This has been an unusually rough summer. Over three months I've had one reminder after another that nothing stays the same. First came the loss of my hunting buddy, Richard. He was nearly 40 years older than I am but we had so much fun together. That was the message I tried to bring when I was asked to officiate his funeral. Next came the loss of my Grandmother within a couple weeks. At her funeral I tried to step out of the grandson mode and into pastor mode so that I would be able to officiate that day. Four days later came the loss of my grandmother-in-law. Though we weren't blood related, she had been a grandmother to me for 27 years.
Today, we had my Grandmother's estate auction. This was the second auction my family and I had gone through together, the first being the day Grandma sold their farm and moved to town. I thought today would be easier. I was wrong.
I'm thankful for the folks who came out for the auction, but at the same time, it was hard to see their things laid out on a table and hear those words over and over again, "Two dollars, can I get three?" The reality is...it was all just stuff...trinkets...household items...and angels. Grandma loved angels. To most folks that's all it was...just stuff. And the auctioneer, God bless him, had to work hard to even get the $3 sometimes. Some of the things auctioned off today, I didn't even know Grandma had. Some of it, though, as soon as I laid eyes on it, after who knows how many years since I saw it last, a flood of memories overtook me.
A corn-silk brush...I'm not sure you can even still buy those...buried in a box of kitchen utensils...took me back immediately to when I was a kid, and how summer after summer, we'd spend days sitting under the pine trees in their back yard, watching Grandma brush ear after ear of sweet corn and pick the silks off of it.
A worn and rusted putty knife...also buried in a box of other random items...made me stop and think about all of the hours that putty knife must have spent in my Granddaddy's or my Grandma's hands. Their hands had worn the handle on that knife smooth.
A little blue rubber ball...tucked inside a tote filled with matchbox cars and children's books...made me remember the last couple years of Granddaddy's life, and how we'd sit in their living room while he tossed that little blue ball to my baby girls.
An ancient folding card table...left almost for last and just tossed in with a bunch of other stuff...wasn't just a card table, it was Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners as the family began to grow.
$2, can I get $3?
Emotionally, I'm wiped out. Completely. I'm man enough to admit that I have cried more this summer than I have in a long time, and it happened again today. Maybe I'm just too damned sentimental for my own good. Perhaps I should try to be more practical. So in that spirit, I offer this:
It's not the stuff. It's really not. I probably have a dozen putty knives of my own buried in one toolbox or another. I can pick up a little blue ball for a dollar in just about any store. Card tables? I already had one...and the chairs to go with it. It's not the stuff.
It's the memories tied to the stuff.
Part of me is very thankful that the things my grandparents worked for and accumulated over their lifetimes have now been given new life with new owners. No, really, I am. Was it hard to watch? Yes. But, I couldn't have bought everything, even if I wanted to, nor should I have. Why? Because it's not about the stuff.
I'm so thankful that I was able to spend enough time with them, growing up, so that a worn out corn-silk brush meant what it meant to me today. I'm thankful that my grandparents had the work ethic they did to even wear the handle smooth on a putty knife. I'm so very thankful for that little ball, so that I can tell my girls, as long as I have breath, just how much their Daddy James enjoyed tossing that ball to them.
When my time comes, and it's coming, I want my life to be more than stuff spread out on an auction table. I want my kids to look at all of that stuff and say, "Do you remember how he used to...?" Or, "Do you remember how he used to use this for...?" Or, "Do you remember how this always sat by his chair?" It's not about the stuff. It's about what the stuff brings to mind for those of us who are left behind.
During the auction today, I said that the whole experience was making me want to just give everything I own away and live the rest of my life out of a dufflebag... because estate auctions suck. I think I've changed my mind...not about estate auctions themselves, they still suck, but about the emotions surrounding that day.
Was it difficult? Good Lord, yes. Was it painful? At times. But...every kitchen utensil...my grandmother had used to fix a holiday meal. The putty knife...one of them had used it to fix something instead of throwing it out and buying a new one. The little ball...my kids knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that their great-grandparents loved them dearly.
So I leave you with this, it's a challenge to live the rest of your days in such a manner that when the auctioneer says, "$2, can I get 3?" the stuff on the table will be priceless to your family. Then let someone else take that $3 box and use it to do the same for their family.