Let’s begin with the confession that I don’t like rummage sales, and other people’s stuff in large quantities on big tables with everyone shuffling through it for a good deal. It gives me the hives. Stay with me, because this ends with a story to make Antique Road Show fans swoon.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for recycling, reusing, and sharing treasures and finding the saucer to match your set and the slicing attachment (brand new, never used!) for your Kitchen Aid mixer that you never knew you needed. The books! Who doesn’t love used books? Especially when there are notes in the margins? Besides, the Hospice of Haines Annual Rummage Sale last weekend was a huge success: we raised about 14,000 dollars from two barns worth of community rummage. The down side was that yesterday we took several truckloads to the dump, and that sort of explains why I have an Ansel Adams photography book in my car. It would have been a sin to toss it onto a pile of garbage. This all makes me think very hard about what I need, and what I don’t, and consumption and waste. I know I’m as much a part of this problem as anyone. But still. It’s hard on the heart. There’s just too much stuff in our lives –and closets and basements.

So, not to leave you crying, here is a great rummage story:

One huge benefactor of Hospice, and of Haines in general, left Hospice of Haines the contents of her home when she moved to assisted living. I was Lucy’s deckhand on an Inside Passage cruise in her old tug when she was in her 80s and still running the boat. We motored from Haines to Ketchikan. There was a lot of time to visit. I heard about her childhood in Connecticut, her father’s home in France,  the yacht they sailed through the Panama Canal, and I knew that she was related to the Cabots of the old rhyme, “In Boston the land of the cod, the Cabots speak to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God.” 

Which all is to say, that while Lucy is as unassuming as they come, even by Haines standards– she is a Carhart overalls, sweatshirt, and a pork pie cap kind of gal– and her home was a very modest log cabin, there could be treasures in the boxes from her boat shed. As we moved them to the trucks to haul to the sale site at the Fairgrounds, we also checked the contents to be sure it would sell. No stains, no mold, no old family pictures (I hated tossing the boxes of slides–) “And look,” I called to the other volunteers, “pictures of the chateau, and of boarding school, and..” more. They teased me and said to keep moving, and quit looking at everything too closely. “These spoons are silver,” I said, and separated them from the stainless to give to Jean, who supervises the jewelry and valuables table at the sale. “These are definitely not destined for beach picnic ware.” That picnic basket might be, though, except it’s kind of small. It would be nice for my granddaughter’s doll dishes. I couldn’t get it open, there were these sticks and loops on the lid that wouldn’t budge, and one of the guys rolled his eyes and said to quit fiddling with it, as time is a-wasting.

It was heavier than an empty basket, and why was it so hard to open?

Inside was a little bottle of Remy Marten Champagne cognac.

It was a cold and windy day, and we were all tired from moving so much junk, and someone had opened a bag of chips, and when I showed everyone the bottle, Mike said, “Let’s have a nip” and everyone laughed, Kip’s eyes twinkled, Tim said wait until we are done at least (he is a retired schoolteacher.) I looked at it and thought… maybe?

  It had been a long afternoon and we still had the rummage sale to come over the weekend. 

“We can’t sell liquor can we?” I said. Plus it may be valuable, “I mean, Remy Marten, the box, the old label…” and Lucy’s story could make all of that and more possible. So we agreed that Beth and Gregg would take it home and look on the internet and see what they could learn. That night we discovered that “holy cow” and “OMG” — it was worth at least 1,000 dollars, maybe four! By the next day the value climbed. It was a gift to Lucy on her 25th birthday, in 1946 we think, from the owner of Remy Marten, a family friend. It’s from a numbered, limited, special batch (or whatever you call related cognac bottles.)   After talking to Lucy, and some more sleuthing and contacts with Remy Martin, Gregg now thinks it could be worth over 10,000.  Or not? (We are still figuring all of this out.)

“What if we had opened it?” I asked Beth as we walked on the beach.

“We’d know what a couple-grand tastes like.”

Then we agree, that it doesn’t really matter what happens with the bottle, the money earned from the sale will go to a good cause, and besides, on a May morning in Haines, when the eulachon are running, and the gulls and terns fill the air like noisy confetti, the sea lions roar, a whale breaches and flops on its back, and a crow flies by with an old apple in it’s mouth, we are rich. Filthy rich.