News Flash: Peggy’s winners are Grace Koshida, Kay Garrett, and ginnyjc. Ladies, please check your email, and congratulations!
Edith writing from north of Boston, where we’re getting a real taste of pre-Spring.
And I’m thrilled to welcome fellow Kensington author Peggy Ehrhart, who has a new mystery out.
Here’s the blurb: When a professor is poisoned, Pamela Paterson and the members of the Knit and Nibble knitting club must take a crash course in solving his mysterious murder. Pamela has organized a weekend-long knitting bee as part of a conference on fiber arts and crafts at Wendelstaff College. But when pompous Professor Robert Greer-Gordon Critter, the keynote speaker at the conference, crashes the bee, he seems more interested in flirting than knitting. The man’s reputation as a philanderer supersedes his academic reputation. After coffee and cookies are served, the professor suddenly collapses, seemingly poisoned—but how? Everyone had the coffee and cookies. Joined by her bestie Bettina and the Knit and Nibble ladies, Pamela sorts through everything from red socks to red herrings to unravel the means and motives of a killer dead set on teaching the professor a lesson . . .
I can almost hear their voices: Please rescue me and take me home with you!
Like my sleuth, Pamela Paterson, I find it hard to resist tag sales, thrift shops, charity bazaars—any place where cast-off treasures can be found. Estate sales are my latest passion. These sales, usually involving the entire contents of a house after the death of its owner, are now officially a thing, to judge by an article in a recent issue of the New Yorker (7 January 2022).
A website has sprung up—estatesales.net—on which one can search by zip code for estate sales in one’s area. In pre-internet days, a house’s contents would have gone to relatives, an auction house, dealers in used goods, or thrift shops. Now the first step in clearing out a house is often to hire an estate sale company—of which there are many. I’m coming to recognize the major operators in my part of New Jersey, and I’m sure they all recognize me as a regular.
The household goods don’t have to be grand. In fact they can be quite humble—but a house inhabited by the same people for twenty, forty, or sixty years can yield up items that are now quite collectible, like these vintage tablecloths.
Or antique children’s books.
Some sales are elegantly organized, with items displayed on tables and clothes racks and plenty of room to move around and examine the wares. Others take place in the houses of people who were clearly hoarders, and the sale operators simply open the doors and stand back. Showing up after the sale has been going on for a while one is confronted with a scene as if a tornado had blown through, with clothes, shoes, books, pots and pans, and anything else one can imagine intermingled on beds, tables, counters, and the floor.
I sometimes feel like an intruder, glimpsing the private aspects of a person’s life. One time I noticed papers in an open drawer. I pulled them out and discovered a report from a private detective apparently hired to investigate the deceased’s husband.
Usually items aren’t marked with prices, except in cases where the homeowners had accumulated items of genuine value. The shopper simply browses, picking up things and making a pile in an out-of-the-way place. The sale operator names a price for the whole pile and one can bargain if one wishes. I’ve come away with piles of goodies for as little as five or ten dollars. Sometimes they are things I never knew I needed.
But sometimes they are useful—at least if one has an occasion to serve pickles.
The deceased homeowner is most often a woman, the husband having passed on years earlier. And if she lived into her eighties or beyond, she was of a generation for whom sewing and other handicrafts weren’t just a hobby but a necessity. It’s not unusual to find one of those sewing machines that was actually a piece of furniture, taking its place in a sewing room equipped with carefully organized thread in every color, bins of buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, packets of rickrack and seam binding, lengths of fabric bought but never used.
Even more common is evidence that the homeowner knitted or crocheted. I’ve been fascinated by granny-square afghans ever since, as a child, I admired one that my grandmother made. Hers was the style I’ve always thought of as classic, with the squares crocheted from random colors of yarn, even several colors to a square. This was obviously a frugal way to use up odds and ends of yarn, just like patchwork quilts use up odds and ends of cloth. But each square was edged in black, an effect that gave coherence to the design.
My grandmother’s afghan eventually came to me, and I’ve augmented my granny-square afghan collection with others found at estate sales. Just last week I went to an estate sale in a small, very old, house. The second floor had been emptied of nearly everything—most of the action was happening in the downstairs rooms, where sixty years of bric-a-brac had been laid out on long tables. But I ventured upstairs. A small curtainless room was empty except for a large cardboard box. Spilling out of the box were a few afghans, obviously handmade. One of them was this.
My first thought was Oh, my goodness! But then I reflected that, eccentric as it was, someone had put hours and hours and hours into making it—and what would happen to it if I didn’t take it home?
Readers: What’s your favorite rescued treasure, from whatever source? I’ll send three commenters a copy of the new book (US and Canada only)!
Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor who currently writes the Knit & Nibble mystery series for Kensington. The eighth book in the series, Death of a Knit Wit, has just been released. Her amateur sleuth, Pamela Paterson, is the founder of the Knit & Nibble knitting club, and Peggy herself is a devoted crafter. Visit her at www.PeggyEhrhart.com