“It was a very good death;” he said, satisfied. “She never threw anything out, and there were no relatives who wanted to hang onto the stuff.”
And there was a lot of stuff. Three or four suitcases on the table, and a couple of boxes on the ground. A marvelous collection of household detritus, spanning the last seventy-five years or so. Tonia and I spent a fair bit of time looking through it all, examining every item, opening every ancient eyeglass case, every rusted tin, digging to the bottom of every case, bringing boot sale treasures into the bright summer sunlight. The guy was right. Whoever she was, she kept everything.
We spent about a half hour with the dead woman’s belongings, a long time at a boot sale, where a cursory glance of most tables is more than enough. After a time we had amassed this small pile of objects.
Clockwise, from upper left: collapsible drinking cup, probably aluminum; sturdy cardboard box, with a curved piece of cardboard fixed within, purpose unknown; ceramic and Bakelite switch, probably from the 1940’s; wooden rug making tool; empty cycle repair tin (now contains the eyelets for Laura’s wedding corset); bookmark from Typhoo Tea, with a Hackney horse on it; brass tape measure from Cox and Co. Wool & Yarn dealers. (The mechanism is broken, but I can hear the tape rattling around inside. I’m hoping to figure out how to fix it, without destroying it.)
Two things struck me as I arranged the items for their photo op. First, that it’s something I’ve been meaning to do since their purchase last August. The items haven’t moved from where I placed them upon our return home. Second, as I arranged them on the table, I realized that I don’t really remember who bought what. I know the ceramic light fixture was Tonia’s, and the wooden rug making tool was mine, but the rest of the items could have been either of us.
We’re not always this sympatico at a boot sale. I have little patience for cast iron tools, or Army surplus equipment, and Tonia cares little for vintage linens, and Welsh wool blankets. But we dug through boxes and showed each other treasures, and were perfectly happy for that half hour, pawing through stuff that many people would have considered junk, handing over coins for the privilege of taking some of it home.
That two people, living 5000 miles apart, can meet online, and fall in love, I can believe. I think it’s actually pretty common. But that two people delight in the same oddities is not something that you know until you’ve spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company. That we both laugh at the number of empty birdcages at a boot sale, (only two possibilities there, and neither speak of happy times), that I found a true companion, and in the process wound up half-a-world away from the country of my birth never ceases to amaze me. It’s not something I can ever take for granted. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have to gather the pile of treasures from various places within our home in order to photograph them. Like Tonia and me, they belong together, a testament, if one is needed, to the suitability and rightness of our relationship.
The second strong memory I brought home from that day, was the phrase, uttered just a tad gleefully, and with a twinkle in his eye, by the man who makes a living flogging possessions of the recently deceased. “A good death,” and “No relatives who cared about this stuff.” And I remember I felt sorry for the nameless woman when he said it, though maybe I shouldn’t. That these things were important to her is enough. I can’t look at the objects without thinking of them both; the woman who never threw anything away, and the seller who was so happy that she didn’t. Thinking of all of us, really, Tonia and me included, as the objects have now become a part of our history as well. The seller said that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at what they have around them when they die, what they considered important enough to keep, and I wonder what our shelf of boot sale treasures will one day say about us.