anne mikolay 2012 120An estate sale is a magnet for treasure seekers. You know what they say, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” While I have discovered a few “treasures” at estate sales, such bargain hunting evokes mixed feelings in me. Who doesn’t love uncovering an antique among brick-a-brac, old clothes, china, faded needlepoints and books? However, items at an estate sale are remnants of someone’s life, and as such, deserve far more respect than shoppers typically display. You can learn a lot about people at an estate sale. You can learn a lot about yourself.

Recently, while taking a leisurely stroll on a beautiful, summer morning, my husband and I stumbled upon a garage sale. An antique chair with torn upholstery (perfect fixer-upper!) caught our attention. We joined the crowd of serious bargain hunters and soon realized we were at an estate sale. The house itself was open, its contents up for grabs. The mahogany dining room set was for sale at a shockingly low price. Lenox collectibles and china were offered at a fraction of the original cost. Books, record albums, jewelry, holiday ornaments, magazine racks, and paintings were all priced to move. The antique chair we were attracted to was a heart-stopping $5.00! Obviously, this family was anxious to unload the home’s contents. While my husband paid for the chair, I flipped through paperback books, stationery, and religious cards in a wicker basket. At the bottom of the pile, there was a framed, faded, 5×7 black and white photograph of a dog.

I stared at the photo. The dog looked like a terrier, perhaps an Airedale, but I wasn’t certain. I was certain, however, that this photograph probably meant a great deal to the deceased whose earthly possessions were, at that very moment, being thoughtlessly carted away by strangers, myself included. 

The photo was old. Was it the home owner’s childhood pet, perhaps a beloved playmate? I wondered. Did the dog sleep at the bottom of its master’s bed, go for brisk, long walks, and curl up at its master’s feet afterward? Did the dog have a good, long life? Did its owner? I did not know the answers, but I was confident the dog had been loved and gave love freely (as dogs always do). Nobody frames a picture of an animal unless that particular creature had great meaning to them. If someone didn’t buy the photograph, it would wind up in the trash at day’s end. I couldn’t let that happen. I purchased the picture for a mere fifty cents.

Those who know me well might think my writer’s unbridled imagination or my love of dogs (have two) moved me to buy the picture. Neither is the case. I bought the picture to preserve the legacy of love shared by this unnamed dog and its now dead owner. At that  estate sale, I peeked into a deceased stranger’s life. I learned she/he was an elderly, religious individual who collected Lenox figurines, read books, appreciated home-made items and paintings, and loved dogs – one in particular. I also learned I don’t care much for estate sales, uncomfortable reminders of the excess value we place on stuff that will someday be picked through, disbursed or discarded long after we are gone.


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The irony of my estate sale purchase is not lost on me. I am now the temporary curator of a stranger’s beloved memory that is not my own, a photograph that will someday be discarded along with my porcelain bird collection, needlepoints, books, paintings, etc. But I will keep this dog’s photograph, a tangible reminder of life’s fleeting nature and the senselessness of investing in stuff without lasting value when we should be emphasizing precious moments with loved ones instead.

Yes, indeed. One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...