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John Lamb, Published August 21 2013

Fargo estate sale hits close to home for planners

FARGO – Deanna Marx is on her hands and knees on the kitchen floor, pulling out pots, pans, vases and assorted cookware, frantically cleaning and organizing.

Her husband, Chuck, is in the bathroom replacing lights on the vanity.

The couple are getting ready for a stream of guests Friday morning, but they aren’t opening their own home to visitors.

For 16 years, the couple have been staging estate sales when someone needs help scaling down or after a property owner dies.

This sale hits close to home for the Marxes. Shortly after their friend and part-time employee, Lin Smithwick, died in June, her family asked Marx Estate Sales to take care of her Fargo apartment.

The sale at 310 8th St. S., Fargo, starts at 10 a.m. Friday. Entry numbers will be given out starting at 9:45 a.m. outside the apartment building.

The sale is one the couple accepted, but with some reservations.

“I am not looking forward to that one,” Deanna said in late June. “You might as well put me on the floor and kick me.”

As she got off Smithwick’s kitchen floor on Tuesday, her apprehension had only manifested.

“This is one of the hardest sales I’ve had to do,” Deanna said, walking through the two-bedroom apartment looking at her friend’s possessions.

Difficulties two-sided

The women became friends as Smithwick, a writer for the Cass County Reporter and Inspired Home, attended Marx’s sales and the two shared an appreciation for vintage goods. Two years ago, Smithwick started working sales for the couple, operating the cashbox by the door, where her outgoing personality was a perfect fit.

That was her assigned job, but Deanna said Smithwick could hardly go anywhere without bringing food. On sale days, she would load up her car with enough to feed a small army, much to the chagrin of the young men hired as moving muscle. They craved fast-food hamburgers, not hot dishes or soups.

Deanna said Smithwick brought a dish to one of the last sales she worked and put it in the oven, not noticing that the appliance was in need of cleaning.

“It wasn’t very long before smoke was pouring out of the oven,” Deanna said.

But Smithwick got the last laugh.

“It tasted good, like everything she made,” chimed in Chuck.

‘A good eye’

Besides losing a friend and a colleague, the Marxes were vexed to find certain items they remember from previous sales in Smithwick’s collections.

“Oh, there are things that still have the price tag,” Deanna said.

“She had a good eye,” Chuck added.

They found 40 bookcases in her apartment showing off more than 300 pieces of glassware and a couple hundred books. Opening up a coat closet, they even found bookcases displaying dinnerware and cooking gear.

“Was there anything blue she didn’t like?” Deanna asked, gesturing to a dining room area, the table laid out in blue stoneware. Behind it stood two matching bookcases jammed with matching cobalt blue stemware and vases. Next to them was a smaller glass-fronted cabinet with even more indigo glassware.

Smithwick’s collection also includes cut glass, pink Depression glass, mid-century bookcases, a Pennsylvania House secretary and more furniture.

To go along with the dinnerware was an impressive collection of roughly 2,000 cookbooks. One of Smithwick’s sons took 85 percent of the kitchen tomes after the funeral, but still, bookcases remained packed with recipes.

Spotting three Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks – two in the same bookcase – Deanna shrugged.

“If one is good, so are three,” she said.

“She never met a book she didn’t like,” said Smithwick’s younger sister, Rhonda Ness. “She loved cookbooks. She loved history books. She just loved owning books.”

The same was said of Smithwick’s fondness for place settings.

“She didn’t meet a set of dishes or glassware she didn’t like, either,” Ness said with a laugh. “The week before she died she just bought a set of dishes.”

Professional, compassionate

Smithwick died less than a month after discovering she had colon cancer. Her rapid decline meant she had no time to get her affairs in order or to make plans for after her passing, adding more pressure on a family just trying to cope with her loss.

While she acknowledged that everything in her late sister’s apartment had significance for the owner, Ness said after a while sorting through the place, what remained just became stuff that needed to go.

“It’s not hard seeing the belongings sold off,” she said. “What’s hard is going into the apartment. You can still smell the cooking smells, but it just didn’t have the Lin feeling there after she died. I don’t know how to explain it. It was just depressing because there was so much stuff. It was just daunting.”

Ness appreciates the service the Marx’s offer, organizing and pricing items for the sale, then taking what’s left and either seeing that it is donated to a charity or disposed of properly.

“They’re so professional and also very compassionate. They understand that people value things differently than other people. They say, ‘Take the things that are important and we’ll take care of the rest.’ That’s like the world off your shoulders,” Ness said. “They don’t get quite how grateful people are for them.”

Deanna said the hardest sale, emotionally, was for a family that had been killed in a car accident right around the holidays. When she got into the family’s house, it was frozen in time, full of cheer with Christmas decorations still up and presents still under the tree.

“It’s kind of like the archeology of a family,” Deanna said.

“That’s what makes it interesting,” added Chuck. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

John Lamb at (701) 241-5533