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I faced an unexpected bout of nostalgia and heartache this weekend. And of all places, at a yard sale that we helped host. Last week Matt and I worked hard together to go through a portion of my storage unit in efforts to supply some good toward a yard sale in Mahwah, NJ. We picked up some pieces of my furniture, all my VHS tapes left from Trenton, a couple DVDs, audio books that will never be listened to again, and other things. There were two pieces of furniture I wasn't sure about getting rid of, but I took them anyway - a chair from my maternal grandmother's house and a little, tiny bookshelf from my paternal grandparents' house (sticker still on the bottom from my dad). I have had those two pieces of furniture for at least 20 years myself, and the little bookshelf has been in my family for at least 90, if not over 100 years. Both of them might not actually be antiques, but they're a part of my heritage, and that fact and their nostalgia didn't hit me until I was at the yard sale and a gentleman came up to buy the shelves. I told him the story of the shelves:

The shelves had been with me in every college dorm room, and apartment I'd had since I left home, but had been in my childhood bedrooms as well. I can't remember any place those shelves had been other than around me pretty much all my life. They actually represented my love of books, and I typically placed them next to the head of my bed. They were at the head of my bed for the 10 years leading up to my move up to northern NJ with Matthew. I told the guy that I'm sure my grandfather on my dad's side probably had something to do with them being built; after all we are related to the Thomasvilles (of Thomasville Furniture), and my grandfather had a factory once making coat stands.

The gentleman thanked me for the story, said he wanted to refinish them noting that the nails in the shelves were quite old, gave me $2 for them, and walked away to come back later to pick them up. I turned to walk back to my post and immediately lost it. I was overcome with anxiety and nostalgia, sadness and grief, and immediately missed the shelves, even though they weren't gone. Even as I write this tears are welling up in my eyes over those little shelves. They are material things, both the shelves and the chair, but they mean the world to me: they remind me of my family, my heritage, and my childhood, are parts of my personal history.

Matt was so sweet; he came over and said, "Honey, are you OK? What happened?" I could barely recount the events to him through my tears and being upset, but I did. He said, "Well, if they're causing you this much heartache, give the guy back his money when he comes back, and tell him you can't sell them. Then put a big sign on them that says, 'Not for Sale'. You can keep them; in fact, bring them home and let's put them somewhere you will see them every day." That made me cry even harder, but quietly. That was such a special moment, especially since he and his sister three weeks before sold the contents of his mother's house out of a storage unit to save money. They both had to get rid of a house full of stuff that reminded them of home, security, family, good times, and simple times - much like my chair and little shelves.

At that moment, I didn't care how much it cost to keep those two little pieces of furniture, and I still don't. By the time the guy returned, I had spoken to my sister and she couldn't believe that I would try to sell those things given how much they mean to me; she also let me know of a couple of times that she had accidentally given something away that would be truly mediocre in the eyes of any collector or art gallery: a hand print bowl from my dad that she and he had made together when she was a little girl. She has no idea where it got to, but is pretty sure that it went to charity at one point. To this day she feels bad and deeply regretful that it's gone, and wanted to save me that pain and regret.

When the guy returned, I explained the situation and gave him his money back (which being a salesman in these situations, I hated doing, but would have hated worse the outcome of not doing it!). He understood completely and agreed with me saying, "Our families and memories are important! If we don't have them, what have we got?!" I thanked him (behind slowly welling joyful tears) and took my shelves and chair back to the back of our spot to write up two "Not for Sale" signs.


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Stephen Lambeth

May 2017

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