Adam picked up a small plastic bag containing a necklace and held it up for me to inspect. A tightly strung line of miniature, brown seashells. Similar treasures sealed in plastic bags covered the table, haphazardly picked through and scattered. This bag had a necklace made of shiny plastic beads. This bag contained earrings made of polished shells. Costume jewelry all of it, but all still in perfect condition. Maybe no one had wore this jewelry in years, but it had been cared for by someone, kept for some reason.
Adam and I followed other strangers on a circuit through the estate sale, examining tables of artifacts. I listened as others exclaimed delightedly to a friend over some find, or tutted at the condition of some other potential prize. Ten glass ash trays. A punch bowl priced at eight dollars. Small, hardbound books: Romola by George Eliot, a series of novels written by Rudyard Kipling.
Who knows who took the costume jewelry my grandmother kept in the jewelry boxes on her dressers. Polished shells and plastic beads and fake, glowing gems. Some women kept their mother’s costume jewelry, even if they never wear it, justifying themselves by arguing that it might be valuable one day. I can imagine my sister wearing jewelry like this sometimes, and I wonder who’s holding on to all that jewelry now.
Who from my generation collects and keeps the porcelain figurines which filled our grandmothers’ curio cabinets? Elegantly dressed 18th century ladies and gentlemen playing chess, the frills made of real lace to compliment their ivory skill and pastel colored porcelain blushes.
Tutankhamen did not hoard half the treasures many Americans do. We Americans love our possessions. I’m definitely no different. My apartment is filled with little prizes. But who will love them like I have when I’m gone. What family member will want the painting of a cat? Who will take care of my house plants? My library ripped apart, I can only hope each book finds a good home.
I should have rescued the orphaned Romola. I found myself disheartened by we buzzards around this estate sale carrion, disinterested in she who had passed. At the same time, the departed spectre who lay at the heart of all these possessions must have been cared for: she had family and friends to care for her home, claim that table or crystal decanter, to organize this sale, better that these things find homes with others than be cast out onto the rubbish heap.