(The Unbearable Lightness of a Moving Sale)
Saturday night I said it would be our last supper.
We friends gathered around Mom’s circa 1970s Queen Anne dining table, the same table around which my family celebrated holidays when I was a child. Candles flickering, we five friends clinked glasses, toasting with maskless abandon our post-pandemic reunion and my impending departure.
“Brown furniture doesn’t sell,” warned my snobbish childhood friend, Jake, back from Brussels for a visit.
I sank into Mom’s cane back chair which creaked with my weight, the weight of the years, the weight of this transition. My bones ached, my Moderna vaccine arm throbbed. It had been an exhausting day – in an antibody build-up fog – lifting, lugging and sorting through my mountain of earthly possessions.
Brandi the Organizer had promised to return for a full day of pre-sale preparation and pricing, but was a no-show. Bit by the cat she was sitting, she texted from the emergency room.
Poor Brandi. Poor me!
Our celebratory pink bubbly had just begun to go to my head; but doubts about this moving sale venture persisted – and underneath them, doubts about this whole getting-outa-dodge adventure.
At T-minus 16 days ‘til takeoff, divesting of stuff was only one of a zillion action items on my transition to-do list.
I gazed over my shoulder toward the living room which I’d painstakingly transformed into a sales showroom.
There was a table piled with camera equipment and electronics, a section of shoes (size 10), a coat-rack adorned with bags, and a hanging rack of dress clothes. The mantel displayed with a collection of umpteen vases. Mom’s rolling Madmen-style bar cars was laden with glassware. My collection of photography and art lay on display across the couch cushions. The floor was stacked with crates of LPs and boxes of CDs, DVDs, Super 8s, VHS videos – any and every outdated format!
And the table upon which we ate, a significant piece of the past, host to numerous holiday dinners and some of my parents’ most dramatic fights...the renters didn’t want it... there was no room to store it. Maybe Jake was right. Why hadn’t I just donated it all to charity?
But it was too late to rethink. The ads were posted on Facebook and Next Door, and messages were dinging on my phone.
“Everything’s got to go,” I declared, raising my glass and smiling around the table at my friends.“Including the Carley Simon album. And this bottle of champagne!”
The next morning, I had to drag myself out of bed, slightly hungover, and ease my aching body into scramble mode.
“This'll be fun.” Sarcasm in my voice, I echoed one of Brandi the Organizer’s refrains, as my friend from Belgium and I crouched on the floor with magic markers and poster board making signs. He went for bagels and posted the signs up the block, while I got down to work on a pricing spreadsheet.
I got as far as typing a header on the document when the doorbell rang, 10 am on the dot. I felt my adrenaline climb as I donned my mask and answered the door.
A hipster young woman and her roommate entered and poked around. I followed them with my eyes, encouraging them to to peruse my clothes rack, to ask about prices. They settled on the muffin pan and a set of cake pans and a trio of vases for their group as. As I took their $10, I noticed an annoying feeling of regret. Those pans were like new; maybe I should have kept them. They wouldn’t have been difficult to store.
I knew about Buyer’s Remorse: I’d had it over the purchase of my VW Tiguan getaway car. But Seller’s Remorse was not something I’d anticipated.
As the girls added an ornate silver platter to the pile of purchases, I reminded myself: Everything must go.
In fact, things were not going nearly fast enough. Over the next hour, customers trickled in; I sold a few albums, a skirt, another vase.
I managed to munch half a bagel between negotiations and small talk: Where was I going, what prompted me to make such a change? Jake sipped his coffee and read the Washington Post, my final Sunday delivery. I’d made no progress on my spreadsheet, instead calling out bottom-of-the-barrel prices, randomly, as people inquired.
By noon, the mountain of stuff had barely shrunk. Salvation Army was scheduled to come Thursday; but my pickup order was limited; they would not take this much stuff.
Then, suddenly, around midday, we got slammed. My head spun trying to respond to shoppers’ questions. Jake had to step in to help customers with items upstairs and in the garage.
My neighbors Claudia and Roxy went for the sectional sofa in my TV room, the Poang lounge chair, and my digital SLR camera, some big-ticket items. They handed me a pile of cash. My load was lifting. As a free bonus, I threw-in my pair of vintage 90s Sketcher combat boots, a perfect fit. Those babies had seen a lot of action: from samba dancing at Rumba to a barroom brawl, once, at Utopia.
