One (Wo)Man’s Junk…

I got a call from my friend, Tina, about a week ago. She reported that on her way back from the grocery store, she observed an extended family cleaning out a small, tidy house on a main corner in our town. The former inhabitant, a lovely woman of about 90 or so, had passed away right around Christmas. We surmised that the family was getting ready to put the house on the market and was in the process of discarding sixty or more years of the woman’s belongings.

Tina, never one to pass up another’s treasures, or what some of us call “junk,” screeched to a halt in front of the house and asked the family if the contents of the house, which they were putting at the curb, were hers for the taking. They assured her they were; everything inside the house was being thrown out, no ifs, ands, or buts. They were keeping nothing from the home or from the woman’s personal possessions. Tina opened her trunk and threw in two lamps, a recliner, a couple of end tables, and two big, black plastic bags filled with jewelry. She donated the furniture to our local library for the new teen room that is being constructed. And when she got home, she called me to tell me what she had found. I raced over to see what she had claimed.

On her dining room table were the personal possessions of a woman who clearly liked jewelry and took pride in her appearance. Tina separated a few pieces out and pointed out the fine work on two rings, in particular. The two of us went through years and years of costume jewelry, some art deco pieces, shoe clips, dangling earrings, some beautiful necklaces, and two sets of pearls which we thought may be real, but couldn’t be sure since neither of us own a real strand of pearls. Tina held up a little box and her eyes filled with tears. “And this is why I couldn’t bear to see the stuff at the curb,” she said, opening the box. Inside was a volunteer pin from the local hospital where I had given birth to both of my children. “I couldn’t let them throw this out.”

I took a couple of funky necklaces which I need to bathe in jewelry cleaner, as well as a giant Peace sign on a linked chain for my daughter. Tina set about picking out the pieces that she would take apart and glue to a plain simple frame, which is a craft she excels at, not to mention, enjoys tremendously. We both stared at the cache on the dining room table and were sad when we thought about ninety or so years ending up at the curb to be picked up with the regular trash. It just didn’t seem right.

We both went on our merry ways and I forgot about the jewelry until Tina called me a few days later. She works right around the corner from the famed New York City jewelry district, where Jim bought my engagement ring and wedding band two decades ago. She reported that she brought all of the jewelry that she thought might be worth something to her favorite and most trusted jeweler. He examined everything, pronounced a few pieces to be platinum, one an emerald, and the two strands of pearls to be real. He handed her a sizable wad of cash and sent her on her way, assuring her that he would clean and reset a few pieces and then offer them up for sale.

Tina went back to her office, put a call into our local caring committee which services the elderly, sick, homebound and poor in our little Village and told them that they could expect a check in the coming days. She asked that the lady whose jewelry she had sold—whose identity we put together after a little detective work and found out was Mrs. C—be named as the donator of the money. We both felt better knowing that if her family didn’t want her things, the value of them would live on in supporting a good cause right here, a place she lived for most of her adult life.

I thought about all of the things I’ve collected over a lifetime half as long as Mrs. C’s and wondered what would happen to them after I’ve gone. Would my life be reduced to a couple of black plastic garbage bags filled with my high school ring, my diamond stud earrings, and some costume jewelry that I can’t part with at this point in time? I hope not. I don’t know why Mrs. C’s family didn’t have the patience to sort through her belongings; perhaps they had a good reason. But thanks to the eagle eye of my good friend and collector, Tina, Mrs. C’s legacy will be in the good work that can be done with the cash her treasures produced.

Maggie Barbieri

4 replies
  1. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    Maggie, I love your friend Tina! How wonderful that she donated that money to a charitable cause and in Mrs. C's name. That makes me tear up to think about! I would've stopped at the curb, too, as I have junking in my blood. It's amazing what some people throw out. I had imagined once "Antiques Roadshow" was on the air, people would be afraid to throw out anything without having it appraised first! When my folks moved from a huge house into a far more manageable one, my mom had to do a lot of paring down. She'd been a collector for many years and had lots of antiques, big and small. It was hard for her to do, but she kept the most important things and realized she could live without the rest. She uses one bedroom in the basement for storage (and it's not even full), and everything else seems to have its place. It's like their new house can breathe (and so can they!).

    Susan, a bonafide junker with clutter-phobia (does that even make sense?)

  2. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    My husband collects everything! Mostly junk no one would ever want. I have far too much stuff too. I feel for my poor kids when we die.

    Mostly I have junk jewelry except for two sets of real pearls and the diamonds I wear everyday.

    One of my granddaughters made me put a note in my jewelry box that she wanted all my junk jewelery when I died, but since she's now 20 with much different taste, I'm sure she won't want any of it.


  3. Misa
    Misa says:

    Wow, what a story! You have such an interesting town, Maggie. Very touching that Mrs. C–'s legacy is helping others.

  4. Dea, Kia, Jake
    Dea, Kia, Jake says:

    Susan: I'm a junker, too! Right now, I stare at a lamp from Mrs. C's house (with a lovely brass finial) and an end table I took from my neighbor's trash.

    Marilyn: I bet your granddaughter will want the jewelry, even if her taste has changed. She loves you and that's all that matters.

    Misa: I didn't realize the interesting happenings in this town until I started writing about them! Considering I only leave the attic for about an hour a week, I sure do witness some remarkable things. Maggie

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