Basements become treasure hunts

#561 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2008, Hills Newspapers

Marge is our new friend. She’s 80. She’s great.

We met Marge because she was in charge of selling a two-unit building next door to her house. For 30 years she and the owner had been neighbors and friends. When he died, he willed his building 50-50 to Marge and to his tenant, Helen. Helen had lived there for fifty years.

For a year or two, Marge rented out one apartment and Helen stayed put except that now she didn’t have to pay rent. Then, as she became more frail, Helen moved to Arizona to live with her niece. It was time to sell.

Marge figured she could handle everything; she’s the kind who always has. But it turned out to be quite a job. For one thing, when Helen went away she left behind most of her furniture, a lot of things in her closets and cupboards, and a basement room full.

Helen wasn’t gone an hour when Marge had begun to clear the furniture, sort and box, wash and clean. She hired a painter to freshly coat the kitchen and living room. Dealing with the belongings was quite a chore. Some things went to St. Vincent de Paul. A great deal was tossed. A young couple Marge knew got the dining room table and chairs.

It was a help that Marge had only to walk from her house next door to work. It would have been much harder for her otherwise. But Marge has always been a hard worker, used to getting things done, and she did. Except for the basement. When she looked closely, she saw there was more there than she had thought – boxes and furniture, tools and garden implements and supplies.

We told Marge we’d help her. “Oh, no,” she said, not unexpectedly. “You’ve already done enough.” But we knew Marge would not hire anyone to help her and we didn’t think that was right. Besides, we were curious about what was in the basement and we like being with Marge. She’s a wonderfully good person, smart, funny, full of life. We said we’d be there the next morning. “Not too early,” said Marge.

We looked in the boxes first. It is truly a fascination to see what someone else has saved, has gone to the trouble to box and label and put away. Helen must have thought she’d use these things again one day, then forgot that they were there, or perhaps she remembered and decided to skip the whole thing.

She’d saved small pieces of driftwood and colored pebbles from the beach. Pine cones, dried flowers and seeds. Picture frames, glass and picture wire. Enough needles for everyone in the world, crochet hooks, buttons, even a full dress form. We couldn’t believe how many spools of thread.

There were college yearbooks from the ‘30s, suit boxes filled with gift wrap, ribbons and pre-formed bows. Magazines and newspapers with historical headlines. I guess everyone enjoys a treasure hunt. The three of us laughed and exclaimed and said, “What is this? Should we throw it away? Do you want it?”

It was fun. It was work. We were there all day sorting, making piles, moving things around. We recycled much, took to Marge’s house what she could use, made a new pile for St. Vincent de Paul. I got a big yellow bowl and lots of pretty sea shells. Anet got a patchwork quilt. She also wanted the Life magazines and the newspapers, but decided against the pile of National Geographics.

I was surprised that we found no clothes, no books, no boxes of canceled checks — all of these are in my own basement. I guess everyone saves different things. But we could hardly wait to see what was in the next box, and that was the fun. Someday someone will be cleaning out my things. I hope whoever it is enjoys discovering what I have saved.

Marge said she didn’t need any more flower pots, so I got them. She took the rose food. We walked the rest of the fertilizers outside and applied them directly to the plants.

This entry was posted in Seller Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: