Seeking out (other people’s) treasures

I spent New Year’s Day doing something I had never before done on a holiday.

And I had a great time.

I went to an estate auction. I love auctions – estate auctions, moving sales, household dispersals – for whatever reason.

Successful auction buying means doing some research; checking out the newspaper ads and online photo galleries to get a feel for the types of items that will be available. Success also requires getting to the auction house early to physically exam the stuff and see it in its full glory or lack thereof.

I know some folks are offended at the idea of “used” things; I love antiques – all of which generally qualify as used things. I like the idea of having something in my home that someone else cared about, something he or she kept because it had personal value or meaning.

It’s the same reason I frequent thrift stores and antique shops. One of my treasures is an oversized mid-19th century photo of a plainly dressed, elderly woman wearing the typical frozen, stern expression required by the length of time it took to make photographs then. Despite the lack of a smile, I always see a wonderful warmth in her eyes, and I imagine she was someone’s cherished mother and grandmother. How her image ended up in a Wisconsin antique store will remain a mystery, but she will always be at home in my house.

I like to buy handmade things. I have a pig-shaped cutting board, beautifully made by someone’s son who carved on the back of his handiwork the words “For Mothe’s Day.” I doubt his mom pointed out his spelling error, but I bet she loved that board all her life.

Part of me enjoys the potential of getting a bargain, finding some unrecognized treasure that others pass by. Often, auctioneers, who are in a hurry to sell the stuff and wrap up the event, will “make a pile,” that is, add increasing numbers of items to whatever is being sold in an attempt to lure buyers into bidding and taking more stuff.

Despite my best reconnaissance, I never see all the stuff in all the boxes, so there’s the added bonus of checking out the booty when I win a box full of stuff that I bid on for the one item in it that I want.

For me, it was like Christmas all over again Tuesday since I waited until I drove home to sort through my winnings. Yes, I got the still-in-its-box picking bag I wanted (it will be ever-so handy this year when the old pear tree brings forth its crop), but it’s possible its previous owners were either fans of TV shopping channels or kitchen gadget addicts. I have never seen so many “As Seen on TV” items in my life – none of which were ever taken out of their original packaging.

That, of course, makes me wonder, who were these people? Did they buy these things for themselves? Did well-meaning friends give them gifts they didn’t want or need? I always wish I had the chance to know and understand why folks keep what they keep.

It’s the same kind of curiosity that I have when I read obituaries and want to know more about people I never got a chance to meet. Did they know what would be in their obituary? Did they make the decision to tell the world one last time what was important in their lives, or did loved ones write what they believed would be the best tribute?

When it comes time for my worldly goods to be dispersed, I hope somebody has a good time trying to figure out what made me tick. And, I hope he or she scoops up some great bargains.

Barbara Wallace Hughes is the managing editor of The Messenger.