When we see these homes and prized collections being dismantled and dispersed, we become the last witnesses to episodes in San Francisco history. We get an intimate glimpse of the personalities that used to fill pockets of San Francisco real estate, before many of these neighborhoods became too costly for more than one privileged demographic.
Ultimately, though, we reckon with loss. Someone has died. Their family heirlooms are deracinated; a resale company makes some dough. A family grieves, and is compensated. The perpetual question that these sales seem to ask is: can we, should we, know a life by the objects left behind? When we bring an item home, we feel enriched, as if some facet of our inner world has been represented in solid substance. Yet we can't help seeing these objects as memento mori. As my husband wistfully observed: when we're gone, and after our kids have rifled through our dusty, obsolete books and tchotchkes, we'll likely have one hell of an estate sale ourselves.
Jessica C. Kraft is a San Francisco writer.