Here in southwest Ohio, cold autumn Saturdays are not just for the tailgating football fan. When auction sounds resonate through the crisp air and leaves rustle with the shuffling of hundreds of pairs of feet over yesterday’s ground, auction goers gather moments of times present and past, meld them together and wait for the auctioneer’s first gavel strike and cry to start the bidding.
I bid wildly, unabashed with an inner satisfaction that whatever I want I can have, that is, if the other bidders give up and do not want the box or china piece or tattered book as much as I do. But I wasn’t always like that.
The first auction I went to was local, for a long-time Medway, Ohio, family I went to school with. An antique cookbook listed was my reason for going. I was scared to think what might happen if I let my hand get above my elbow.
My auction mentor, Fran, whispered me through the first moments of realization that I could, in fact, be accountable for a mightily high sum if I wasn’t careful.
I came home that day with money in my pocket, the prized cookbook and a niggling feeling that there was more to this bidding thing than just a one-item sale. For the next couple of auctions I dove pell-mell into the proceedings with the same nervous freedom but slightly different results. Days after those auctions I could be found sitting on the tailgate, sorting through boxes, bagging up the discards and carrying in a few cherished items deemed important enough to keep. Auctioneers loved me for I could not pass up the jumbled-together “boxed lots.”
There are two kinds of auction attendees. There are the straight-laced, stand-in-one-place, on-a-mission ladies and gentlemen who are only there in reference to a listed piece (like me at that first auction). Perhaps the gold rose broach will complete their party ensemble. Two Gutta Persha photo frames will go well in the entry hall. Or a Duncan Phyffe mahogany drop-leaf table and sideboard with eight chairs are just the pieces for the new great room furnished in time for the holidays. Please don’t get me wrong. These bidders are OK. They just stand out like a 5-legged oak table and are there and gone quicker than an Alis Chalmers tractor.
Now I’m part of the group that carries lawn chairs and coffee as we greet familiar faces with a smile, finding a good spot for the entire day. We’re more like the “other miscellaneous glass not listed.” We are there to satisfy our curiosity and bidding addiction. We don’t always know what’s in the box we bid on. It matters not, for our purpose is to be an intimate part of the auction, listening intently to the rattles of numbers and the lighthearted kibitzing of the auctioneer, watching the faces of opposing bidders, mentally working the dollars in our pockets into flicks of our number cards.
And when it is all over we are satisfied and happy. We spend a little money, collect a bit of nostalgia and win the final gavel sound. But there is even more to it, for I have found quality pieces of old neighborhoods, telltale signs of local history, and a few rare pieces of my own past.
Nowhere else have I found so intense a mingling of excitement and nostalgia tinged with a great deal of sadness as I found at my own mother’s estate auction. I learned that auctions are never, ever about just one person. The auctioneer’s ad may list one owner but nothing could be further from the truth.
Belongings of a loved one are part of many lives. My mother’s auction released ties to no fewer than 10 people. That was just in the family. Friends were too numerous to count.
While the property and belongings were not categorized as collectible or antique, they were nevertheless priceless in a few eyes. And while it was difficult to see “things” go, we, like so many others, realized our loved ones would not want us to cling to material goods.
In boxing up things for the auction, we found my grandmother’s crochet hooks and knitting needles, along with a few of her finished doilies. My mother obviously saved those items from her own mother’s auction. Knitting projects started by Mom just after she retired were still waiting to be finished. Now, someone else would be finishing them. Someone new would enjoy the sense of accomplishment as the needles clicked and pull yarn into rows of stitches.
The White treadle sewing machine I learned to sew on was sold. I can still remember the rocking of my foot as I stitched a pink satin dress for my senior style show. Mom made my wedding dress on that machine, as well as baby clothes for grandchildren. Someone else would enjoy the calm thump of the wheel and pedal as they sewed.
My mother-in-law’s pieced and appliqued quilt tops were sold. Mom and I had big plans to finish them along with the 28 hand-appliqued butterfly blocks after Mom Moore passed away. But time does fly by and now someone else would enjoy stitching them together for warm, winter quilts.
Dozens of jigsaw puzzles revealed what Mom and I did with our time together the last years of her life. She always said working on them made her feel more mentally alert and was good for what ailed both of us. Someone else would pieces together hours of enjoyment now.
A box of Dayton, Power and Light Co. memorabilia was a reminder of Mom’s last job. She loved baking for the linemen. She had great respect for their stamina in the extreme heat and cold working conditions. Someone else would collect pieces of the company’s past now.
It seemed everything I touched as it went into packing brought back a memory. It stirred up names and faces of my past, my mother’s past, of our area’s past. It was absolutely true. Auctions are never about just one person.