This post is because I love estate sales and antique stores. As someone who writes historical fiction, creative nonfiction and memoir I can’t fully describe what it’s like to run across archives and records of everyday life from the not so distant past. To me, it is winning the lottery when I find an old answering machine with incoming messages still on the cassette tape. (I went through a little phase a while back where I searched for old answering machines with the goal of transcribing the tapes, locating the people, and creating brief vignette case histories linked to the frozen moment in time captured on an analogue answering machine tape. I didn’t get very far because whether it was true or not, one of the tapes was of a woman recording a conversation with an attorney about what sounded like a crime. I started thinking along the lines of a police thriller and abandoned the idea).
I I haven’t given up my passion for “everyday archeology.” I purchase letters, photos, magazines, old parenting or medical books. I would go crazy if I found a real if super8 home movies or undeveloped film (I do check old cameras at thrift stores and yard sales).
One lucky day I was at an estate sale, not one at a particularly historic house. Rather it was a small ranch house outfitted with ramps and bathtub safety bars, walkers, and reading lights. It was the sort of residence that one inhabits during the last phase of their life. The historical and personal items that were in the home must have been the owner’s most treasured possessions. The last few things they took with them before they left the material world. I noticed a cardboard box sitting on the couch. It was about the size of a laundry basket. When I realized they were photographs from the 1940s & 1950s, I was afraid someone was already buying them. But, that seemed to not be the case. My 14 year old daughter was with me (she hates estate sales but came along for the promised green tea frappe into). “Oh my God,” I said to her “This is just what I’ve been looking for.”
The lady who was running the estate sale “Why are you looking for them? What do you need them for?”
“I write historical fiction. I just wrote a story about people who look just like this family.”
“How much are they?” Usually old pictures go for anywhere between $1 and $3 each at antique stores and estate sales were starting to charge the same.
She shrugged “I don’t know…twenty bucks?”
“For all of them?”
There were hundreds in the box. and these people really did look like the characters in my book, Exuberance Is Beauty. Not only that but so many of these photographs were iconic images from the 1849s and 1950s Below are some of the photos and an excerpt from my book (available for free in wattpad).
Exuberance Is Beauty by Rose Gluck
Oregon, 1940s: Eve Miller, a young war widow, rebels against the ordinariness of womanhood in the post-war era. Eve is enlightened as she succumbs to the sensual temptation of an adulterous affair. In its aftermath, Eve Miller’s life unravels and leads to unexpected violence and moral isolation. Exuberance Is Beauty, is a contemporary interpretation of Adam and Eve’s biblical allegory and Eve’s fall into desolation. The story examines the consequence of erotic obsession and the repentance the female protagonist must pay for her sins of the flesh.
As I walked closer to the house, I could see the ladies leaving. They were still laughing and chattering away. They were a ways in the distance otherwise I would have waved and yelled out “hello,” despite my melancholic mood. By the time I got close enough to the house, their car was already half way down the little dirt road that led to the main street. I saw Mary go into the screened porch, the door swinging back and slamming shut. The door had a terrible habit of slamming whenever someone entered or left. It was the springs. Frank said there was some sort of stopper that could prevent it and it was on his list of things to do. As I approached the house, I could hear Frank and Mary talking. Mary must have sat down with Frank while he took a break from the heat. They must have been sitting out having an iced tea or lemonade. They often did. I don’t know why, but I stopped on the side of the house and listened for a moment. Crickets chirped, I could hear Mary’s rocker creak as she rocked back and forth. The air felt hot again. Frank was telling Mary that he felt I was hiding something.
“Why would the girl come all the way out here if there wasn’t more to it?”
“I don’t know Frank, what does it matter? You saw pictures of her husband. She’s telling the truth about that.”
“What did Carmen say about it?”
“Just as I told you. Eve was her friend and needed a place to stay while she had her baby.”
“I don’t understand,” Frank insisted, “her in-laws were back in Portland weren’t they? Why on earth wouldn’t they help the girl? Or Carmen for that matter. Didn’t she practically grow up with Carmen?”
“What’s the difference? She’s here now. You should be a little more understanding. Just let it be. She’s a wonderful girl. I, for one am, glad she’s here.”
“I don’t have any problem with Eve being here. If there is something more to the story, I don’t want a girl who’d get herself into that kind of trouble. It isn’t right.”
“Oh what kind of trouble is that Frank? If its not one thing, it’s the other. You’re well respected. Nothing is going to change that. Helping care for a war widow and her baby would just raise you up.”
“I like Eve. I don’t trust her story.”
I could picture Frank’s long serious face. Deep lines around his eyes, places you could see he had been squinting. Years of questioning. Staring at something for a long time, thinking hard on a subject. Untangling the knot.