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Richard Crowson: The Wisdom of Estate Sales

I’ve never been able to pass up an estate sale and stopped in at one last week in modest little home. The tattered art prints and hundreds of books painted a picture of a person with intellectual curiosity about the world of ideas. The small living room was dominated by a seriously grand piano standing proudly out among a few worn and threadbare sticks of furniture.

While I was in the basement, someone sat at that piano and played a flourishing rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” It echoed easily through the thin floors and walls of that once-beloved home.

Later that day another estate sale sign lured me to house that was full, and I do mean full, of books. Among them I found a telling item: A metal pica pole, the sort of ruler that we newspaper employees always kept at hand until the computer revolution of 20 years ago. I turned it over and saw the name of a former beloved colleague from the Wichita Eagle, a scrap of yellowed paper Scotch-taped to the underside signified her ownership.

I had been unable to attend her funeral weeks before and hadn’t known this was her house. I felt peculiar and slightly shameful. These were the once-cherished belongings of a friend.

I purchased the pica pole and a book of cartoons by Herblock of the Washington Post.

That afternoon I did one of my presentations on editorial cartooning to a class of 8th graders. Included in my Powerpoint at the teacher’s request were some images by Jose Posada, the Mexican cartoonist who satirically drew people as skeletons. His point was that our lives are ephemeral and that death levels the playing field for us all.

I think he must have gone to a few estate sales in his time.

Richard Crowson is not only a editorial commentator for KMUW. He's also a cartoonist, an artist and a banjo player.