Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop
What makes any of us acquire so many things? This pesky question resurfaced as I rummaged through accumulated items once deemed priceless treasures.
The occasion was preparing for the semi-annual (spring) Belmont Estates yard sale. This seminal event, a cross between a street market and a family reunion, still amazes me even though we’ve occupied the same single-story dwelling in this sprawling development west of Harrisonburg for 36 years.
(When we moved here, Belmont consisted of the unpaved street we live on; Flint Avenue was a dirt road that dissolved into a cornfield).
I pulled articles gleaned from various spots in our house and storage shed to display to unsuspecting potential buyers; the resulting collection resembled the discount section of an electronics outlet – two retired stereo systems, miniature radios that I couldn’t resist buying but never needed, a set of speakers and volumes of vinyl, albums and 45 records from those halcyon days before anyone envisioned the digital age.
I also tried to sell a goldfish tank with accessories after long-time fantail companion Garfunkel went belly up.
Several days of cool, cloudy weather that continued into Saturday morning didn’t seem to hamper turnout. Persons started arriving at dawn’s early light and hovered over displays before we finished setting up tables. I was pleased to sell both stereo systems, a number of albums – and yes, even the fish tank, but most of the 45-rpm discs were returned to storage, while other unsold commodities will wind up at Gift and Thrift or Goodwill.
In the aftermath, the question bears repeating: Why do we acquire so many things and then cling to them as if our very lives depended on them? Amid the hustle and good-natured banter and bartering of the morning, as people scrutinized items and made counter offers on items already a bargain (defined as something no one really needs but buys anyway), I thought several times of my last visit with my 85-year-old mom in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Images of her sitting contentedly in her chair in her Spartan living space contrasted sharply with the yard sale commotion and “stuff” changing hands. Today, I visualize Mom in her small but cozy living space at Rockhill Mennonite Community in southeastern Pennsylvania and what worldly possessions she has are right there, mostly photographs, mementos and other items of sentimental value.
Even the bed, nightstand, chair and TV set don’t belong to her. Practically everything else she once owned has been given to us siblings or to consignment.
Laying up treasures on Earth “where moth and rust doth corrupt,” seeking after material things that don’t bring lasting happiness – somehow those acquisition efforts once deemed so essential have lost some of their appeal. Recognizing that reality and reexamining priorities accordingly as we grow older help keep many aspects of life in perspective.
Some years ago, Mom had each of us siblings go through the house and identify items that we’d like to have someday. We did so, and now, certain household items grace our home, reminding me of my parents and of our good family times growing up.
I know that seeing our enjoyment also gave them much satisfaction. But what is ever more valuable, to me, is the unqualified love, support and encouragement that I’ve felt from my parents – from Dad, who’s gone now – and from Mom, all the days of my life.
In contrast to yard sales, there’s no putting a marked-down price tag on these possessions.
Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.