Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What They Left Behind

As noted in previous posts, used records are sometimes weighed with the personal information of the previous owner. An entire collection of records begins to sketch a picture of its owner, certainly his or her musical taste, from which one can infer a larger idea of the person. I discovered that an estate sale is an even more intense exercise in material biography. I went to my first estate sale held at a residence last weekend. Everything inside the house was for sale. It was a fascinating and unsettling experience. It was fascinating only because the former owners seemed to have led interesting lives and had amassed things that reflected their experiences and aesthetic values.

From the ephemera in the den, it was easy to surmise that the former resident was an accountant and a music lover. Accounting books and an old-fashioned calculator sat next to a classic Fisher 400 tube receiver and Garrard turntable. The record collection consisted mainly of classical and ethnic music from around the world. It was obvious the couple loved to travel, as the hallway was adorned with photographs taken in exotic locations. I found in the bedroom a small, framed, black-and-white photo of a woman standing in front of a crude stone building with a crenelated top, which I guess could have been taken in North Africa or the Middle East. I took this home. I also took home a collection of used matchbooks that was a travel log in themselves. The man smoked a pipe, which I did not take home, and had saved the matchbooks he had picked up in restaurants, clubs, and hotels from Portland to Brussels.

Their house revealed that the couple had traveled extensively in Asia and had fallen in love with Asian art, which was found throughout. Although there wasn’t anything in the collection of Asian art and artifacts I cared for, I was moved by the collection itself. I could tell that it was assembled with love.

This estate sale was like the disassembling of a person, the break-up of a coherent entity into disparate incoherent parts. This was the unsettling part of my visit to the estate sale. I guess the most positive way to look at it is the pieces that are disassembled are re-assembled in the lives of others.

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