Snapshots by Gloria Freeland -- Feb. 15, 2008
I try to avoid auctions for I know all too well how tempted I am to buy something that I neither need nor have room for. But I attended Aunt Edith's auction last weekend to give her moral support since her son Ron and daughter Linda couldn't be there and to see if I might discover some "treasure" that reminded me of her and Uncle Bud or of my grandparents.
Edith decided soon after our December ice storm that she was tired of the hassles associated with owning a home. Never one to dally, in two months she found an apartment, sold her house and began the process of deciding what to keep and what to let go from a lifetime of acquisitions.
On Saturday, Mom, husband Art and I arrived in time to check out the auction items at the Morris County 4-H Building. Edith was sitting near the food booth, chatting with others who had come for the auction. We greeted her and then wound our way around the tables.
Art spent most of his time with the piles of old books and the tools. Mom saw Ron's toy John Deere combine and said we should get that for my brother Dave for Christmas. A 1910 graduation leaflet for the Sunflower School, District 65 also caught Mom's eye as something she could include in her history of rural Morris County schools. I checked out the dishes - even though I have more than I can use right now.
Then Art, Mom and I slipped into front-row seats just before the auction began.
The whole operation appeared to be a family business. While some members walked up and down the rows selecting items and holding them high for all to see, two auctioneers alternated rattling off prices into the microphone. Others recorded the items, the winning bids and who had made them.
Despite having heard auctioneers many times before, I was impressed by how their clipped words were understandable, yet had an almost musical quality. At times, I found my toe tapping to the rhythm of one auctioneer's words and could almost imagine him saying, "Swing your partner, dosey do."
It was fun to see what others were interested in. The man beside me and several others in the crowd bid solely on collectible farm toys. Ron's John Deere combine went for $200 and a corn picker went for $240 - too high for Mom's and my budgets.
I had a moment of weakness and bid $5 on a plastic bag full of Cracker Jack toys. They took me back to my childhood when sister Gaila and I buried a bunch of Cracker Jack and bubble-gum machine toys inside a coffee can in our front yard. We never retrieved them and I've wondered about them all these years. Luckily, someone outbid me. I don't really need any more small objects in my home.
The woman next to Art was interested in Christmas items. She paid $55 for an aluminum silver Christmas tree and around $20 for a couple of bags of mis-matched ornaments.
Art was amazed that someone paid good money for a hem marker.
"I don't think anyone even sews now, do they?" he asked.
I surmised that the woman was either a seamstress or collects items related to sewing because she ended up with several pin cushions, too.
A set of seven Rudyard Kipling books went for $32.50, a collection of grade school readers brought $40 and four 1915 Tarzan books went for $52.50. Mom's school leaflet went with a group of miscellaneous Council Grove/Morris County items that fetched $27.50. She immediately approached the man who won and asked if she could have the leaflet for a dollar. He countered that he thought it was worth $2. Without missing a beat, she handed him two bills from her purse and carefully put her purchase in an envelope.
The guns brought the best money. Ron's mint-condition Red Ryder BB gun went for $200. Mom leaned over and whispered, "I'll bet Ron and Dave used it to go frog hunting." I smiled, imagining my 60-something brother and our cousin as young boys out on the creek.
The steel bed and the brass bed my grandparents brought with them from Colorado also made Edith a bit richer.
When the auctioneers began grouping odds and ends together and asked people whether they'd be willing to spend $3 on anything on the table, I picked Ron's honorary fraternity paddle - complete with signatures of other members of the Alpha Zeta group.
Later, the three of us and Aunt Edith went to her apartment and talked for a while. Then we headed back to Manhattan along the back roads of the Flint Hills. The day, with its bright-blue sky and balmy temperatures, had been an enjoyable one.
But it was a bit melancholy as well. Items gathered over more than a lifetime would now be starting a new life with someone else. Yet that was far better than having them end up in the trash. And the auctioneer's "dosey do" gave them that new life.