haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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March 2007, vol 3 no 1

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Richard Straw

Lots and Chattels

All summer long since dad died, we've been getting the property ready for an auction. And now it's over, the two sedans, the 1920s house, and most of the chattels sold to help pay for mom's nursing care. The 2-day outdoor estate sale spread from their small corner plot to two adjoining yards whose houses had been left vacant for several years. The auction at least has provided some entertainment and perhaps employment to a town that's had little of either lately because of factory closings and an aging population.

What the auctioneer told my sister wouldn't sell and what we didn't want to keep, we had to haul out of their packed-to-the-gills, two-storied house and single-car garage before the sale. Three-piece "big man" suits, mothballed dresses, Easter hats, and foster children's clothes we donated to the thrift shop. School artwork, empty egg cartons for mom's craft projects, broken toys, cancelled checks, and countless bags of trash we left at the city dump. The rest we sorted, tallied, and displayed in hundreds of boxed lots on the driveway and on the grass, then covered with plastic tarps in case of rain. My sister's husband and I stood guard each night, resting in shifts on mom's restrung lawn chairs as the Big Dipper with the rest of the stars rotated slowly west.

Dozens of buyers and gawkers came, saw, and bid on what mom and dad, my sister, and I spent decades accumulating. Standing quietly in the back of the crowd that followed the auctioneer around the yards were a few aunts and uncles and cousins who had stopped by out of respect or curiosity. Our relatives didn't buy much of anything of value except an antique rope bed that mom's brother wanted. My sister hadn't known that the dusty bed in mom and dad's attic was a family heirloom, the bed in which our grandpa had been born in 1892.

None of mom and dad's dozen or so foster kids showed up to buy a remembered doll or Golden Book or even the child-sized, red vinyl armchair and footstool set that my sister and I first sat in when it was new. I wouldn't have recognized their adult faces if the foster kids had appeared, however, because they were mere infants or hyperactive toddlers the last time I'd helped mom and dad rock some of them to sleep. Staff from children's services usually found adoptive parents for the kids before mom and dad became too attached to them, or sometimes repentant biological parents in rehab were allowed to take their kids back. When mom and dad tried to adopt one dear little boy after I moved away, mom said that Angelina from children's services told her and dad, "No, no, you're too old to adopt . . ."

A few Christmas and birthday gift tags, items mom felt compelled to save and we had neglected to scrap, must have spilled from a box near the slate walk that ascends from the driveway to the steps leading to the dinette and its bathroom that dad had added for mom when she could no longer climb stairs. The tags litter the trampled garden near the spot where mom's hand-painted statues of the little Dutch boy and girl had eternally kissed, right beside dad's hand-welded windmill and above the stone wall he'd made from broken pieces of sidewalk retrieved when the city widened the street in front of his shaded porch. The wagon that the auctioneer had used to display mom's costume jewelry and collection of unopened Avon bottle statues waits on the cracked driveway that dad blacktopped each summer, next to the basketball pole and board assembly that he'd welded for me from factory scrap metal. As the neighborhood fades to darkness, the streetlight flickers on, the stoplight on the corner glows red, and a low limb of the Chinese elm with the mysterious spigot in its trunk brushes the roof of the auctioneer's red-and-white carnival trailer that had been used for selling coffee and soft drinks, candy bars and popcorn, and hot dogs.

smell of rain
I crank a storm window
shut