Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Street Value of Life Treasures

Some years ago--at least five, with the possibility of seven or eight--your late wife happened upon s lawn sale on one of her perambulations.  She purchased a pleasant, terracotta-colored plate about the size of a salad plate, for ten cents, along with a few other cups and saucers  because of their colors rather than for any specific need of them.  These items also went for a dime each.


Over the years and the hurried nature of your departure from Hot springs Road to your present nesting place, the only item you see with regularity is the teracotta plate, which you use for sentiment and, because of its weight and sturdiness, practical serving or dining purposes.  It is, for example, perfect for breakfast toast, a dish of sliced fruit, even a wedge of cheese and a sliced pear.

You've long since begun the habit of having soft boiled breakfast eggs in a paper thin tea cup favored by your mother.  On a number of shelves about the kitchen, you see small items, vases, containers, ceramic animals, pre-Colombian art, and similar items, each one, when you stop to consider it, of some sentimental value to you as well as, in a more strictly commercial sense, of some more-than-modest market value.  Certainly more than ten cents.  Although, when you think of such things, the certainty begins to fade.

Your kitchen drawers are filled with a broad array of utensils, some you know for a fact came from your mother's prized silver and stainless sets, others from your own ventures at housekeeping, still others from your father's ventures as an auctioneer of restaurants that have filed for protection in bankruptcy proceedings.  Dining and kitchen knives, stirring and cooking spoons, varieties of dining forks, some quite old or rare (but by no means antique).  

From time to time, wondering where these might go after your use and need of them has passed, you begin estimating the total amount they might bring at a garage or lawn sale, predicated on each bringing ten cents.

Then, there are the books you rescued from the vastness of your holdings at Hot Springs Road, and the seemingly endless procession of new books, arriving in the mail, via Fed Ex, your own visits to book stores, and the reading copies of assigned books via the University.  These are in addition to the hundred or so books you used as your starting library here at Sola Street.  Although few are first editions of any worth or merit, many, in spite of how much you paid to acquire them, would bring at least twenty-five cents at a lawn sale.

Some of these are books you edited, some books you wrote, others still books you read and reread.  No one but you would attach much actual value to a Rand-McNally Atlas of the World, given you as a Christmas gift in 1942 by your sister.  No one but you would attach market value to the second oldest book in your collection, given you a brief month after your thirteenth birthday and your ritualized debut into the culture into which you were born.

In so many ways, that book commemorated not only your bar-mitzvah; it helped forge your career path.  The book is a thick compendium printed on thin pages, containing three complete novels by Mark Twain as well as numerous essays, stories, and excerpts from other of his titles.  At the time of purchase, the book could easily have been had for less than five dollars.  There is no way for you to attach a quantitative value to the book, which has begun to deteriorate in strategic places along its spine.

The worth of all these treasures is a lesson in itself.  Perhaps, from some sentimentality, your nieces and your grand nieces and nephews might wish a few of these items.  There are a few paintings by your late pal, Barnaby Conrad, that might actually find their way back to his family.  Who would want the watercolor given you by Henry Miller?

The items we surround ourselves with take on a value only we can assign.  Even if you had something your survivors might conceivably squabble over, their actual value as commercial items is suspect.  The esteem and position of respect you impart to these and other such items is their true worth.

When you are gone, some of them may have in their future visitation rights in dumps or recycling bins.  Other items might find their way into lawn sales and garage sales.  A sports jacket or two might find their ways into thrift shops.

This is, you believe, the true nature of things.  From time to time, you still catch sight of a Toyota Camry you once owned, selling it only after it had turned its two-hundred-fifty-thousandth mile, to someone for a dollar.  You see it and, you like to project, it is aware of you, once friends and confidants, now merely aware of one another in a world of dinosaurs.  The sight of the Camry causes you to consider trips you took in it, passengers who rode with you.

The sight of your treasures buoys and encourages you.  You are among friends.  Some of the items, say the pre-Colombian, were treasures for others long before you found your way onto this planet.  Some were gifts, mementos, souvenirs.  What on earth would you do with a tin box that once held fifty Luck Strike cigarettes?  Why, you'd use it to store three-quarters of a pocket knife you bought for your father from a cutlery store in New York. You'd keep a few buffalo nickels, the bottom half of a fountain pen with which you'd written the first draft of a novel, and the ink sac and nib of yet another fountain pen.

Some eccentrics have their house or apartment filled with cats.  At the moment, you have one, a notional-yet-affectionate male tabby, who appears to have forged incredible acquaintances with various of your neighbors.

All about you, there are miracles of association, targets of opportunity.

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