Sunday, May 07, 2017

An estate sale for Arthur Atwood, a neighbor I never knew

Needing TLC on the outside, Arthur Atwood's house, built in 1830, had family treasure inside.
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When I was a kid growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, my parents often took my brother, sister and me to antique shops and flea markets on weekends. A history geek from a young age,  I never really minded examining old stuff. Mom would prowl through shelves and obscure corners, sometimes snatching up a dish, bowl or goblet for 5 or 10 or 20 bucks. Some of the newly purchased "antiques" would find a home in the tall, brown china cabinet in the corner of our small dining room. Dad died last July and Mom now lives in an assisted-living center, so many of those long-ago finds have been scattered into the winds. Some were scooped up by family members, others sold for pennies on the dollar at a spring estate sale.

Arthur Atwood died on Nov. 10, 2016. He was 83.
(Carmon Community Funeral Homes)
I'm a sucker for estate sales myself, so when I saw signs touting one Saturday at an old house 175 yards from where we live, I naturally stopped to check it out. I had driven, walked or rode my bike past the two-story, frame structure thousands of times since we moved to New England more than 10 years ago. Dark-red paint peeling on its exterior, the house peeks from behind overgrown shrubbery and trees that sorely need to be trimmed. Ivy climbs to the second-floor windows.

From the outside, at least, nothing is lovely about this place along busy Lovely Street.

But treasure was found inside the early 19th-century house with the creaky, original floors and ancient, wood beams.

An antique grandfather clock for $1,200, surely worth more.

An early 20th-century guide to London.

A musty military uniform, looking almost forlorn on a bed in a tiny upstairs bedroom.

And, sadly, what appeared to be a family photo album on the floor near a bookcase.

In this lithograph, Civil War sailors struggle to control a cannon in a storm. This is one
of six lithographs I bought at Arthur Atwood's estate sale.
As 15 or so bargain-hunters pawed through items downstairs, I made an interesting discovery in a second-floor room only steps from the narrow staircase: six mounted, full-color lithographs of Civil War naval scenes. One depicted the ironclad Weehawken tossed about by ocean waves, another a dozen or so sailors' futile attempt to control a massive cannon on the deck of a steamer during a storm. For $40, I considered the finds a bargain.

All this treasure once belonged to Arthur Atwood, a neighbor I never knew or even recall seeing. He died last November. He was 83.

Arthur served in the Air Force Chaplain Corps during the Korean War. A member of the local opera, he liked the arts and was active in civic affairs. For 40 years, he was manager of a furniture store.

"Arthur embraced every occasion with passion and gusto," his online obituary noted. He sang God Bless America  every Monday at a senior center. He apparently was a great cook, often serving meals to friends.

"Graced with a wonderful sense of humor and unbounded creativity," according to his obituary, "Arthur brought light to his entire circle of friends. He lived his life to fulfill his heartfelt promise to God which was always 'to do for others with love.' " Arthur was survived by a woman named Laurie, his companion and best friend for 40 years.

As I left Arthur's house with my Civil War prints, part of me felt guilty. What am I doing with this man's stuff? But judging from what little I know about the neighbor I never met, I'd like to think he's smiling somewhere.

Belated Godspeed, Mr. Atwood.

A lithograph of the ironclad Weehawken tossed about by ocean waves.

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