“The bustle in a house / The morning after death / Is solemnest of industries / Enacted upon Earth — / The sweeping up the heart / And putting love away / We shall not want to use again / Until eternity.”  – From a poem by Emily Dickinson

My very good friend Steve has a dilemma, one not uncommon of a survivor. Steve has a big house in Maine a few yards from a beautiful lake facing the moonrise. The house is full of antiques and nice dishes, paintings and rugs and pottery and an expensive old teddy bear.

All that’s missing to make a perfect picture is his wife, Michelle, my niece, who died of cancer at too young an age.

It took a long time to get over that, but he’s a smart and resilient man. He has enough money, now that he’s retired, to get through the rest of his life comfortably, and he has begun to think of selling this house full of memories, and move somewhere to the south to play golf and walk on some beach and watch the moonrise over the ocean.

So now Steve is thinking of packing it in here in Maine. He and his love had no children, and her brother and sisters are older and have no room or use for all of his stuff. He’s faced with the painful task of “sweeping up.”

One day a few weeks ago, he and I talked of this job. He would, he said, at some point, hold an “estate” sale. That’s a garage sale where everyone gets to prowl through the house touching things, sniffing at price tags and bargaining for his memories.

It’s not a pleasant thing, we both agree. But the plan now is that he would sell the china, silverware, old clothes, chairs and tables, kitchen utensils and pots and pans, the dog dishes that belonged to Hershy, their beloved Portugese water dog who died earlier.

Everything that doesn’t sell he will throw into a large rented Dumpster and watch as it’s towed away down the road to some distant landfill, where grass and flowers will grow over them — maybe, hopefully, with a view of the moonrise.

Except for the teddy bear. It was a gift for Michelle that Steve found in a New Yorker magazine, one of those famous Gund family teddy bears. It was an anniversary gift. You don’t sell or throw away anniversary gifts, especially when they’re teddy bears.

So I imagine when Steve packs up to go south and leaves all of this behind, the Gund teddy bear will be sitting beside him in the car.

It’s going to be easier for me, hopefully. As I write this, She — who is thankfully, gratefully, blessedly still with me — has all of her grandparents’ and mother’s iconic dinnerware spread out on the dining room table.

We’re not going south. We don’t really care for south, can’t afford Manhattan anymore, and anywhere below that is politically unsavory.

So we’re not going anywhere, but taking advice from Steve. We’re preparing for the day when one of us has to have an estate sale, alone.

So we started with the glassware. We took pictures of all of it, the Havilland gold rimmed dishes, the Wedgewood, her mother’s endless collection of ruby glass, and emailed it to the daughters. Who wants what? The replies came fast. No takers. There is no place in shaky Los Angeles for fancy dinnerware. They’d like my clocks, my paintings, but they have no room for oriental rugs or more furniture and basically, they really “don’t want to talk about it.”

“You should have an estate sale,” one suggested. Yes, I already had that advice.

No, we don’t want to talk about it, either. Nobody does. The very idea is upsetting.

So back into the breakfronts it all goes. The glass doors will close, and hopefully another year or five or 10 will pass without one of us having to watch strangers prowl through the house, picking at things, sniffing at prices.

Someone will ask, “How much for the teddy bear?”

I don’t know if She will sell it; she’s pretty tough with money. I won’t. It’s not a Gund bear. It’s just one that the oldest — the one who “doesn’t want to talk about it” — had, and has forgotten. I have not.

If the day comes and I, the impatient one, am still standing, I’ll sell everything for a buck — the dinnerware, the silver, the dog dishes, bird cage and all, and then I’ll just walk away.

No, I won’t sell the damn bear. I’ll leave it sitting in the window, the one facing the moonrise.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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