The smell of the stockyards lingers in this old neighborhood. Do you think the woman who lived in this little house would have noticed?
Perhaps she came over with so many others who were sponsored at the end of World War II. She could have walked to the big parish that served Polish immigrant families.
Houses here are all painted white. Not much in architecture or trim suggests that the long-ago builder wanted to close with a flourish, to put a personal signature on gable or brickwork.
“Estate Sale. Enter at Rear,” says a sign on the lawn. The back hall shelf holds flashlights, cleaning products, and garden gloves.
In her tiny kitchen, a south window provides good light on the table, but four chairs are a tight squeeze. Pale green glass glimmers among her everyday coffee cups. A flax-colored linen table runner lies folded there. Would the lady of the house have embroidered it had she known its value would only be $4?
Woodwork in the house is varnished pine. The moldings are still sharp with no evidence of ever having been scuffed or scratched by furniture repeatedly being moved in and out.
Bathrooms? One, central. Two bedrooms, each 10×10. A dresser, a little wooden stand, a bed. By what right am I peeking in here at a Baby Ben wind-up alarm clock with lumi-nescent hands? Her prayer books are within reach.
In the front room is the table of good stuff. A person I mentally identify as a dealer is quietly, quickly, and deftly sorting through the trays. He’ll be having lunch somewhere in an hour, thinking about the piece that paid for his run over here from a downtown shop.
Glass Christmas ornaments wink at her final houseguests. These ornaments somehow made it here from time past: the star-spear, French horn, little cabin, and bird with a real feather tail.
Steep stairs descend from back hall to basement. Here’s where Daddy had his workbench. His tools are picked over now, and cans of his hardware are pulled together all for one price. Over at the laundry tub, bars of Fels-Naptha soap in orange wrappers still wait to do their duty. A jumble in the corner suggests that the mistress of this house had difficulty disposing of tomato baskets, the old wooden kind. It occurs to me that one day soon people at my estate sale will see what I saved: “Look what he kept!”
“Estate Sale” is a little too grand for what is happening here today. “Rummage” comes closer. That is exactly what this small crowd was doing on a Friday morning on the south side. One human being’s possessions gathered over decades, a small museum of one life, are being scattered to the winds. It strikes me that sometime soon mine will travel away in boxes and used plastic bags too.
Sale posters throughout the house and yard are printed in several languages and inform both scavengers and the simply curious that the cash register is on the front porch, that those traipsing up and down and under and through and over the widow’s things should watch their step, and that all sales are final.
Christian, we get just a little time here. A geographical spot receives us for a while.
For some it’s a house, for some an apartment, for some just a storage unit and a flight bag. What will be left behind you?
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE