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A good death.

by Brenda on October 16, 2007

“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.

A good death

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.

1 The Feminist Mafia October 16, 2007 at 4:11 pm

At this moment, with a horrid divorce playing out, it’s heart-warming to read this story of connection and love. It gives me hope for my future. Thank you.

2 DataGoddess October 16, 2007 at 4:21 pm

I think meeting online and falling in love is very possible, given I’ve had my share. But to find someone who you really connect with, who you can laugh over the same silliness, understand with a glance, and occasionally bump heads over small stuff is rare, no matter the path you find them on. Of course, I also know that if I lived with my current long-distance loves we’d kill each other, but that’s something we all agree on 🙂

I’m not sure you should feel sorry for the woman – she may not have had blood family, but she might have had friends all over the world over her life, who she wrote long letters to, talked with over the phone. Given I have no children, it’s possible I’ll die after my husband and other loves and be alone, but I know I won’t be lonely because I have the friendships I’ve built on over the years both here online and off. And they probably won’t want the random detritus of my life, like my Spamalot Cow, or the bamboo wind chimes my parents brought back from Hawaii.

Of course, I’m trying to get rid of a lot of that stuff, since we’re moving next spring (husband in grad school 70 miles away and the commute is getting to him). I’m guessing that the old woman probably never moved in her life, and may have had the accumulated treasures of more than one generation.

3 Tonia October 16, 2007 at 5:59 pm

I’ll tell you what’s missing from that photo. The two hexagonal columns of glass that we got at the same time. Those are now sat on the window sill by the kitchen, cunningly placed to throw the maximum number of ‘shinys’ around the kitchen to taunt Ruby dog on sunny evenings… as you all know, Ruby likes to protect us from inter-dimensional light beings. She’s special that way.


4 Kelly October 16, 2007 at 9:04 pm

You have such a knack for story telling Brenda. Then again, that’s obvious at this point ;).

I too revel in things like this, I really enjoyed your recounting of yours. It’s funny how objects like this can mean so much more than simply what they are.

5 Jamie October 16, 2007 at 9:48 pm

The cardboard box looks like a jigsaw puzzle box to me.

6 tina October 17, 2007 at 1:31 am

Objects in life or death are after all—- what we make of them! I’m taking heart that in the light of pink satin and wedding plans you can circle the wagons around things from a sale! How is it all working out anyway???

7 Beverly October 17, 2007 at 3:30 am

It sounds morbid, but I often think about what my family will discover someday when I’m gone. Once upon a time when I kept a journal, part of the reason was for my sanity (you know, sometimes you just have to “get it out” through the pen and onto paper), but another part was that I hoped that after my death, my family would come across my words and either laugh their asses off or be amazed at just how crazy ol’ Beverly was. I love the idea of the things that we keep, no matter how insignificant they may seem to some, having a life after the lives they have with us.

8 mishka October 17, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I think there’s a chance, given the curved cardboard within, that you’ve got a collar box.

9 Cathy in Oregon October 18, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Perhaps this is how the unknown woman died…

If Death Were a Woman?
Ellen Kort

I’d want her to come for me
smelling of cinnamon, wearing
bright cotton, purple, maybe hot
pink, a red bandanna in her hair.

She’d bring good coffee, papaya juice,
bouquet of sea grass, saltine crackers
and a lottery ticket. We’d dip
our fingers into moist pouches

of lady-slippers. Crouch down to see
how cabbages feel when wind bumps
against them in the garden.
We’d walk through Martin’s woods

find the old house, its crumbling
foundation strung with honeysuckle
and in the front yard a surprise
jonquils, turning the air yellow

glistening and ripe, still blooming
for a gardener long gone. We’d head
for the beach, wearing strings of shells
around our left ankles, laugh

at their tinkling sounds, the measured
beat that comes with dancing
on hard-packed sand, the applause
of ocean and gulls. She’d play

ocarina songs to a moon almost full
and I’d sing off-key. We’d glide
and swoop, become confetti of leaf fall
all wings, floating on small whirlwinds

never once dreading the heart-
silenced drop. And when it was time
she would not bathe me. Instead we’d
scrub the porch, pour leftover

water on flowers, stand a long time
in sun and silence, then, holding hands
we’d pose for pictures in the last light.


10 Anna October 19, 2007 at 5:34 am

The box could have been for storing collars because they used to be removable stiff things and it looks about the right size from what I saw.

My Grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease and we honestly don’t know how long she will be with us but she just moved into a new apartment from the house she lived in for at least 50 years. I am rather excited to go through her house and find all of the old stuff from my Dad’s childhood and see if she can remember what they were adn even if not find the cool little things that are everywhere. Her mother was also and knitter so I hope to find some old knitting needles as well!

11 Kathy October 19, 2007 at 8:13 pm

Brenda, I am so glad to have your blog to read while you are taking a break from Cast-on. Thanks for the pics of the wedding dress progress.
What you describe in “a good death” about you and Tonia is what my Ann and I describe as “falling another level” in love. We are so lucky to have landed on the right side, the honest side, of love.
Cathy in Oregon, thanks for sharing that great poem. KC

12 Eileen November 7, 2007 at 5:27 am

Brenda, Here I was missing Cast On, and thought I would check your blog and find a bunch of posts I hadn’t read and the first one I read is a real treasure. I really needed to hear about two people finding each other. Thanks, E

13 fashionprof November 30, 2007 at 11:06 pm

My vote’s with Mishka. I, too, think the cardboard box with curved insert is a collar box.

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