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My View: Remains of a life should be a treasure

By Joan Wickett

I recently stopped at a random estate sale.

It was not in the best part of town – an old area dating back perhaps to the settling of the town. The house was a two-story frame, with a front porch (standard for its day) all in wood. The siding was a gray clapboard – crumbling in spots with missing boards and signs of darker paint peeking through the cracks. The steps were rotting, and only part of a splintered railing offered support to enter. The porch sagged, seeming to lean toward the front lawn. If there was a walkway to the steps, it had been eaten up years ago by the weed-infested lawn.

The estate sale people had placed an assortment of odd chairs on the lawn, immediately in front of the front entrance. These proved to be the cream of the crop and perhaps the best the house had to offer.

As you entered the front door, you had the feeling you were taken back to another era – perhaps 50 or more years ago. The walls were covered with a browning floral wallpaper that stopped abruptly at the wide wooden borders. The wood was cracking and spots of paper were torn from the walls.

An assortment of old tools, photo albums, mismatched pottery and kitchen utensils lined the temporary tables that were set up around the room. Some furniture – mostly small, often broken, tables and chests – was scattered between the tables. A few framed prints, some in peeling gold frames, glass candy dishes and an assortment of old books broke the array.

Off the living room, the kitchen presented a glimpse into the 1930s. The wooden cupboards were painted a pale green – now chipped and dirty. The sink, once white porcelain, hosted a rusting faucet. The tiny flowered wallpaper was framed by painted white woodwork, yellowed with age. The linoleum floor was faded, and cracks in it revealed traces of a possible wooden base. The appliances were gone – probably removed by the survivors of the last tenant. All in all, the house was a step into the past. More than a half century had passed its doors, but never entered its threshold.

As I left the premises, I was struck by the thought that this was an estate – something someone had left after his death. What would my estate be? Would it be a crumbling house, a few treasured mementoes and a piece of favorite jewelry or furniture? Hopefully, I would leave more.

The remains of a life – be it 20 or 100 years – should be a treasure. What we pass on to our children and grandchildren should be unique – something that will live on after us.

It comes down to a simple question. What will I leave behind? Will the world be better off for my having lived in it?

If we cannot answer “yes,” then we need to do some soul-searching.

Most of our worlds are limited and our influences small. We have immediate family, friends, neighbors and those we casually meet in our day-to-day activities. How are we influencing them? What values are we passing on to our children? What kind of a neighbor am I? How are my dealings with business associates? Did I reflect a friendly, helpful attitude to the stranger I met today?

We influence people much more than we realize. Perhaps it is time for a little inventory – not of our possessions, but of our legacy, our estate. What will it be?

May we all leave an estate that will be treasured long after our death.

Joan Wickett, who lives in Hamburg, reflects on the legacy she will leave to her friends and family.
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