Thursday, March 31, 2011

When an Estate Sale Becomes a Memorial Service

Touring the Estate of the Late Harry E. Tibbs while Contemplating Life and Death

I went to an estate sale last Saturday at the residence of the late Harry E. Tibbs. Dr. Tibbs was well known in the academic and music community. His talents as a church organist and college music professor were legendary. Touring his estate turned out to be a reflection upon a life well lived.

Items for sale at the estate included a lovely grand piano, bookcases, fine china and works of art that the professor had gathered from around the world. I had gone to the estate sale looking for a pedestal dining table, which was not to be found. What I did, which is usually what I do when I come upon an estate sale, was to tour the house and consider what the deceased owner’s life must have been like.

Over a year ago I went to an estate sale in a nearby neighborhood. Though the house had obviously been in a state of disrepair for some time, as I wandered through the house and adjoining garage I kept repeating to myself, “Here once lived a craftsman!” I saw so many tools and items to be used in making all kinds of things. At that sale, I ended up buying a small red metal tool box filled with an assortment of tools. I also bought a slab of black marble, probably the remnant of some counter top project.

On this day as I toured the Tibbs estate, I marveled at the view overlooking the city from the mountainside of that upscale Altamont Road residence. Two stories and a full basement were filled with artifacts that spoke of a full and elegant life. In addition to the piano, fine china and art work, there were wine racks, kitchen equipment, a vast array of cookbooks (including one on medieval cuisine). There were many scholarly books and classical recordings.

I found three items to purchase:
  1. A hardback copy of the Viking Portable William Blake.
  2. Machlis’ The Enjoyment of Music, a comprehensive reference book that had a library card holder labeled, “Dr. Tibbs Reserve.” It had apparently been in use at the university library for Professor Tibbs’ students to use. The card inside contained the dates and signatures of the last students to check out  the  book.
  3. A CD of various classical Christmas music recordings.
I spent exactly five dollars. As I left the estate I said to myself, “My death will definitely be less complicated than that of Dr. Tibbs.” That is what I tend to do at estate sales – I treat them like a funeral, contemplating the life of the deceased while at the same time reflecting upon my own life. Self assessment seems to go along with respect for the dead.

As I left the estate, I got into my Ford Ranger and put in the CD I had just purchased. Though it was the end of March and a bit warm, the weather was gray and overcast with a slight mist. I turned on the AC and for about 20 minutes listened to some of the finest classical Christmas compositions and imagined it to be a December day.

Contemplating the passing of a remarkable man and considering my own brought to mind a poem I had written almost 30 years before when as a young man I had tried to broach the subject of my own demise:

                     I Shall Go Quickly 

                     I shall go quickly from this world
                    With traces left behind;
                    As a fragrance lingering
                    To be dispersed by the wind;
                    As an image upon the retina
                    To fade as new sights are seen.

                    Today, mine is a slow and steady gaze.
                    I stand still before the flow of creation
                    Pulsating joy and wonder in stillness of thought.
                    Today I linger in the greenwood and listen,
                    But I shall go quickly from this world,
                    With traces left behind.

                    11/82                                Charles Kinnaird


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