Archive for September 23rd, 2011

Estate Sale Stories

Today my wife and I decided to take the day off and just…have a day off.  It’s fantastic.  And because we’re us, we decided we were going to hit some estate sales, see all the best stuff that’s already been bought by antique dealers when we typically show up to sales on Saturday and Sunday.  In the end three sales netted us one book (a world history written by HG Wells) and two stories.

House one.

My wife is calling this the “creepy house”.  It was a good half hour drive, but we were drawn there by the idea of an estate on a 40 acre plot of land, especially with several pictures on the estate sale website showing bookshelves bowing under the weight of their loads.  It was clear when we drove up that the house, nestled in among the battlefields of Manassas, was old.  I don’t know exactly when the house was built, there was no one there conducting tours of the place, but it easily dated to the 1800s.  I doubt it was there when the Civil War was being fought, but I don’t think it came much later.

The house was originally u-shaped, but the old patio was filled in decades ago.  Not well.  All the walls still felt like exterior walls, even still had exterior windows in them.  My wife, as I’ve been writing this, has been trying to find the house of Zillow, which claims a construction date of 1942.  Bullshit, says I.  My bet is that’s the date of the fill-in.

But this isn’t about real estate, this is about stories.  I wasn’t really looking for the story in this house, but my wife couldn’t stop talking about it after we left.  She was struck by the peeling wall paper.  By the questionable quality of the addition.  Just by the fact that the house was located at the back of a massive field, down about a half mile of gravel driveway.  I also didn’t see the unicorns filling the house.  Not until they were pointed out to me.  Then, yes, there were unicorns everywhere.  I don’t think there was a room without them.  The master bedroom included a little make-up alcove.

What really spoke to my wife were the two children’s rooms.  The rooms clearly decorated for young girls.  The rooms where the estate sale runners decided to display the medical equipment.  Probably equipment used by the owners of the house, the same owners who needed the chair lift on the stairs.  Who lived at the end of this half mile driveway off an out of the way road miles from the closest…anything.  And yet were subsisting, even though some horribly brutal weather the last two winters.  In a house that felt untouched for the past sixty years, save that chair lift.

This was the story my wife walked away from the day with.  I just walked away with a book that was someone’s Christmas present 75 years ago.  That in itself felt a little weird

House two.

This was the story that fascinated me.  It was located in the heart of Vienna, one of the swankier parts of Northern Virginia.  And the house certainly fit.  It was a recently built three story mansion.  All the stair cases were sixteen stairs long to allow for massive ceilings, even in the basement.  There were the wet bars.  Plural.  One in the kitchen, one in an entertaining room off the kitchen, and a third in the basement pool room.

This was my dream house.

Everything about the house smelled new, the scent of cutting carpet and drywall dust.

And yet, there was an estate sale going on.  I know there’s any number of reasons to have an estate sale.  Downsizing, moving, a divorce, it doesn’t mean that someone has necessarily died.  And in this house, the modern day mansion with the huge room of Christmas decorations and an interior where nothing looked older than 20 years, I hope that the purpose of the sale had nothing to do with tragedy.  But my brain couldn’t help churning through what might have happened in this house.  What might lead such new construction with clearly young occupants (my guess based on the weight room in the basement) to end up going to estate sale?

I don’t have an answer.  Or, at least, I don’t have an answer yet.  But there’s certainly a story that could be set in this shocking new house at the end of the swanky driveway.

The lesson in the end of this?  Get out.  Look around.  Estate sales can be one place to get a story idea, or at least a setting for a story.  Both of these houses will likely work their way into our stories.  What we get out of each were story details that may not have occurred to us on our own.  Settings that we wouldn’t have thought existed.  All it cost us was a few hours in the morning, and $3 for that book.

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