Let me describe a North Dakota Public Auction. It's a social event. It's an eating occasion. Eating supports a good cause after all. Hopefully it doesn't rain. If you're a dealer/collector or just a dishonest person, you jiggle around the goods, hiding things in junk boxes or camouflaging a treasure. It's great fun haggling and outbidding someone, coming away with the prize. It's great fun as long as you don't know the story or the people who all this stuff belonged to. I will never go to another one without some compassion for the family. I think auctions should be 'by invitation only' - to keep the cannibal like dealers away and let the family and friends have some dignity while salvaging some keepsakes..... but then it wouldn't be very profitable.
My father in law and uncle in law both had a combined sale. It rained off and on, the food cart made history, we came home with a $15.00 upright piano in perfect condition in the back of a new to us pickup.
I was rude and cruel and disgusted with the dealers lusting ruthlessly over the personal treasures of women I have loved so much.
It felt like the auctioneer and his wife who is the clerk, his daughter, son and son in law were the enemy, even though they have been friends of the family for years and years. I came home promptly and made amends for treating them so bad. Hope they forgive me my passion, grief and sadness.......... taking it out on them. They did a great job. It was a very successful auction.
North Dakota Norwegians are stoic. Cliff's matched pair of Percherons showed off in the front pasture as the bidding took off; when the bid closed, they were loaded and taken to their new home. Cliff never liked machinery. He trained and broke so many horses to harness that when I asked him how many, he laughed and looked confused. Probably hundreds! He loved his horses. After they went, he came in the house and sat looking out the picture window till his composure returned. No drama, no tears, no trembling lip. He did clear his throat a lot, however, when he told me it was time to quit, as he couldn't handle them any longer. And he must have had dust in his eye when he told me the owner said he could come see them work any time. He knew the exact farm that would be their new home.
When Myrtle's prized china hutch went to a local gal who would cherish it, instead of a dealer who would double his money, it made me happy.
When her Cape Cod ruby Avon collection of dishes was broke up and parceled off to several different bidders, it was tragic.
When the blue bird dishes that she spent her life collecting painstakingly one piece at a time (no e-bay or craigslist or internet) went to a dealer with a diamond stud in his ear - I hid behind sunglasses and took a walk till the kill was over.
When her ancient drop leaf table, which had a hitch in it's gettyup on one side - only she could usually close it - when it was opened, I started blubbering like an idiot, for how would the new owners ever get it closed?
It wasn't that I wanted or coveted anything. It's hard to explain, but I'll give it a go. Prairie women have an unusual life. Little things matter, because they are sort of removed from the city and all it's offerings. They worked so hard! To have the pretty things, that she and Evelyn had spent years collecting and caring for, their treasures that brought them so much pleasure, casually treated and going to the highest bidder was a bit traumatic for me. Even though my head knows, it was never the 'stuff' that was important to them. Yes, it was entertainment, pleasure, maybe the hunt, the acquiring, but never ever was it the priority. I think they used their pretty things to bring joy to others. I LOVED sitting down to a table covered with a crisp white tablecloth, laden with home cooked comfort food, served on her beautiful dishes artistically arranged. We felt so loved, nurtured and pampered somehow!
Evelyn had boxes of Norwegian bibles, leather bound, 200 years old or more! There were precious things that had been on some immigrant ship and traveled on some prairie schooner. There were things in boxes sitting in the rain that had been kept and cherished through great hardship and sacrifice.
One thing that visually symbolizes the auction agony for me was a simple jewelry box that held just a few homely trinkets. As a friend and I were turning them over and digging around we came upon 2 extremely old miniature photographs in matching hand wrought frames with pin clasps on the back. They had to have been ancient relatives, but no one knows who they were. No one cares. The entire box probably went for fifty cents.
Gordon and Cliff both have wives who are room mates in the nursing home about 20 miles away. The men actually did every one a huge favor by doing this hard thing now, instead of later when they have passed on. Dealing with grief, while dealing with the practical matters has to be so difficult. They are free from the encumbrances, traveling light. There aren't any u-hauls hitched to a casket. Only love and relationships are eternal. They have all our love. They have dignity. They are both highly respected and liked in the community. They are starting over. Finishing well...........with courage and composure.
With a gigantic lump in my throat and through blurry eyes, my heart stands and salutes them. We are all grateful for their brave foresight. The pain now is actually thoughtfulness later.