Thursday, April 6, 2017

Estate sales and prosthetic legs

Today, while running errands after work, I was distracted by yellow signs proclaiming "SALE!" So, naturally, I veered off-course to check it out because it's a Thursday and garage sales never happen on Thursday around here so who was I to turn down this amazing opportunity to browse through someone else's junk?

I followed the signs and eventually one said "Estate sale" and I died a little inside because an estate sale is NOT the same as a garage sale and here's why: an estate sale is either super cool, full of treasures and antiques and amazing finds, or it's a super-sad walk through someone else's memories and dreams and the remnants of a life lived tossed on a bed and priced at $2/apiece. Today's sale was the latter.

I love a good garage sale as much as the next person, and finding something vintage or useful at a steal of a deal brings me great joy. But estate sales make me sad. For one thing, it's weird to walk through someone's home when you are not an invited guest. At a garage sale, you can set your things in the driveway and maybe one part of your garage, and hang tarps or cover things to say "Stay away! Not here! Not for sale!" At an estate sale, you wander through someone's home - every last inch of it. The home often looks like someone left in a hurry - or suddenly died, which is often the case. No one bothers to make it look nice - instead, you shop IN someone's closet and items are often piled on beds and kitchen counters. Half-used toiletries fill the bathroom shelves and yes, they are for sale. It feels so invasive.

This particular sale was in a home that was probably once pretty cool. It had a sauna! And a bar! With swiveling bar stools! I'm guessing in the 80's, this place was the ultimate party house. But today, those gold-colored bar stools just seemed dated and the sauna was filled with piles of clothes and boxes. Plus, everything that was for sale was just old and useless. The clothing wasn't vintage - just outdated. And the prices are always higher at estate sales - since they're run by companies, there is overhead to pay, but I can't imagine who would be interested in buying a polyester lilac suit dress for $25 or an out-of-style hat for $12. They weren't cool enough to be ironic. In one room, there was an impressive collection of ladies' shoes - someone enjoyed a good shopping trip in days gone by!

I wandered from room to room, hoping to stumble upon a treasure - perhaps a piece of milk glass, which I like to collect, or a cool vintage hat for the drama department at the high school, but it was really all just "stuff", not treasures. Well, someone's treasures, once upon a time, but certainly nothing that caught my eye. Plus, it just feels so odd to browse through someone else's dresser drawers - is there no privacy anymore?

I decided to take a tip from my husband and head to the garage. When we go to garage sales, he heads straight for the tools, and almost always comes away with another wrench or doohickey that he simply must have, and which I am certain he does NOT need. Today's garage seemed uninspired, much like the house - a few tools, some holiday junk. There was a full-size shoe-shine stand that was pretty impressive. But I can't even imagine how the most creative home decorator would upcycle a shoe-shine stand. Certainly nothing popped into my mind. I figured the garage was a bust as well, and I slowly turned to wander out.

And that's when I saw it.

A prosthetic leg!

I am not even kidding.

It was an older model, I believe, but since I am no expert in prosthetics, I can't say for sure. All I know is it had a rudimentary bowl in which to place the stump, a metal bar for a lower leg, and a wooden, sock-covered "foot". I instinctively went to check the price and then a little voice inside my head said "What the hell are you going to do with a prosthetic leg? You can't even wear it, because unless you HAVE an actual stump, the thing won't go on your leg. So, what would you do with it? Display it? That would be kind of politically incorrect, right? But would it? Is it art? Who else could say they have a prosthetic leg when they're not an amputee? Wouldn't it come in handy in the case of a sudden, unexpected, amputation? If an actual amputee comes to visit, and sees it, would they be offended? Why are you touching it? Ew, who knows where that thing has been?" (The little voice inside my head doesn't know when to shut up. Kind of like the voice that comes out of my head).

So, against all the weird impulses I was having to actually buy and own a prosthetic leg (maybe a vintage one?), I walked away from what might have been the greatest estate sale find of all time. Because I got sad again thinking of the poor person who lived in that house with their missing limb. Maybe they were once virile and healthy and a horrible accident befell them. Maybe they lost their lower limb to diabetes (and also had to stop using that awesome sauna because aren't saunas bad for diabetics?) Maybe the lady of the house shouldn't have had so many shoes with which to mock the poor, prosthetic-wearing person who might have been lucky to own a couple pairs of shoes that fit over the fake foot.

The point is, I don't know the story. I don't know the people, or the house, or the memories it held, or anything else, but I do know this: when you die, or are moved into an assisted living home, or otherwise leave your place of residence, there is a good chance that someone, on a random Thursday, will come and wander through your personal belongings, find your prosthetic leg, and make up crazy stories in their head about you. Better to just get rid of everything as you age. Leave nothing to your children. Sell it all and buy an RV. Take a road trip. Embrace the crazy and hold nothing back. But do it while you still can, before something unfortunate happens to take away the control you have over your own destiny. And if, while on that cross-country trip, your demise is imminent, drive to the Grand Canyon, and toss your prosthetic leg over the rim. Let some poor fool find it and make up fantastical stories about how it got there. Much more interesting than leaving it on the garage shelf for the estate sale.

The moral of this story is two-fold. One, don't hang on to things from the past. Sure, there are antiques and special mementos, but trust me when I say none of your relatives are going to want the crushed velvet skirt you wore to the Christmas party in 1989. Just let it go. Purge regularly. And two, if you come across a prosthetic leg at an estate sale, just buy the damn thing. You might regret it if you don't. I wonder if the sale is still going tomorrow?