most of it cherry, a collection of amber Depression glass, and some beautifully handmade quilts.
The woman herself was dead, but there was a flurry of activity around. The auctioneer's voice seemed to never stop, going on and on and on, amplified by the speaker system, and his assistants yelled out to alert him to each bid. People milled about, young and old. One child, still unsteadily walking, toddled around, taking in the noise and the sights.
Part of what struck me was also the dichotomy between rich and poor. This woman had lived during the Depression; that was obvious. Part of this was from the Depression glass; her quilts also showed their age. Though they'd been well taken care of, they were made of the printed fabric that came in feed sacks, and then had been painstakingly hand stitched--stitches so close together than the fabric was puckering in places the way that those old quilts did. Of all the things that I saw there, the only one that I would have bid on was a double wedding ring quilt, but it very quickly rose to $225, which was well out of my price range.
Despite this display of Anna's own economical ways, I could also see that by the end of her life, she was comfortably well off. Some of her furniture was dated; it resembled the furniture that belonged to my father's mother that my great-grandmother kept until she died, veneered stuff that had a curved upper edge to it. Most of her furniture, however, was good quality cherry, the kind that had been bought and made to last and be passed down and used by generations to come. Her sofa and chairs were upholstered in a fabric print that went out of style in the early 80's, but you never would have known that it had ever seen anything more than slight use--my guess is that it was her good living room furniture, the kind that never got used except for company.
There was also a collection of sports memorabilia, UK basketball related. There were two or three scrapbooks, filled to the brim with pages and pages of painstakingly clipped articles about UK basketball stars from the 1940's. I don't know if these were scrapbooks kept by Anna or her late husband, but whoever it was would have been voting for Richie Farmer in the gubernatorial election (if he runs), simply on UK nostalgia alone. The handwritten scores didn't look written in a particularly feminine hand. Still, they were important enough for Anna--who didn't seem to be particularly pack-rattish--to keep for sixty years.
In the midst of this, my fiance came to see me for a brief moment before he had to run off to other things. He picked me up and took me to lunch, and we sat in the Richmond Mall parking lot, sitting on the tailgate of the truck and ate.
It was strange to see all of these things put out, laid out on tables. My mother came away with two small drop-leaf cherry end tables and one of the quilts. It's a quilt I'm not sure I'm going to ever want to use, though. I have no doubt that it was stitched together with as much love as any of the quilts my great-grandmother made, probably pieced on the treadle Singer sewing machine that was in the auction (much like the one we have from my great-grandmother's house). But that love was not for me, and I don't begrudge it, because there is plenty of love in the ones we have.
I have other thoughts, but they are probably best unwritten right now. They are too close and too personal to display for the public, much like some of my things. Though I realize that my belongings are just things, I do not know that I could handle them going elsewhere--though most of those are things that belonged to my old people. Mamaw Retta's hope chest, Mamaw Ree's dresser and the glass dish that holds the marbles from our house, the books that belonged to my dad's mother that I got from Mamaw Fannie's house. I have two small figurines from my Mamaw Puzzle, and I have the cup and spoon that my Papaw Doug would take his coffee in. Mom let me take two framed prints that Mamaw Ree had given her. I suppose the one quilt I have finished, or some of the paintings I have created, or the Willow Tree figurines my parents and fiance have given me are the few items I would not want someone else--outside of my family and friends--to own, the few items I truly care about that are solely mine, have only ever been mine. (And my guitar.)
Perhaps Anna had it right. Perhaps she saw clearly what I cannot--a transient life and things that are not as important as memories.
On one final note, my word count is up to over 11k. Despite the reflective mood I've been in, I've been getting a lot done.