84: The Real Treasures

84: The Real Treasures

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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The Real Treasures

There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.

~Jackie French Koller

Over the years I’d collected all sorts of things — unusual napkin rings, antique hatpins, beach glass, old crocks, glassware, rag rugs, brass and silver. But a number of years ago I noticed a heavy feeling whenever I looked at my collections. I wasn’t sure why, but the fun had gone out of collecting.

“Why do I have so many things?” I’d ask myself.

Then, surprisingly, I’d answer right back. “They’re your treasures. Keepsakes. Things to pass on to your children and grandchildren. Besides, they’re fun to look at and display.”

But something happened over twenty years ago that made me see my collections in a whole different light. I was in Louisville, Kentucky, visiting my brother and sister-in-law. One day we attended an auction… a little slice of heaven for a collector like me. The newspaper ad proclaimed it to be “The Lifetime Collection of Treasures!”

I wondered if the couple who owned the house and its furnishings were paring down their possessions before moving into a retirement home. I wondered if perhaps one of them had died recently.

What my brother, sister-in-law and I discovered when we pulled into the driveway was that the owners were very wealthy. Their house, on acres and acres of a perfectly manicured estate, complete with a huge in-ground pool and spa, had sold to the first looker for $650,000. And remember, this was back in the early nineties. All of their exquisite possessions were sitting on the front lawn under huge tents, waiting to be sold at public auction. Over four hundred items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were cataloged on legal size sheets given to the many potential bidders on that hot June afternoon.

Items on that list included, a “Highly carved Chippendale mahogany king size four post canopy bed on claw feet. Superb Queen Anne burl walnut bookcase china cabinet with beveled glass doors, dated 1890. Mother of Pearl inlaid rosewood tea caddy with hinged box interior, circa, 1850. Rare signed Tiffany and Company coffee urn. Three piece Ansonia marble clock set with open encasement and mercury pendulum, circa 1880.”

This wasn’t your typical auction. The auction also included a Mercedes Benz in superb condition; a six-month-old snazzy red pickup truck; and an Audi 200 Quattro Turbo with heated seats. The couple was selling everything, including the wheels right out from under themselves.

“Why would anyone part with all their treasures?” I asked my sister-in-law.

Linda just shrugged her shoulders, obviously as mystified as I, and said, “Look at the china, candelabra and cut glass. Think of the parties these people had!”

I ran my fingers over the fine sharp edges of half a dozen huge cut glass vases and umbrella stands. As I walked around a dozen antique Persian rugs stretched out on the lawn, I tried to imagine why or how one could part with such exquisite beauty.

The auction began under another giant tent filled with folding chairs out on the south lawn. The pristine navy blue leather sofa sold to the highest bidder for just under two thousand dollars. The huge mahogany dining room table sold for $1500. The twelve matching chairs went for $265 each. This definitely wasn’t a sale for folks like me.

Why, I wondered over and over… why would they sell it all? Don’t they have children who would want these treasures? Certainly many of the antique items had been in their families for generations.

We left after three hours, before a third of the items had been sold. My brother managed to get a dandy oak workbench for fifty dollars. The next day, when we went back to the estate with his van to pick up the workbench, my curiosity got the better of me. I just had to know why these people were selling their home and all those exquisite furnishings, antiques and treasures.

When I rang the doorbell a pretty young woman with long, light brown, wavy hair, no make-up and simple clothes answered. Wow, they even have a maid, I thought to myself wistfully.

“Is the owner of this house at home?” I asked.

“I’m the owner,” she said simply, flashing a warm smile.

“Oh, my goodness,” I stammered. “Forgive me, I don’t mean to intrude, but, well, I’m here with my brother. He’s out in the garage loading the workbench he bought yesterday. I just had to meet you. I’m wondering if you would mind telling me why you sold all your beautiful possessions.”

The young woman graciously invited me into their home and introduced me to her husband, who reminded his wife that they had to be at the house closing in forty-five minutes.

I repeated my question. “How could you sell all your beautiful treasures?”

The husband, a very good-looking, curly-haired man in his early forties smiled, put his arm around his wife’s waist and said quietly. “Oh, I didn’t sell my treasures. All that is just STUFF. My treasures are right here, my wife and daughter. Have you met our daughter? She’s eleven. Yes, these are my treasures: my wife and my daughter. They are all I need.”

The young woman explained that the previous April she had gone to the Bahamas for a week with a friend and fallen in love with a tiny island called “Green Turtle Cay” in Abaco. She called her husband and asked him to join her so he could see the beauty of the tiny island. He flew over the next day and together they explored the island, befriended the local residents and thoroughly relaxed in a world that had missed out on the twentieth century. After a few days the couple decided to change their lives. They agreed to sell their home and all their possessions and move to the Bahamas with nothing but their bathing suits and a few small personal items.

The young wife’s eyes danced with excitement as she explained further. “We’re leaving tonight; can you believe it? Tomorrow our address will be Green Turtle Cay. We’re moving into an old, simple, one-story oceanside home with just four rooms; a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. No phone or TV. In fact, there are only two pay phones on the whole island. It takes three weeks for mail to get from here to there.

“We’re really looking forward to just spending time together. This life here, these things, the big house, all those furnishings and stuff, the Junior League, it’s just not me. I don’t like what happens to your life when you have money. Things somehow become more important than people. This house and all those expensive items are not important. What’s really important is family, sunshine, wind and the sea and those will be the things we’ll have every day on the island.”

It was time for me to leave and let this amazing family get on with their lives. I shook hands with each of them and wished them a happy life. I left with a sense of awe, knowing these wonderful people had given me a valuable gift.

I came home from Louisville and started cleaning house. I gathered up hundreds of items for a rummage sale. I wrapped up a cherished silver casserole dish and two collectible green vases that my sister-in-law had admired and shipped them off to her.

I gift-wrapped a set of antique butter plates that had been in my family for three generations and gave them to my neighbors who had just gotten married. I gave my brass collection to my son for Christmas. I placed 150 books on my dining room table and insisted that my friends in my woman’s group each take a handful of books home with them. I gave most of my silver collection to my four children. The next spring I put over a hundred items on a big table out by the street in front of my house with a huge sign that simply said FREE. Every month I clean out one closet or one drawer full of stuff and either give it away or toss it.

Giving away my things slowly but deliberately is giving me a sense of freedom, a cleansing of sorts. It’s fun to see how much the people who receive my things are enjoying them.

But the best part is that now that I’ve stopped collecting and started giving away instead, I have less clutter around the house to dust, which means I have more time to spend with my friends and family. And those, as I learned earlier at the grand estate sale in Kentucky, are my real treasures.

~Patricia Lorenz

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