Our household has always been full of treasures. I have learned this has nothing to do with market value. Still, I had hoped to hit the jackpot.
The sorting process began in April with the easy-to-let-go-of stuff – one drawer, one shelf, one closet at a time. Shredding went out of the house to a post-tax-season event. Clothing and useable household items – there were three trips to the Wise Penny with donations.
On to the basement, where vintage and antique dolls from four generations, my maternal grandmother’s to my kids’ – were wrapped in yellowing paper. China, Effanbee, Madam Alexander, Storybook Dolls. Dollhouse and furnishings top to bottom – including a built-in bookcase for the livingroom, a navy leather chair, and an old-fashioned school-desk (with my kids’ names scratched in under the lid) I had made myself.
Cookie cutters, candy molds, and materials for making large panorama Easter eggs from sugar, all materials for my gingerbread business, Confections Unlimited. Boxes of Christmas ornaments going back to my and my kids’ childhoods.
Real wooden toys from before Playskool went plastic. A bin of stuffed animals – the still-collectable Steiff, all missing the distinctive ear button that increases their value. Eddie the estate liquidator said kids tend to bite them off. Hand puppets. Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. Paddington and an assortment of other bears. All this was a pantry of memories.
In less than an hour Eddie and his buddy carted it all away, writing me a modest check, which allowed him to forgo charging me to also haul away old luggage, a slightly bent metal file cabinet, a hardly-used trampoline, a 1941 Royal typewriter, a movie projector, old insulation, and more.
Eddie wasn’t so interested in the vintage books, so I drove out to Gramps’ Attic in Ellicott City, where I had purchased several of them. In 10 minutes “Gramps” had deftly picked through the four boxes in the trunk of my car, offered me $100 for 15 books, and placed the cash in my hand.
More than anything, even the dollar gap between my hopes and the reality, it was the transactional nature of these encounters that jarred me.
The coins I took to Mr. Merrill – I tracked him down online because I had remembered the small friendly fieldstone building that he had occupied for years, and I always told myself he’s the one I’d go to when the time came.
There were some silver dollars my grandfather had given me as a kid, a handful of Indian-head pennies, a stash of Soviet coins, and envelopes of coins from countries around the world that I had never visited.
Like Gramps, he quickly and deftly sorted through the items, separating out the ones he would buy from those he recommended passing on to a kid. He told me that’s how he had gotten interested in coins – fascinated by what they taught him about history and place and economics.
Here’ s the thing. Mr. Merrill was interested in stories.
He wanted to hear about my great uncle William Newman, who had traveled by train and buggy and early automobile, taking colored glass slides, and returning to the US to tour Masonic Temples with his travelogues. He wanted to hear about my trip to the Soviet Union, how I met up with refusenik families to deliver photos and letters, how my wallet was stolen in the Hermitage Museum and the danger that posed for them, considering just what combination of foolish and courageous I was.
Every item that went out of my house had a story attached to it, dusty with childhood and motherhood and entrepreneurial memories. I had hoped to hit the jackpot, something that would put a large chunk of cash at my disposal.
The real jackpot was that one transaction that was more than transactional: the one that was alive with story.
More on expectations: http://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/the-healing-i-needed-not-the-one-i-wanted/