I came across an estate sale last weekend. It was at house I’d passed a hundred times, but had never been inside; I didn’t know the owner. I found myself approaching the sale with a sense of respect, completely different than the glee I feel when there’s a casual sale in someone’s yard or garage. Yard sales feel like treasure hunts to me, and this is encouraged by the hosts who are eager to get rid of their things, whether they’re planning to move or just spring cleaning. But at estate sales, the looming question is, Who died? The home is usually that of an older person. In many cases, the owner is still with us, but moving to an assisted living home. Even so, the selling of most of his belongings doesn’t feel entirely consensual; He didn’t plan on strangers going through his house and buying up his things.
At the estate sale last weekend, I started out looking through books in the driveway and garage. There were beautiful antique volumes, including ones for children with darling illustrations. I guessed the owner was an elderly woman. I was tempted to buy one or two of the children’s books, but they were in German. Was the owner German? Did she have children with whom she shared these books from her homeland? Had the children, now grown, organized the sale? I thought of the anxiety-filled summer I helped Mama Snail empty Grandma Snail’s shell of 50 years.
Inside, there was a woman managing each room–perhaps one of them was the owner’s daughter, or several of them. A cluster of neighbors were checking out the view, admiring the house from a real estate perspective that didn’t sit well with me. I moved downstairs. There were two women managing things down there, and a man perusing like me. One of the women had an accent I couldn’t place. When she left the room, the man asked the other woman, “I take it she’s the daughter?”
“The caretaker,” she replied.
As for herself and the other women, they were estate sale professionals.
I was digging through a pile of fabric and yarn by a sliding glass door, when an orange and white cat appeared on the other side. He started pawing at the glass and meowing for me to let him in. I wished I could explain why I couldn’t. There was another cat with a cone around its neck. Where were they going to live now?
I moved on to a bookshelf on the other side of the room, and pulled out a floral patterned photo album. Maybe this would tell me more about the woman who had lived here. Instead of photos, the album was full of postcards! They all seemed to be from Switzerland. The woman must be (have been?) Swiss. There was even a letter of several pages, stuffed inside an air mail envelope and taped to a page of the album. I wanted to read it but it was in German.
Despite my love of postcards, I didn’t need a whole album of the Alps, and had no desire to pick the album apart for just the cards I liked. Someone had taken time putting this together. Was it to remind her of her home?
Fortunately, I found a container of individual Swiss postcards, and selected the ones I liked from there. As well as the fox above, I chose three postcards with views from near the village of Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland.
In the map above, the red outlines the border of Switzerland, and the green marks the region of the Bernese Oberland.
Lower cascade of Engstligen Falls. Consisting of two cascades, Engstligen is the second tallest waterfall in Switzerland, measuring 1,169 feet.
Apparently near a river called the Fluhweid with a view of the alps Steghorn, Wildstrubel and Fitzer
I called a writer friend who lives near the house with the estate sale, and who speaks German. She didn’t answer, so I left a message telling her to check out the beautiful books there. In her message back, she said with a note of sadness, “I knew Alice.”
I adopted three more postcards from Alice’s collection, a series, which I will share next time.