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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Auctions, an Exercise in Living

Saturday we went to an auction. An older couple had moved into a retirement home and had to scale back on their possessions. One of my wife's coworkers, her friend at work, told her about it. Since we had never been to an auction we thought it sounded like fun. Everything is an adventure if you do it properly. 

We got up early, not too early, not early at all, really. Stopped at Panera for a cheese pastry, for me, a pecan braid, for her, but she let me have part of it, she is pretty good to me, and a medium coffee, for me. And we were on the road, pastries and drinks in hand. In what has to be considered an auspicious start we didn't get lost. In fact, we only had to turn around twice, and only for a block both times.

It was a pleasant drive. Rain had turned everything a healthy, vibrant green. Corn stood tall, cows chased their calfs playfully across idealic pastures, playing in ways that I never imagined cows playing. Crops, barns, country churches, old graveyards filled with stories, stories lost forever. 

Before we left rain barreled through, lightning, thunder, wind, wet, ominous, and loud, soaking everything. Then it was mostly done. The clouds hung around sprinkling and threatening, but behaving. There was enough early rain that almost everything was wet. Boxes of soggy books, albums, towels, linens, Christmas decorations, lined up from front to back. Two lines of failing cardboard waiting to be snapped up, loaded in cars or trucks. There were even a few people who towed flat cargo trailers. Serious about auctions.

We ran into my wife’s freind, and my wife’s friend’s wife, if you see what I mean. Wonderful people, kind, charming. People who make you feel welcome.  In a way, even though I hardly know them, this is the first time I had met his wife, it seems as though they are my friends, too.

There is a magic in the sound of an auctioneers call. The cadence, the rhythm, the intonation, it is mesmerizing. When you mix it with a sense of humor it is a show worth seeing. This auctioneer was exceptional, and it was fun watching him, working the crowd, singing the numbers, bouncing the bids backs and forth, art, for arts sake, or for the sake of the sale. I bid on a few things just for the fun of being involved.

In the air a hint of celebration mixed with the thick humidity. Laughter and conversation competeing with low, distant rumbling thunder. People clustered in little clots, smiling, sharing a memory. A concession stand had been set up in the garage, and business was brisk. It had an amazing variety of food, none of it healthy, but all of it looked good. It seemed everywhere you looked people were finishing a sandwich, or piece of pie. It could have been a county fair on a reduced scale, county fair light. 

Not all the conversations were pleasant, some were darker, rumors of anger, mistrust, potentially shady practices. Many of these people traveled the same auction circuit. They knew each other, and as is so often the case familiarity breeds contempt. Nothing can sour a relationship like a little healthy competition, and an auction is fast, furious competition. Serious business for many, perhaps stocking a thrift store, a casual sideline for some, stocking up on goods for a yard sale, a chance to make a little money for most. Not for me, though, I was only a tourist, a voyeur. 

And, here is what I saw, years of hard work, a couple's life, at least a good portion of it, was laid out, on plastic tables, under tarps, exposed to a bizarre, violent mid summer thunder storm. Examined, picked over, rifled through, judged for resale value, and finally bid on. Some lucky enterprising soul would take home a box or two of carefully accumulated memories.

These two people had raised a family, lived a life, traveled, read, listened to music, sought spiritual fulfillment, and now their life was boxed up, or laid out on tables, marginally protected against the sudden, unforgiving rain. Tools, household goods, utensils, bedding accumulated over years gone in a day. Carried off, a modern day tempest scattering a life time to the far reaches of the county. 

I didn't buy anything, nor did my wife. Well, I bought a coney dog, my wife bought a piece of apple crumb pie, and we split a bottle of water. Actually we split the pie, too. My wife is nice that way. We didn't stay for the whole thing, but we were there long enough to understand the finality of the occasion. Possessions sold, house sold, truck, off road vehicle, golf cart all sold, a life lived and the remnants off to start over with a different family.

Redistribution at the micro economic level. Who knows where the tools, trinkets, comforters, video tapes will end up. One box of memories could be split into a fifty pieces, sold to forty different people and end up in another state. Maybe traveling to another country. It is Newton's law of motion. And object at rest tends to stay at rest an object in motion ends up almost anywhere. 

It was fun, and it was a little melancholy. And it offered some reassurance, things come and things go, life goes on. All sales are final, and there is no warranty, life comes as is, as do we.