Rescuing art from an estate sale is like being invited to a family gathering. Only there are no family members present. In fact, most estate sales only happen after the family has passed on. The sale is a sort of commemoration of the family’s life.
The family home was in the south end, the old part of town that used to be dominated by Polish Catholic families. That was when I was a boy, before the migrant workers who picked the pickles and apples began to settle down in the neighborhood. These days the Poles only dominate the very oldest of the population. Hence so many estate sales.
On the first day of the sale, I went by in the afternoon when the rush of determined pickers had subsided. The house was stuffed to the overflowing with the intimate details of the family. They had focused on the yard in summer, leaving behind some very cool and tastefully designed planters, wrought iron gates, and an ideal aluminum skimmer for the evenings. The basement of the house, over the years, had been remodeled as a party space by the father. It had an elaborate bar with neat old metal beer signs, the kind that are so sought after by macho pickers. The father had hosted his buddies down there for ball games on the television and putting some space between them and their women. In one upstairs bedroom, all the linens from the family closet were for sale. I often buy a big flannel sheet to cut up for rags to dry off my car after washing. I just cannot imagine using the family’s bed clothes to sleep in. The remains of their nighttime dreams would be too alive for me to get any rest.
Throughout the family house there were many pieces of decorative art. None of it was calling out to be rescued. The family treated art as a pretty something, just like their home’s nice wall paper borders and valences on the dining room window dressings. However, in the mother and father’s bedroom upstairs there was an enchanting framed piece on the wall. It was the commemorative certificate from the church of father and mother’s marriage ceremony. It depicted classic early 20th century church icons and romanticized vignettes, gold and silver gone an aged crackle patina over the years. Father and mother were united in 1925.
Across the middle we read the grand title of the certificate, all in Polish as this was the language of the church in those days: “Pami¹tka Œlubu.” For American English speakers the title announced: “In Commemoration of Matrimony.”
Now that mother and father are safely in heaven, feasting in the presence of the saints, it is us art rescuers who save the artifacts of their earthly lives. We attend their last commemoration in the sacrament of the estate sale. We send what they saw as simple paper certificates out into the world so others can appreciate them as profoundly beautiful art.