Marlene, my house cleaner, took the swivel office chair and a pair of silver plate hurricane lamps and a stack of clothes.
Hugo Tumoche, from first grade at Wyngate, appeared like a flash from the past. He wanted my my Panasonic amp and Sony CD changer. “Sure, take ‘em, fifty bucks.”
My accountant friend Dixie had arrived and overrode me: “Fifty each.”
And old pal from Bluebird days and her partner mulled over the oriental carpet, the brown velvet deco chair, a pair ski pants, a rolling duffle, the patio umbrella and stand.
I felt myself letting go, knowing that piece of me were going to good homes.
A young doctor visiting from Boston perused my collection of Anneseye photography, barraging me with questions, bringing me back to my Brazil adventure days. She took two summer blazers and her mother-in-law fit perfectly into a beachy gingham sundress. They came back an hour later for a stack of classical LPs for their brother in Peru and a trio of my signed photos of Brazil.
With each purchase, I felt a little lighter, a little happier, the weight of the past lifting off my shoulders.
I dug some hats and headdresses out of my old costume trunk, handed them around, cued up Carnevale music on Spotify, and broke into a festive, high-kicking Frevo dance. I grabbed a masked partner, and we did a little zydeco jitterbug.
Then I went into hard-sell mode, convincing the kitty-cat, a zydeco dancer to take Big Brown for his new Balto rowhouse; the hulking pottery barn couch from the 80s had been another friend’s hand-me-down. “For free!”
“Sure,” he relented.
Lighter, still, I watched my old Taj Majal dome tent walk out the door with a young couple from up the block.
Record albums went to a parade of millennials enamored with vinyl – Songs in the Key of Life – the double LP to which my best childhood friend, Julie C, and I used to dance to in her basement rec-room when we were little kids – took the prize at $25!
Lamps, books, more vases, the set of Mexican margarita glasses walked out the door, cha-ching.
I noticed the grueling, persistent pain in my lower lumbar dissipating.
Then came the biggest weight of all.
My yoga teacher and her husband from around the block stopped by to say goodbye; and Mom’s Persian carpet caught their eye.
That beautiful colossal 10 X 15-foot pastel Kerman had been my beast of burden since age 19, when Mom sold our childhood home, making her desperate escape from my lunatic father. The rug accompanied me to an apartment storage unit in College Park, to the basement of my married home in Bethesda (where it once got inundated in a sewage backup), to a group house in Arlington upon my divorce, to another group house on the upper 16th Street in DC, landing finally, eventually, in my own home, this home on Park Road I was now preparing to leave.
As we took exact measurements, and the couple stood in the center of the medallion contemplating the piece for their newly renovated upstairs, the pastel colors appeared ever more vivid to me, that seller’s remorse sinking like an anchor down to my feet. My parents had paid $10,000 back in the day; and they were by no means rich. It had been an utter extravagance.
I bent down and ran my palm across the hand-knotted pile, inhaling the scent of wool, feeling slightly possessive, when a voice inside my head commanded: “Annie, get rid of it!”
My late mother could not be present, as she had been for my Peace Corps escape 10 years ago; but she was watching over me. In her wispy, floaty form, she was no sentimentalist. Nor could I – T-minus 16 days and counting – afford to be.
“How’s $450,” I offered the couple.
They looked at each other and nodded. “Deal.”
By day’s end, the door shut and the final customers gone, my footsteps echoed in the living room. I plopped down in Mom’s Queen Anne arm chair and let out a sigh.
The dang dining set had not sold. No one had given it a second glance.
“Annie, it’s got to go.” Mom encouraged from on high.
“I know.” I felt myself frown, got right on my laptop, and re-posted the ad.
Magically, first thing the next morning, a message popped up, showing serious interest.
The Belgian couple arrived at my door that evening, and it was love at first site. They were not offput but the dark walnut. In fact, the two men ogled over the glowing patina, the solidity of the construction, the shapeliness of the legs, the integrity of the cane backs. And as they did, I felt the niggling desire to hold on.
But it was too late; they’d written me their first American check and were marching out the door with the piece.
They had no time to waste. They had a dinner party to throw that night!
And I had no time to waste: I had a farewell festa to plan. There was space in my house, now, to dance!