Thoughts of an Author in Training
“That’ll be $5.00,” Judy said stuffing a bag of unopened goodies from the estate sale.
“Actually it’s $4.50. That’s the half price total,” the women said rummaging through her wallet.
I watched as Judy calmly extended her hand and held a smile. This wasn’t a friendly smile. To the untrained eye it might appear to be a gentle and harmless look but after working with her and witnessing the product of sorting, organizing, pricing, selling and cleaning her 62nd estate sale, I could recognize that she would rather break everything in the house then give this woman back her change.
Judy is an energetic soul, bounding with positive vibes and fighting through constant back pain yet she works laboriously to maintain the business and disapproves of negative energy. Her partner Deborah is an amazingly gentle character, with a wonderful laugh and outstanding sense of knowledge. She’s always smiling and socializing. The women together take their duties to Sorting Hands very seriously. Ask them any question from sewing, to glass, or even antique furniture they’ll know whatever you desire to hear and then some. They work too hard to put up with petty negotiations. It’s not that they don’t negotiate, it’s when someone tells them how to do their job, when the business becomes sour.
The customer was bartering, no nit-picking over fifty cents. Not only that, she was paying with a $20 bill. She could afford fifty cents. At first I wondered if it was the principal of the matter. If she was told half price, then of course she wanted half price. But I looked at the early morning crowd and wondered who would have told her about half off prices which started in the afternoon. Judy had given her a great deal calling her stack of well over five dollars in goods at a reasonable price. All I could see was this woman and her stingy fingers counting her bills collecting back her $15.50.
The strategic here is to raise as much money for the family of the deceased as possible. It’s not to rip off any buyer or become greedy with money fever watching hundreds of retirees walk through the door, it’s to support the family and sell their stuff with dignity and efficiency.
For this I was bitter as people throughout the days at the sale poked and hinted on the prices being too high. Lurked at the chatter of the staff discussing discounts for others and prayed for more than half on the last day of the sale. They insured strict questioning on who would get the items left over from the sale. Multiple women pitched the idea of donating the goods to their households because they thought it would relieve stress off the family- they just wanted free stuff.
If you could only see what this woman, Ruth owned you would see how disgusted I am for the indecency of some of our shoppers. Thrifty or not, there is a line to disrespecting someone’s lively hood and their most prized possessions. Ruth owned a fabric shop in the local town. She’d operated a shop for nearly thirty years and so the collection of her beautiful two-story 1927 home was a combination of her crafty hands and what was left of her shop. Hundreds of items never even used or opened were part of the sale. Yarn, fabric, thread, crafting kits, $1,000 of dollars worth of hand-made quilts were represented in the house. She collected vintage glass wear and well-over $5,000 in collectable Hummel figurines. But as people came through to look all they could see were dollar signs.
I admit, I have my moments at garage sales and thrift shops were I see something only for how little or much it costs. I don’t account for the labor, value, or even sentimental nature of the item. But estate sales I feel have an unspoken nature to them. It’s more than what you see on the stickered price, it’s a different kind of bargaining. God forbid if we had been the family actually selling our loved one’s life belongings, I would have freaked out on several women and men over the age of 65.
Ruth passed away and left all her belongings, weather planned or not, to a family of grieving individuals. You don’t bitch-bargain with someone who’s just lost a loved one. You don’t ridicule the belongings of the deceased, at least not within the premise of the estate sale. You don’t fight others for a nut-cracker and you most certainly do not steal from the dead. Yet all of things happened while I worked with sorting hands. What is it about a bargain price that makes people hungry with greed. Hungry to the point that they forget the nature of the sale?
In my bitterness I wondered what people needed so badly when they grabbed at items in the house. Women in their late 70’s and 80’s were piling on crafts and fabric. It’s not my place to judge or distinguish who can buy what, I just imagine that it’s going to accumulate in yet another widows home. But out of all this speculating, we were accomplishing the one thing we set out to do- sell Ruth’s belongings. For that I could work on finding some dignity in the whole situation.
When you die a funny thing happens. You are remembered lovingly by those closest to you, loved through memories and photographs. But to those unfamiliar with your time on earth, you live on quietly through the things that you owned. Strangers put together a distinction of who you were based on what lingers in a sale and without knowing it they move you around, taking you places you may have never seen. Pieces and fragments of life are carried away to different corners of homes and your belongings join the circle of life. From the young to the old, not discriminating among new hands, the deceased live on through the materials of the living.