Memento Mori: The Estate Auction

Unintended intimacy with someone I scarcely knew.

The electronic zipper sign on Stalnaker Street said the chariot races had been cancelled. On a frigid weekend in February, there was not much else for entertainment. So most of us turned up at one point or another at the preview of the big estate sale.

Many of the people there, I suspect, were (like me) more curious than actually acquisitive.

These were the belongings of a wealthy rancher who passed away suddenly sometime last year. I met him only once, briefly. Sometimes I saw his helicopter churning along, low above the valley on a summer morning, checking on his longhorns.

The lots to be auctioned were spread across two adjoining barn-like buildings. “Yes, all items will be sold!” called out the estate sale manager on a bullhorn. “Everything has to go!”

We wandered up and down the aisles between the tables, perusing what he couldn’t take with him.

Four or five saddles. Shelf after shelf of ammunition, and rifles to match.

Many pieces of heavy furniture made of lodgepole pine. Quite a few leather recliners.

One or two machine-made quilts, with matching shams. Lots and lots of dishes. A box of mugs imprinted with the logo of his ranch. Disposable aluminum trays filled with kitchen utensils.

Many unopened boxes of doorknobs. (Why?) Dozens and dozens of identical brand new 8 x 11 wooden picture frames. (Why?)

A nice hand-painted salad bowl. A charming small cutting board. An interesting little sculpture. But I didn’t need any of it, and I knew I’d probably have to buy an entire lot to gain a single vaguely tempting item.

It felt slightly voyeuristic to examine all this stuff. A kind of unintended intimacy. But hey, he’s gone.

“You know what the lesson is?” Dale asked as I squeezed past him. “Don’t die.”

“No,” I replied. “The message is: Die suddenly so that you don’t have to worry about it at all.”

When I came out of the bedroom on Saturday morning, the first thing my husband said to me after “Good morning” was “I’ve decided not to go to the auction.”

All he might have wanted were some of the metal baker’s racks that he had seen, disassembled and stacked, with the poles piled separately. They would have come in handy in the storage unit. But if he bought them online instead, he could be sure the parts matched.

I hear that about half the town turned up at the auction, and that it took all day. We went up-mountain snowshoeing instead. It was beautiful, and made me feel very much alive.

The dog was happy too.

© Lois Wingerson, 2019

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Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

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