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Across The Lake

The words "Estate Sale" conjure up an invitation. Especially in metropolitan areas, it leads to thoughts of older homes, rich furnishings, a death in the family, a chance to see how that seldom-seen 'other half' lived, what the home looks like, how it was furnished -- and what bargains might be there for the fleet of foot, the early arrival, the Garage Sale graduate.

There's more to it, we learned this week. Two veterans of estate sales were visitors to our house, and we learned that estate sales have come to be more than that. Our guests were my sister and her friend. Helen has worked garage sales regularly for a number of years, and her friend, Carol Rice, has been doing it at least once a month for a surprising 25 years. And they're not there to see what's for sale, they're there to help sell things.

Companies arrange the sales, and the women work for the companies -- two different ones, but much the same in how things are done. It may indeed be the sale of an estate, but it may also be a moving sale. Most recently, the 'moving' sales have involved some person's moving not necessarily to another city, but even to a nearby facility for persons convicted of various kinds of wrong-doing. Most difficult are those that have been brought on by the economy, where a home has been foreclosed and the sale forced on a family trying to salvage what they can.

Not only has the nature of the sales changed, so has the buying that's being done. The big, valuable pieces of furniture like those you see on the Antique Roadshow may be nice to look at, but buyers today are watching their billfolds. Buyers tend to be younger, and more interested in contemporary styles than in Victorian cabinets. "You have to want the right style, the right kind of wood, more of a light and friendly look," Carol Rice said.

The kitchen and dining room are where people head right away, Helen told us. Sis said people now are more interested in things they can use, like dishes and pans and appliances. "Why pay $20 for a toaster at Target when this one looks clean and new and is only half the price," she says a woman told her at a recent sale.

The conversation took an interesting turn when Carol said something about my sister living in a haunted house. My Favorite Reader and I had heard a little of this some years back, when Helen and her family lived in the big old house in Excelsior. It was a house in which My Favorite Reader had a renewed interest when she discovered one of the carpenters building it had been her own father -- but that's another story.

Helen knew there had to be something about the house because of the way things suddenly were moved around. With six youngsters, you expect some things, but not what she was witnessing. The kids might all be in school, or all just outside playing, and dishes would change places -- that sort of thing -- but she just resigned herself to accepting that things seemed different. Until she got the clock.

It was a mantel clock that no longer worked. She got it from a friend who said if Helen could get it fixed, she could have it. The clock was one that struck the hours with the sound of Big Ben -- the notes of the old Griffin shoe polish ad on radio. The clock was wound, but would not strike. Helen sat it on the dining room buffet.

As she walked out of the room, the clock suddenly began to strike. It struck the hour. It struck the next hour. It struck the sounds of the quarter hour and the half hour. It struck and struck and struck, without let-up. For how many years Helen isn't sure, but that clock had not worked for a long time. Now it wanted to make up for it, and it went on striking for almost eight hours. It was too much, and Helen hauled it out and stored it away in the garage.

Helen's family was the third to live in that house. Another owner, curious, had hired a psychic to see if it really was haunted. "Yes," was the answer, and with this story. Some years earlier there had been a house fire, and a small girl had died in the blaze. Now she was coming back, to play with that couple's grandchildren, and presumably, now with Helen's own children.

When Helen and Carol had finished their work -- Carol brought things up for Camp Rabideau -- they headed back to the Twin Cities. After they'd gone, My Favorite Reader wondered aloud if we'd ever told Helen about our older daughter's ghostly experience in their Virginia home, and the advice she'd been given, to just tell the unwelcome visitor, "This our house now -- you can leave." I'd take all this with more than just a grain of salt if it wasn't for our dog from years back. He came into my print shop one evening, the hair on his back bristled straight up and he backed out -- never willing to come in again. All does make you wonder sometimes, doesn't it?

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Delores Miller's cousin Harold lives in New Jersey and writes an occasional piece for the Marion, WI weekly paper. Recently he wrote about 'dog tags' worn by servicemen and women. Sadly, he noted, they often wind up in a glass case with other pieces of family jewelry and memorabilia. Then the whole thing goes on an estate sale and the 'dog tag' gets maybe a few dollars, if anything. I'll have to ask Helen about that.