Sorting through a lifetime of memories at a family estate sale is no easy task
By Lynne Brandon
“DO NOT ring the doorbell before 8 a.m,” read our sign on the front door. Not being “morning people,” my family recoiled at the thought of being dressed and ready to wheel-and-deal before breakfast.
This estate sale, as we preferred to call it, was born of necessity, not desire. After moving back to Surry County from Florida, my 83-year-old mother could no longer live in the house my sisters and I grew up in — a simple structure built by one of my uncles with wood floors that squeaked, a leaky basement when it rained, and 50 years of memories, love and good times.
Pickup trucks lined the country road as old timers in overalls, good ole boys, neighbors and “pickers” showed up ready to haggle over underpriced items — a house, full basement and three sheds’ worth.
Tables were spread with rock ’n’ roll 45s, quilts our grandmothers made on a quilting frame, Bassett Furniture (when it was still locally made), clothes, tools, football films on reels (from dad’s coaching days), farm equipment including our beloved 1950 Ford tractor and a lifetime of treasures.
Women gravitated to the house with glasses, dishes, books and kids’ toys. Men headed straight for the sheds so they could pick through tools and such.
Over the course of the day, we slowly realized that no price could be placed on the stories and memories that people shared. We met two older sisters driving an old red Ford truck, and former students who laughed as they related times of being disciplined by my father, known as Coach. There was Kenny, who told us that dad had talked him into working on his old truck instead of going to class — unheard of in this day and age. Kenny was happy to keep the Blue Goose running instead of sitting in a classroom. A cousin I had never met shared stories of my long-deceased uncle known far and wide as the best horse trainer in the region — a horse whisperer who could break horses no one else could tame.
Jackie Mears wiped tears from his eyes as he told me about how my uncle Wayne would plow a field of corn with the very same horse he would unhitch from the plow and then run in a race an hour later — and win. We have the horse ribbons to prove it. Jackie also told me how Uncle Wayne entered a race in Virginia dressed in jeans and riding Western amidst a field of other riders who wore jockey silks and rode English.
The most colorful visitor to our sale was the 40-something-year-old lady named Christie. She roared up in a beat-up Jeep, bristling with energy. “I got some tax money to spend,” she announced. She reminded me of Erin Brokovich — slim, busty, with bra-straps showing through her tank top, tattoos swirling at her ankles. She couldn’t have weighed much over 100 pounds soaking wet. In short fashion she pointed to four old and bulky pieces of furniture. Although all of our brawny helpers had left for the day, she was determined. “I don’t need no man to help me,” she said.
“Y’all remember that murder down the road about eight years ago?” she asked. “I shot and killed my ex-boyfriend,” she said matter-of-factly “He was drunk and tried to strangle me. It was self-defense.”
Though the tangible pieces of our lives were sold off one by one, that old house was more than a home; it was a weekend getaway, a refuge as I healed from divorce, and later a retreat away from the city to the wide open spaces and clean air of the country. Time spent in the basement talking to mom while she sewed on her Singer sewing machine and Dad sitting in front of the cast-iron potbellied stove, smoking a pipe in his overalls, are a flicker in my memory, like one of his old football reels.
Emptied of its contents, it is now waiting for new, young owners to fill it with the contents and memories of their own lives. This house was well-loved and it gave us lots of love in return. Now it stands ready to give again. OH
Lynne Brandon is a Greensboro-based journalist. She travels the South and wherever the road takes her in search of inspiring tales of people and destinations worth checking out.
Illustration by Harry Blair