A Unique Experience by Marlene Hudson
Still needing a few things to finish my apartment, I search the ads on Craigslist and a few others every day. Saturday was no different, and I found an ad for an estate liquidation in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco on Sunday, a perfect rainy weekend for a leisurely drive and treasure hunt. Instead of my usual happy expedition, I cried all the way home…not because I didn’t get what I had hoped to find, of course, but because the experience itself was beyond belief. I suppose the key word that made a difference in the ad was “FREE”, because I’ve been to dozens of estate sales, and they are dignified and organized.
When I got there right at 10am (they said 10-1, no early birds, and I ran into some traffic problems due to the horrendous downpour on the way), I figured there’d be loads of people. But we were double-parked and people were already coming down the stairs (lovely old apartment building way up in a gorgeous neighborhood). Within 15 minutes, the place looked like a mine field – everything picked over, people yelling at each other, others literally hugging or lying over piles of things they’d gathered while waiting for a companion to take t hem to their waiting vehicle. There was everything from well-dressed folks who had hoped to acquire a piece or two, to street people with plastic bags just grabbing anything. The apartment was filled to beyond capacity. It was a feeding frenzy!
I stood in the doorway for a moment, and then decided to walk through the apartment just for the sake of seeing what people were doing elsewhere inside. It was what I’m assuming before it was ravaged, a nice little one-bedroom unit with a balcony on the 4th floor. Not sure if the couple was Asian or just liked Asian art, but lots of Asian artifacts and gorgeous antiques leaving the home; I could tell from some of the things people had pilfered from the kitchen that the residents had been elderly (the pots/pans, etc., were quite old and well-used). I walked into the dining room and a woman was there standing guard over her find; she jumped at me and said, “Nothing in here – all taken! Get out!”
So I walked through to the next room. There wa s a tall, well-dressed, man in a red beret hovering over some pieces of art and a Japanese screen; he smiled, said hello, and moved in close to his acquisitions. A Vietnamese woman had some plant stands, paintings, a TV, and she was huddled in a corner with one leg up on the TV and her arms around the rest, yelling at someone who was walking out the door with his arms full to hurry up and come back for another load. I was so fascinated watching this woman that I almost tripped over another who was on her knees on the floor with her head inside an end table taking things out and putting them in a box; I switched my attention to her, noticing she wasn’t even bothering to see what she was taking out. Head and upper torso in the end table, one arm mechanically came back into the box by her side with items from the table.
Again, I just stood in amazement, looking at her and the others. Wow! By then, everyone was complaining about what a waste of time it was to have driven “all that way” for nothing. LOL – had they even known I’d driven from Santa Rosa, an hour’s drive. Remember – this was only a matter of MINUTES from the time I arrived!
I noticed on top of the table where the woman was still scavenging for goodies was a gorgeous bouquet of roses. I thought they were real, perhaps put there to decorate the apartment for the “event”. I leaned over to smell them and touched one; they were silk – the most beautiful, realistic “artificial” roses I’d ever seen. And the vase was gorgeous, hand-crafted in fabulous colors. I picked it up to take a closer look about the time a very “official” looking lady came around the corner and we made eye contact; she smiled and nodded, so I claimed it and walked up to her and asked if she was in charge. She looked so incredibly frazzled. She said quickly that the people had died and she had been put in charge of disposing of the items and had no idea to expect the chaos. I wanted so much to find out about those “people” – but someone grabbed her and she disappeared into the crowd; I barely had a chance to yell “thank you.” I took that as my cue to leave, because it was getting scary crowded in there, and I was also worried about my car double-parked downstairs and more cars coming; and my little dog Sophie was waiting for me.
I originally went out hoping for a dresser, perhaps an item or two for my walls, maybe a set of china, because the ad listed several sets. Instead, I came home with the most beautiful tall glass vase and silk roses. And a deeper appreciation for the value of life…and so much sadness for those two dear old souls whose life was reduced to a pile to be bickered over by the greedy. I’ve cleaned the vase and dusted off the flowers – four each pink, yellow and white; and one peach bud – only one. I can’t help but wonder as I look at the lovely bouquet that now adorns my piano – did this couple with no name choose these flowers together? Did he bring them as a gift for his bride? Is there a reason roses were selected to fill this fabulous vase? And why did these two people who so lovingly filled their home with tasteful artifacts over the years have no one in the end to leave them to, or to tend to their disposal properly? What an empty and sad end to what appears to have been a rich, full life.
And I can’t get over those horrible people…how disappointing that they couldn’t see past the value of the items they were so carelessly rummaging through and walking away with, with not so much as a thank you to the lady who was working so hard to maintain order and peace. I have no idea who the couple was who lived in the apartment, but yesterday I cried for strangers and prayed for the memory of the people who so lovingly took care of their treasures for so many years and who apparently left our world with no one to pass them on to. God bless their souls. And for those at the apartment – that they will find that life is not measured by the amount or value of one’s possessions.
My new treasure has brought such beauty to an empty space – and will always be a reminder of the fragility and value of life. Today is a new day. I woke listening to the sound of rain against my bedroom window; to soft, stinky puppy kisses; and opened my bedroom door to be greeted by the lovely roses on my piano. I am grateful for all I have; for friends, acquaintances, and opportunities in my life…for another chance to be the best I can be!