By Gillian Fassel
I am an estate-sale shopper—equal parts bargain hunter, recycler, voyeur—and I can conceive of no better way to spend a Saturday morning-into-afternoon than on the estate-sale circuit, armed with classified ads, Google maps, and a big, big latte. I've found, among other artifacts, a cache of 1950s Boy Scout memorabilia, a stalagmite shaped like an elephant's foot, a velvet-covered volume titled "Poetry in Costume." That last was a meticulously drawn history of women's fashion, from Grecian to Gibson girl, and its schoolgirl creator had pasted a letter from her teacher on one of its pages:

"This is a beautiful book," the teacher wrote in May 1945. "I am sure it will be something to cherish and pass on to your children. It betrays your artistic nature and your gentle, beautiful character."

But her children did not cherish this book, and I can't resist imagining a novella to explain their heartlessness. Maybe, tragically, she outlived them. Or perhaps they just weren't the kind of people who get sentimental about objects, and when they came across this relic while cleaning out her attic, they thought, "What am I going to do with this old thing?" and tossed it in the "sell" pile.

And sell it they did, to me, for $8.

Sometimes I feel it's the least I can do to honor this stranger, to buy something her own family didn't deem worthy of saving but that she kept, for a reason strong and personal to her. And every time my 5-year-old daughter asks me to pull "Poetry in Costume" off the shelf so she can pore over the wonderful ladies and their lovingly rendered draperies, I'm reminded that the circle of life is also very much a circle of stuff, passing from one gentle, beautiful character to the next.

Gillian Fassel is a writer based in San Antonio.


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