Our estate sale team, or even a portion thereof, hasn't dined out together since the great Georgetown sale of last July, when three of us shared a margarita pitcher on the patio of a Mexican restaurant near the National Cathedral, and then wobbled home full of calories, alcohol, and good cheer. Tonight, five of us girls, plus two spouses (or "spice", as I like to call them) and one mom, met at a Greek place in Rockville to share a meal and stories after what was a thoroughly pleasant, shockingly normal, sale in Chevy Chase.
Two of our colleagues shared their refugee stories...one, Sahar, worked for the US State Dept in Iran and was evacuated with her husband along with the last batch of Americans during the 1979 revolution. Thinking that the upheaval would be short-lived, they departed Tehran with only two suitcases, and made do with what they had upon resettling in DC. They were far better off in terms of being able to acclimate financially and psychologically than my other coworker, Mila, who left the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia when she was 14, after her naval officer father was accused of crimes against the state (a Muslim sailor had taken his uniform home, and when the roll was next called, both he and his whites were missing, and her father, his commanding officer, was held responsible). Mila spent two years in Italy in a concentration/displaced persons camp, a former WWII prison with thirty-foot walls. Her family survived on the food that she brought them from the local restaurant where she was allowed to work 12 hour shifts (she spoke Italian because she'd worked as a bartender from age 13 in a resort in Yugoslavia). She never told her parents about the eight rape attempts, some violent, she survived at the hands of the restaurant owner--they needed the food. She was interrogated three times by CIA officers who tried to bribe her with Hershey's chocolate bars to get her to say that her father was a communist. Eventually, in the mid-1960s, the family was sponsored to move to the US by a Catholic charity, and the six of them arrived at JFK one freezing day only to have their arrival go awry. In forty-eight hours, they endured a train ride from NYC to Cleveland, OH, in a crowded compartment without food, and when they got to Cleveland in the middle of the night the charity workers had mistaken their arrival dates, and the situation was "sorted" by them being ferried to a motel with paper-thin walls that rented rooms by the hour, where they were deposited for two days until more suitable, but still modest, accommodations could be found.
My boss shared her discovery of her father's WWII pictures in an attic trunk when she was a teenager--shots he had taken when he was part of the medical corps that went in to liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp. There were a couple of dozen--of bodies stacked like firewood, of vacant-eyed living skeletons--because, he later told her, he said he didn't believe anyone would believe him if he'd just told them about it.
There were a lot of fun, funny stories, too--the array of new bruises on my biceps were duly noted, as this morning my boss and I had together moved the world's largest and most complex doll-house out of the basement of the place where we just finished this last estate sale. A woman had put in a bid of $400 on the $900 4' (wide) x 3' (high) x 2.5' (deep) dwelling and it was accepted, and at noon today she came to get it. She was a little fluttery sixtyish retiree and not much good in the lifting department. The bloody two-storey house weighed only about 50 pounds, but with its dimensions it was a bear to shift, and there was only one exit from the basement. I was on the bottom as my boss and I hefted it up the narrow stairs, above the banisters. When she was able to put her end down on the ground floor we discovered that due to the front gable the house was too wide to go through the frame without taking the basement door off its hinges, and I, the designated remover and installer of doors, was stuck in the basement, half-under the dollhouse, trying to keep it from traveling rapidly and uncontrollably back down the stairs. My boss, her dog, and her kindly but somewhat hard of hearing and not exceptionally technically-minded octogenarian husband were all upstairs. The two humans started fiddling with the hinges, with mixed success, she wielding a hammer and screwdriver on the pins, and he attempting to steady the door (actually rocking to various acute angles, which caused the dollhouse to shift unnervingly).
Meanwhile, Bernie, the art dealer I work for most Mondays, had come over to get the few remaining pieces he had consigned with us for the sale, and seeing the difficulties, offered to help me by steadying the doll house from above. My bosses dog--a mild animal affectionate toward most bipeds, who for some reason hates Bernie with unfathomable loathing (Bernie is one of the sweetest guys on the planet, and has done nothing to deserve this irrational doggy distrust, but there you are)--began growling deep and low at him just inches from his pant leg. I had a vivid flash of a headline: Dog Bites Man: Woman Crushed to Death By Dollhouse. But at last the bottom hinge yielded its pin and we were able to slide the house out into the ground floor hall. It took all four of us--my boss, her husband, Bernie and me--to get the damn thing into its new owner's SUV, but we managed it at last. I look like I am in a relationship with an abusive extraterrestrial or a mad musician composing a trumpet fanfare--there are half a dozen circular bruises stepped along my right upper arm.
I managed to make it to church Sunday morning before work. We read the whole of Romans 8, and the sermon was on the question of How Can a Just God Allow Suffering. I've been hugely weepy lately, though the usual menstrual hormones aren't to blame. I did want to have children, and although there are many times that I am grateful that I don't have to deal with the pain, sleeplessness and irritation the little creatures inevitably cause, so often the last couple of weeks, while rejoicing in the safe arrival and welcome growth of several small honorary relatives, the fact that I can't be a Mommy is a circumstance with which it is hard to deal. It's not as if I were a missionary or a brilliant scientist or even a writer whose contributions to humanity in a spiritual, material or intellectual sense offset my lack of offspring. Besides, I have such a crabbed and twisted little soul, so easily moved to almost murderous anger by insults to my cherished integrity and precarious financial state, as I've been reminded over this month. It's amazing how quickly I am to curse people (at least internally) when they slander or threaten me, how slow I am to forgive. Not Godly at all. If I had been through only a tenth of what my (non-Christian) colleagues have endured, would I have the wherewithal to stand it? Definitely a prayer request.