Our neighbor of many years passed away recently, a few months before her 101st birthday. She had lived a full and productive life as an artist, wife, and mother. A Covid widow, she lost her husband just weeks before vaccines became available. Because of her unique art and gracious community involvement, she was also a local celebrity of sorts. A who’s who of city and state leaders, fellow artists, and other noteworthy friends attended her memorial service. Our house and hers share a fence, and in recent years we had opportunities to visit with her in her home for an up-close view of her art, both that which she created and that which she collected. Her house was a reflection of the person she was – it was beautifully appointed and carefully curated, yet family-friendly for her adult kids and grandkids. Her home was also replete with the accoutrements of aging – walkers, ramps, a stair lift, a walk-in bathtub.
After our neighbor died, her children gathered to keep their mom’s possessions that they held dear, and then conducted an estate sale auction for the rest. The bidding was intense because the collection in her home was museum-quality. On the day after the sale, as the auction winners arrived to gather their treasures, I sat in our backyard and watched from across the fence. And I was overcome with emotion. Hundreds of cars, pick-up trucks, and even U-Haul trucks, streamed to our neighbor’s home. One-by-one, they loaded their vehicles with pieces of our neighbor’s life. I recognized the harvest as it emerged, having seen it all before when it was in its rightful and cherished place. Antique furniture, beautiful ceramic sculptures, delicate wall hangings, precious collectibles. Boxes and boxes and boxes, each representing a memory of a time and place long since passed. The new owners of these prized possessions would have no knowledge of their origins or significance. Some would be resold, others displayed on walls and shelves across the city, separated from the ambience they came from.
When a home is dismantled after a life is lost, necessary as that often is, it’s as if the life was lost a second time. What was a complete portrait of years well-lived, becomes just…stuff. And it makes me sad. I hope our friend’s beautiful collections become more than just someone else’s stuff. I hope they become new cherished memories for their new owners, finding a place in others’ lives as they found a place next door to us.