We were a fairly young family with two daughters, ages 8 and 5. This was our first big move, leaving friends, family and a comfortable home in the north for unknown circumstances in a state as far south as one could go. Almost everything was unfamiliar. All our belongings were packed into two trailers for the trip. My parents helped us move by towing one trailer and we pulled the other one behind our van. I remember the end of that long trip – I was driving in the early morning on the interstate and hit an armadillo. It was our introduction to Florida.
After our first day of resting in a motel, our Realtor helped us to a temporary furnished apartment near the famous Siesta Beach with it’s wide, white sand beaches. We found a storage facility and unloaded pretty nearly all our earthly possessions into two rented rooms to await the new house I was sure we would find within a short time. We weren’t wealthy but we were blessed with enough. Our “things” were dear to us, having either been received as wedding gifts or handed down as heirlooms from both sides of our families. We had only some clothing and personal items with us in the apartment.
A week and a few days later we went back to the storage facility to get something we needed. I walked down the second story corridor to the rooms at the end and tried to figure out why the door on one of our rooms was standing open. I looked in the empty room and tried to tell myself there had been a mistake. Was I somehow in the wrong building? the wrong corridor? What could this mean? I was in a state of repressed panic. I tried to remember all the things we had put in that room but it was impossible – there was too much. My grandmother’s china cupboard, our best (only) dishes and flatware, our few pieces of art, clothing, my precious knitting machine I had worked so hard to buy… where was it all?
As the next hour unfolded we learned the truth about what had happened that was stranger than anything I could have made up. It took a while to figure out because, at first, the owners of the storage facility were clueless and defensive. Gradually putting it all together, this is how it came about. Previous to our arrival, the now empty storage room had been rented to a customer who was delinquent in paying. The manager had put an overlock on the room and notified the person that they had X number of days to pay or the contents of their room would belong to the storage facility. Sometime before that deadline, the customer managed to get in the facility, remove the overlock and get all their belongings out without the manager knowing about it.
I entered the story. Having been sent up to inspect the building where I was told there were two empty rooms, I saw two rooms, adjacent to each other, empty with the doors standing open. They looked the right size and we paid for them and filled them up. I don’t remember even looking at the numbers on the doors. There were actually three empty rooms off that corridor, one that I didn’t know about. It’s door was closed and I didn’t even notice it. Unfortunately that was one of the two rooms the manager thought we had rented. The third room, now full of our things, was the one that had belonged to the deliquent customer. And now the deadline had come.
The customary action when the account for a storage room is delinquent is to offer the contents for auction, hoping to recover the delinquent payments (think Storage Wars on reality TV). Our belongings were bought, sight unseen, by a business that accumulated goods from estate sales and storage units and then held a weekly auction on a Friday night. We learned this on the Saturday after our things had been auctioned. We were allowed to go through their warehouse and look for anything we recognized that hadn’t been sold. We bought back the wooden highchair that had been mine as a child. We found our family picture albums in their trash. There was nothing else. We were devastated. Although they knew names and addresses of those they had sold to, they would not release any of that information to us.
We felt it was a shared mistake, and attempted to collect damages from the storage company. Because we had no receipts for the missing items and no appraisals of the furniture and antiques, we were told that legal precedent would be against us. We would be better off to accept a small settlement rather than take the matter to court and get nothing. Our lawyer felt so sorry for us he did not charge us for his services. That was the only overt blessing that I’ve ever been able to recognize concerning this event.
Did life go on? Yes, of course. But there are differences since then. I wish I could say that I learned never to make a quick decision, always to check every transaction thoroughly – but that hasn’t always been the case. What did change was that I hold loosely to “things”, in order that they might not get a grip on my heart. I’ve bought very little furniture, invested very little in things that might fit into a packing box, spent more time in Goodwill, second hand shops and garage sales for the things I do need. I’m not sure I understand why God allowed this to happen at a time when so many other difficult things were also taking place, but He did. I think I will understand it better some time in the future. And I’ve never given up hope that some day, in some backwoods antique shop, I might see Grandma’s china cupboard again. I’m just sayin’ it would be kind of like God to do that…