Estate Sale

November 5, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

As I mentioned in the previous post, I came across some older writings that I had tucked away in a file case. This particular story I find fitting because I’m currently trying to organize my belongings for sale and I find myself wondering how I managed to collect all of these items that I have surrounding me. This happened probably about six years ago…

On an absolutely gorgeous spring Saturday afternoon, my daughter and I decided to put off our chores for a while and retrieved our bicycles from the garage for a ride. We pedaled first to a sandwich shop where we split a meatball sub sandwich. It’s okay, we weren’t riding for the exercise anyway. With no particular destination in mind, we ended up following a series of bright yellow signs guiding us to an estate sale in one of the neighborhoods off of the main street.  There were several vehicles parked along the streets in front of and beside the corner house where the sale was. After placing our bikes far enough off to one side so that they would not be mistaken for sale items, we were greeted by a woman who looked to be in her early forties with a name tag reading “Grumpy”.  She explained that she was one of seven workers from the company managing the sale, and that most of the other “dwarfs” had abandoned her. I took the opportunity to ask if that’s why she was “grumpy”.  That drew a very nice smile.

The sale was already in its third day, and obviously had been picked over by hordes before us.  Not that there was nothing left- actually there was plenty- just none of it was organized any longer.  Upon entering the open garage and looking through what was left of the tools, I began to get an understanding of what it was that the gentleman whose estate this had been had done for a living. I discovered lock-out devices meant to be placed on equipment to disable it while maintenance work was being performed on it. There were tags reading “Do Not Operate” and “My Life Depends on It”, with the signature of one Harold Grimes affixed to them.  I saw the initials, “H. G.” engraved on assorted wrenches and stray sockets. Small boring bars for a lathe, grimy used and new pneumatic fittings, a few hydraulic gauges- all were haphazardly laying in and around several old, rusting metal toolboxes My interest began to rise. I’m assuming that the late Mr. Grimes was some type of industrial maintenance mechanic, and being a machinist by trade myself, I was hoping to perhaps uncover an overlooked set of micrometers or dial calipers (precision measuring tools) for my own use. No joy. I set aside a couple of items to think about, then wandered into the house behind my daughter.

Once inside, it became obvious that this house had been lived in for a very long time. Not that it was run down. In fact, it seemed to have been quite well-maintained. But even after two-and-a-half days of being invaded by bargain hunters, this place was still overflowing with…STUFF.

In some ways, it was like entering a time capsule. Found in the upstairs rooms, on the main floor, and in the basement were (among many other things) stacks of periodicals dating from the 1950s; several different cameras of various ages- from 35mm’s in brown leather cases, Polaroid instamatics, VHS-style video cameras from the 1980s, 8mm movie projectors, carousel slide projectors and screens. There was also an assortment of 1950s-era electric razors in the hard plastic cases. We found vinyl phonograph records, 45’s, reel-to-reel tapes, and myriads of 8-tracks, cassettes and compact discs- waiting to be listened to on the attendant playback devices. There were also computers- again plural. Everything from a Radio Shack TRS-80 an a Commodore Vic-20 (still with original box!) to a Hewlett-Packard desktop with dual Pentium processors. We were literally (no, not figuratively…literally) tripping over things. My daughter and I looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed, “Hoarders!”

It was obvious that the Grimes’ never threw away anything. How could someone live with all of that junk? It looked like a cyclone had picked up six entire decades and dropped them in this house.

It began to dawn on me slowly, however, that the Grimes’ has not lived like this. All of the pieces were in good shape, some lovingly maintained.  Over the course of twenty-plus hours, Lord knows how many rag-pickers had unpacked and scattered all of these belongings. Boxes that had carefully held and organized these items had been unceremoniously emptied and used as make-shift shopping baskets, then taken from the house to carry purchases.

I started to pay closer attention to what was surrounding me. Playing anthropologist, I discerned that not only was Mr. Grimes a maintenance man, perhaps an engineer, but had a strong interest in electronics.  He had a workshop filled with tools and the skill to make use of them. Evelyn (I discovered her name in a needle-point display) was heavily involved in crafting. She had sewing machines, patterns,  and enough bolts of textiles to make three of the upstairs rooms look like a JoAnn Fabric store outlet. There were buttons, dolls, drawings and instructions for complicated decorations everywhere.

Both of them were readers. She was into mystery novels; he preferred left-leaning political tomes. They were devout Baptists, having at least contributed to, if not gone on missions to Southeast Asia. One or both of them were interested in raising pedigreed dogs. Judging from the appliances and utensils found in the kitchen and dining room, they enjoyed entertaining guests.

The had at least one child, a daughter. I found a bible with her name inscribed, a gift from “Mom and Dad.” Games and toys of a certain vintage provided evidence of grandchildren, and the lack of video games provided no evidence of great-grandchildren. There were no photos or family pictures about- the relatives had at least wanted to keep these for themselves, if none of the other items.

I looked around at the detritus of sixty-odd years. The flotsam-and-jetsam of the lives of Harold and Evelyn Grimes. All I had, really, were educated assumptions, but the Grimes’ somehow reminded me of my own grandparents, Robert and Lucille. I ran into Grumpy again, and mentioned to her that I felt like a bit of an intruder, a voyeur peering into others’ secrets. That earned me another smile.

My daughter and I left without making a single purchase. We had only our bicycles on which to carry anything, and I normally don’t have much cash in my pockets. As interesting as some of the artifacts were, I did not feel compelled to go home, drive to an ATM, and go back for any of them. I have enough stuff of my own, mostly unused.

We may have left empty-handed, but I felt richer for the experience. I never met Harold or Evelyn Grimes, but I feel like I got to know them a bit anyway. And I believe that getting to know others is one of the best parts about being human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *