I am standing next to an old man in a small bedroom. His clothes are too big for him and his face looks tired. The two of us are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of a small card table. Spread out across the table are an industrial stapler, two pairs of scissors, a basket full of sewing accessories, and several piles of fabric.
“My wife restores furniture,” says the old man before quickly correcting himself. “Used to.”
I nod, nervously slipping my hands into my pockets. Before I can say anything — what is there to say? — my wife comments on a set of fancy dinner glasses she previously saw in the kitchen, and I use her discovery to slip out of the room, escaping the awkwardness.
Estate sales always make me uncomfortable. There’s a somber mood that surrounds them. Everybody knows why people have them, and yet we still go. While shopping, I literally feel like a graverobber, swooping in to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune.
Oh, right. Her name was Mimi, or at least that’s what they called her, and she had just celebrated her 80th birthday. I pick up bits and pieces of conversations between family members as I move around her former home, rifling through her possessions. She liked to travel, and bought a coffee table book everywhere she went. She liked watching football, and playing golf. And, she restored furniture.
While respectfully browsing Mimi’s belongings, I think about my own. Exactly one year ago, I bought a new house. Due to a series of events, most of my retro collectibles are still currently in storage. In my garage, four large moving boxes labeled “LUNCHBOXES” are stacked in one corner. Next to them is a plastic tub labeled “VHS TAPES 4.” A 10’x10’ storage unit a couple of miles from my house currently holds most of my Star Wars collection. It makes me sad, to own these things but not have them out on display, where I can see and enjoy them. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to all the things I’ve amassed when I inevitably join Mimi.
On a small shelf crowded with knick-knacks, I spot him — E.T. I used to have one just like this when I was a kid. They were released by LJN in 1982, along with a dozen other E.T. figures. His arms rotate and bend at the elbows, but the real action comes when the tab sticking out of his back is slid up and down, which extends and retracts E.T.’s neck. Fully extended, the neck adds about half an inch to E.T.’s total height. Like all good action figures, this one came with an accessory — a tiny Speak and Spell, just like the one E.T. used in the movie to phone home. Unlike the one in the movie, this one is molded from plastic the same color as E.T., which says less about Speak and Spells than it does LJN’s budget.
I have no idea why Mimi owned an E.T. action figure from 1982. Maybe she bought it for one of her children, or grandchildren, or maybe somebody who loved E.T. gave it to her. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know the story, but what I do know is, when you find an E.T. action figure on sale for fifty cents, you buy it.
While most of my vintage collectibles must remain in storage for a few more months, I now have a wrinkly co-pilot with me. E.T. stands just a few inches away from my computer’s mouse, looking up at me with his intergalactic gaze and his lipstick-red heartlight. I don’t have room to unpack everything yet, but with Mimi’s E.T. here, I have enough smiles and memories to get me through.
Thanks to Mimi and E.T., and most of all to Vic Sage for having me back.