This meditation on a bank liquidation reminds us that you can’t take it with you. But you don’t have to throw it away…
No Ordinary Auction by Bob Welch
I once attended an auction that was no ordinary auction. The public could bid on unclaimed items that people had left behind in safe-deposit boxes. These items were once deemed so important that people paid money to have them safeguarded in steel.
Diplomas, children’s report cards, letters….
I remember how we shuffled along, past the coin collections and pocket watches and jewelry to documents and small items sealed in plastic bags.
Boy Scout patches, receipts from a Waikiki hotel, a child’s crayon drawing of a bunny rabbit….
It was all unclaimed property, waiting to be auctioned; the forgotten or overlooked possessions of owners now dead.
Rosaries, letters, train tickets….
Each bag was a mystery, the clues doing more to arouse curiosity than to provide answers. I read the immigration papers of Udolf Matschiner, who arrived at Ellis Island in 1906. Did he find what he was looking for in America?
Two marbles, three stones, and a belt buckle….
Why these things? Did they represent some special memory, some special person?
Passports, telegrams, newspaper clippings…
A yellowed article from a 1959 Los Angeles newspaper was headlined “Vlahovich’s Mother Sobs at Guilty Verdict.” A mother’s son had been convicted of murder. The mother wept, pleading with the judge to spare her son. “Take my blood,” she screamed. “Kill me!” What happened? Did she watch her son die in San Quentin’s electric chair?
Undeveloped film, birth certificates, marriage certificates….
The official business of life intermingled with the unofficial business of life — a lock of blond hair, a child’s math paper and a poem called “Grandmother’s Attic,” typed on a typewriter with a sticky e.
It was as if those of us at the auction had been allowed entry into hundreds of grandmothers’ attics, the attics of unknown people.
Diaries, photographs, the ink print of a newborn’s feet….
In death’s wake, most of the items spoke volumes about life. They also suggested a sense of finality, a realization that life on earth ends, and you can’t take anything with you.
So what will we leave behind?
A six-by-twelve box full of mementos can speak volumes about what we valued. But it’s only a whisper compared to the legacy of our lives themselves.
Amid our he-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave….
An investment in other people.
An example of a life guided not by the capricious winds of culture, but rock-solid principles.
And an inspiration to our children and grandchildren to become all they have been designed to be.
Published in Jack Canfield, et al, Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul: Heartwarming Stories About People 60 an Over. Health Communications, Inc., 2000.