A couple of years afterward, the widow of a neighboring farmer was planning a farm and household auction before moving to new home in a nearby town. My father and mother joined her to do the same: sell everything they could not take with them in their planned move to town.
The lovely Catherine and I drove the three hours south to witness the event and, we promised each other, not buy a thing. We, after all, didn’t need a butchering kettle, Lincoln arc welder, or a too-heavy-to-lift anvil attached to an even heavier pecan stump.
As it turned out, we weren’t alone. The locals came to buy cheap or not buy at all. It was hard to see items so valued by my parents bought by others who valued them so little.
For example, a hand-cranked sausage stuffer, worth its weight in gold the one day a year we needed it, sold for under $10. Bedroom sets, tired, sure, went for less than the price of firewood. A set of jumper cables had to be “thrown in” to a box of cookware to bring, finally, an embarrassing $1.
My father saw it all and never once commented, grimaced or looked away.
My parents’ fourth and final auction sold the remainder of their modest household after they moved, years later, to a nearby assisted living center. This auction was smaller, quicker, and grimmer. I didn’t attend because, by all estimates, it would be over in less time than it would take me to drive there. So it was.
The sale of two items, my father’s 12-gauge Marlin shotgun and his .22 caliber Winchester pump rifle, did silence the small, milling crowd for a few moments. Bidding for both was rapid-fire and, together, the cash they brought equaled nearly one-half of the sale’s total receipts.
Again, if disappointed by the thin take, my father, now frail and seated on an about-to-be-sold chair, never let on. He visited with friends, family, and neighbors until the front yard — his front yard — was as empty of the last items of his and Mom’s lives as the long-sold farm was empty of old cows and young children.
“It was,” he explained afterward when I telephoned, “just stuff and mostly used-up stuff at that.” Indeed, I said, invoking his favorite word of agreement; it was just stuff.
Maybe that’s why the auctioneer’s song never sounded bitter or sad to him: In the end, no amount of “stuff” — valuable or valueless — could ever equal his good health, abiding friends, deep faith, and 89 years to enjoy all.