Friday, February 19, 2010

I'll Bid Five Dollars

This morning
I’ll Bid Five Dollars

We drove out of Dodson several miles south, up onto the plateau, out toward the mountains. We passed the turn off with the long dirt road to the place where I used to live, another life-time ago. I recognized the same barbed-wire gate. Sun dappled the hills. A slight breeze played with the grasses. A perfect day.

Signs marked “Auction” pointed us in the right direction. Oak pallets, each one heaped with an assortment of goods, snaked across the field. Beyond the pallets, lined out like an old-soldiers honor guard at a funeral, slumped cars and pick-ups, trucks, tractors and machinery, dating from the early 1900’s upward, though none from this century. Several outbuildings were surrounded with carefully sorted stacks of lumber, tools, wire, boxes and bins of parts and nails and bolts.

I signed in and received number 100, a good omen, I thought. I wandered over to the pallets where the auctioneer worked. Trash and treasures. I could find a treasure in the mix on each pallet. I knew every person here would choose a different treasure.

I had not been there five minutes before I started a bid. Two and a half. The bid went to five. Why not? Okay. Seven-fifty. Once. Twice. Sold! Gulp! I had just bought a pallet. I had not really intended to buy it. I had no idea what was on the pallet other than a large brown boxy thing and an old pressure cooker minus the petcock.

The auctioneer proceeded along the row of pallets and I stopped to paw through my acquisitions. Within moments, I sold a box of dishes and another box of something else I did not want. That paid for my pallet. Before the day was over I had sold or gifted everything on my pallet except for the cooker and a box of canning jars. Now, I may never can meat or garden vegetables again, but, then again, I might.

An hour passed before I bought another pallet; this one for five dollars. It was heaped with odd dresser drawers, minus the dressers. Some old wood. A mix of cabinet doors and a sturdy box with dividers creating slots for storing all manner of things. It could have fit into a tool shed, a kitchen or an office. What did I buy? Art projects. Wait till you see what I can do with a dresser drawer.

I bid on some other stuff, but I set my limit, according to what I can see on the pallet. And no matter how much I might desire that particular treasure, I recognize when someone else wants it more.

An auction is a bitter-sweet place to spend the day. It is a book of somebody’s life, easily decipher and just as easily misunderstood. This place was probably homesteaded, and possibly in the last wave of homesteaders, if I read the pages right.

I look out over the hills. Even today something within me yearns for this life, isolated as it is, out here on the flat with the snow-covered Little Rockies directly south and the Bear Paws a notch over to the west. I lived out here during the sixties, snowed in every winter, farming with horses and an obsolete tractor, no running water though we had a good deep well, and no facilities. We never had any money to spend but we were rich in living.

My friends and I took a break from our heavy spending and sauntered over to the cook wagon. Replenished with a generous bowl of hearty beef stew, bread, dessert and a drink, we headed back into the fray.

We watched buyers haggle over the old car bodies. Much as I might want a restored antique auto, if I hauled one home, I could do no more than watch it continue to rust. The auctioneer, like a mother hen with chicks, herded his brood around some large sheds. We ended up over where a large fire had burned down the house.

Oh. That answered a lot of questions. I had figured one of the sheds was originally a house and the owner must have moved to town long ago. Wrong. His niece wandered over and told me that Ole was ninety-three years old, when last December he died in the house fire. She grew up out here on this farm and the pain of loss in her eyes was easy to read.

Around the edges of the pile of debris surrounding the burn were several old stools. Some had three legs. Some had four. Some had legs different lengths. Some legs faced different directions on the same stool. This was not craftsman work. But I recognize treasure when I see it. I piled up six of the stools and bid on them. I’ll paint them each a different color and plant them in my back yard. I’ll surround them with pots of petunias to honor the memory of the old gentleman and my day at the auction.

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