COUNTY AGENT GUY
The day dawned clear and mild, seemingly giving lie to a forecast that promised rain.
“I take the forecast as a good sign,” said my wife’s uncle Jim. “The weatherman is so wrong so often, if he says it’ll rain that means we’ve got a pretty good chance of having a nice day.”
We put our backs to the task at hand. Beds and dressers were carried down from upstairs, a washer and dryer were hauled up from the basement. Add to that dozens and dozens of boxes of household hodgepodge.
These items were all taken out onto the lawn and arranged in neat rows. We got done with time to spare, so we took our ease in the gaping door of the empty machine shed. Jim filled his pipe, lit it, and puffed contemplatively. An eerie quiet settled onto the farmstead.
The proverbial calm before the storm? We would learn the answer soon enough.
A subtle shift in the sky altered the light that fell on the farmyard. The eerie luminosity seemed to reflect the strange mood that had descended upon us.
It’s a peculiar task, after all, to haul someone else’s possessions out into the glaring light of day for strangers to examine and paw through.
In this case, the stuff had belonged to my wife’s Uncle Veral, who passed away a couple of months ago.
Veral had no children, so the chore of cleaning out his farmhouse – which contained seven decades’ worth of accumulation – fell to those he left behind. This included his sister, Doris, her husband, Jim, and my wife and I, along with assorted relatives, neighbors and friends.
After countless man- and woman-hours, everything was at last ready. Furniture and household items and shop tools and an assortment of farm equipment were lined up on the yard.
The initial wave of potential buyers crashed ashore about an hour before the auction was slated to start. The sky had completely clouded over by then and rain had begun to fall. The showers would continue without letup for the rest of the day.
Despite the foul weather, a surprisingly good crowd had assembled by sale time. It takes a lot more than a little rain to deter hardcore bargain hunters.
The auctioneer began, his voice booming from a portable speaker that was shielded from the rain by a black garbage sack.
“Who will give me $5 for this pile?” he sang, indicating several boxes of pots and pans. “Two dollars? A dollar? Fifty cents? I have fifty cents here, who’ll make it a dollar? A dollar, who’ll make it two?”
And so it went. The sodden crowd shuffled along as the auctioneer moved slowly up one row and down another. Lamps, end tables and knickknacks that my wife’s grandparents and her uncle had used and enjoyed sold for a few shekels per pile.
The age of an item had a huge effect on its perceived value. A 20-year-old upright freezer went for two bucks. A late-model washer and dryer went for ten smackers each while an ancient Maytag wringer washer that I had helped wrestle up the basement stairs sold for $35. The cast iron Copper Clad cookstove brought $150, while an electric stove and a microwave together brought five bucks.
When it first began to sprinkle we scrounged up a few tarps to protect some of the furniture. One bidder bought two couches and the tarp that covered them for $10. He took the tarp and left the couches.
Scattered amongst the flotsam and jetsam were some surprises. One such was a crank-type siren that might have been mounted on a firetruck back in the day. That particular item brought nearly $500 and left us wondering if anything similar lurked in an unexplored corner of a shed.
At one point I went into the house to warm up and dry off. My wife had wisely opted to stay inside and thus avoided getting wet in the first place. She was chatting with a couple of preteen boys whom I had seen scampering about the farmstead.
Turned out that the two boys and their little sister and parents will soon be the new occupants of Veral’s old farmhouse. It made my wife feel good to know that kids would again be living on her grandparents’ farm.
Perhaps the hayloft will once again reverberate with the squeals that spontaneously erupt when a child swings on a hay rope. It was easy to imagine the boys exploring the grove and the mysterious nooks and crannies of the many sheds.
And just think how happy their parents would be if the boys found another siren.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.