Estate Sale Blues {On What’s Left Behind}

Seen at yet another estate sale. MayBelle’s mother used to wear Ferragamos, before she got so old, she’d say, that she had to trade fashion for function.

Often MayBelle doesn’t miss her deceased parents on those days you might consider made for mourning: death anniversaries, family birthdays, major holidays. Most likely she begins to cry, or is forced to her knees, at unpredictable times and in unexpected places.

Like this weekend, when she went to an estate sale, the kind where it’s obvious someone has left the house for good, as opposed to a garage sale intended to make room for more stuff. What’s left is what’s left behind, after the inhabitant has died or moved to a retirement community or skilled nursing facility, perhaps. For some reason, in her mother’s final days, MayBelle much preferred “skilled nursing facility” over “nursing home.” She was choosing her words deliberately, she surmises, so that she might survive the fact that her mother could no longer care for herself in a meaningful way.

MayBelle knows the territory because she’s been there, deciding what stays in the family, what gets donated or sold, what needs to be discarded. How to choose between a memory and a marble candlestick? Indeed.

As she made her way through the tidy townhouse, MayBelle looked for old postcards and photographs, small things she might use as writing prompts or for her art projects. Exiting a bedroom she glanced in the closet, where she noticed clothes like her mother wore in her later years: matching, machine washable, sturdy with a hint of style. MayBelle began to weep, seeing the same brands she and her sisters used to buy for their mother, clinging to any last gesture they might offer her when so much had been taken away. For a while there, MayBelle could tell any woman of a certain era where to get the best deals on Alfred Dunner and high-waisted cotton underwear.

MayBelle is what’s known as a “highly sensitive person”—yes, it’s a thing—and she can be moved to despair at warp speed. Bless her heart. She is also a person with an estate sale problem. Probably she should not spend so much time rummaging around in the pasts of strangers, as it often makes her sad and she does not need even one more tea towel. But this weekend it is where MayBelle found herself, wondering what had happened to the homeowner (was it a happy life?), forking over eleven dollars, and missing her mother.

6 responses to “Estate Sale Blues {On What’s Left Behind}”

  1. Avatar

    I loved reading this, and the words and images have brought a tear to my eyes as I recall my mother’s “last things”. The images are vivid for me, and your descriptions reminded my heart about that love.

    Thank you, Amy Lyles, for sharing this journey. Hugs to you, Carol

    1. Thank you, precious woman. You are a dear to continue reading, and commenting, and supporting. And, most of all, showing me how it’s done with grace and style and fortitude.

  2. Claudia A. Ziegeler Avatar
    Claudia A. Ziegeler

    Very nice one, dear Amy-MayBelle !
    Having lost my mother Isolde last November, this feels so familiar and strikes many chords..
    From Jeddah with Love

    1. Thank you, Claudia. I’m sorry for your loss. I appreciate your reading, and taking the time to comment. My mother is with me always, right next to the spot my father has in my heart.

  3. Susan W. Campbell Avatar
    Susan W. Campbell

    Oh how I know the feeling. I was reduced to tears in the parking lot of Publix just coming in to contact with one of my mom’s friends from the Heritage where she once lived. I haven’t been able to bring myself to visit there like I thought I would because when we were going through my mom’s things we gave all her beautiful jackets (Draper and Damon, Alfred Dunner, Appleseeds, you know the ones!) to a friend to distribute to her other friends there. I just know I will see my mom’s clothes on people and weep like a child who lost her mother. Wait. I am a child who lost her mother, aren’t I?

    1. Yes, sweet girl, you are. We are. Thank you for sharing part of your story here. I hadn’t thought about seeing some of Mother’s things/clothes being used by others. A nice way to honor our mothers…