HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
I was going to start the New Year with a look back at my 2011 Word - Change - but decided that could wait another day. Today's the day for pjamas, coffee and sunglasses (to stare at the shiny New Year ahead). Here's my 2012 gift to you - a story about a past, a present and bright and shiny future!
A Prairie Auction - JS Corcoran
Stripped of my identity, my future lies in the hands of an auctioneer. My rooms, once filled to overflowing, sit empty. My walls, once alive with family photographs and eclectic art, feature peeling paint and faded wallpaper. Where rugs once warmed my floorboards, dust settles. Even the incessant clank of my water pipes has been silenced.
With my guts spread before me, the vultures have arrived. Many sit on lawn chairs near my rotting verandah listening to the rhythmic chant of the auctioneer. Some stand, motioning slightly at a bid, raising the dollar value of the item on the block. Others rifle through boxes not yet sold; treasures I have housed for over sixty years. From my highest dormer window I can see the four offspring who arranged to sell their parents’ belongings to the highest bidder. Their conversation still echoes in my rafters…
Can you use any of this stuff?
I can’t. My house is already full. Besides, look at it, it’s old, worn out.
But Mom would be devastated knowing her things were going to be thrown out.
Mom’s not here; and neither is Dad. And we don’t have to throw anything out. We could have an auction, split the proceeds."I have ten, ten now. Do I have fifteen, fifteen?"
The more extravagant items go for ten dollars. A pittance for the silver cutlery Bert scrimped and saved for, a surprise for his wife on their first Christmas. When she chastised him for spending so much money, Bert simply smiled. Martha polished them faithfully every year, right before the family gathered to celebrate. At first they sat around an old kitchen table, given to them by an aging aunt. Then at the formal oak one the year Martha’s mother died and her father insisted she have it. Treasures passed from one generation to the next; a tradition unobserved by these children. Years went by and the family grew. Her eight-piece silver set needed to be supplemented with the everyday cutlery. That now occupied a box with various spatulas and potholders already sold to a stranger for two dollars.
"You don’t find quality oak furniture like this anymore, folks. On your program, number 72, dining room table and eight matching chairs. Let’s start the bid at fifty dollars. Do I have fifty, fifty?"
Not everything, right?
We’ve already agreed that most of this stuff is worthless to us.
An auction will make the split easy. And if you want something, you bid on it. It’s fair.
How is buying stuff from my own childhood fair?
I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m saying it’s practical. Dad would understand. He’d want us to get on with this.
He wouldn’t want us to throw away the past.
It’s just stuff.
Let’s not argue. Kettle’s boiling, who wants tea?"Next, an item perfect for the cottage or perhaps a young one starting out on his own."
Memories and smells of cooking bombard me when Martha’s stove is next up on the block. I remember Bert deciding she needed a new one when he got tired of watching her jam a stick in the oven door to keep it closed while she baked his favorite apple pie. State of the art, he told her as they wrestled it through my back door and into my kitchen fifteen years ago. When they slid it into place, she placed her hand over his heart and suggested pie for supper. The last towel she used still hangs from the oven door handle. No one has bothered to remove it.
So, how does this work?
We haven’t decided to go this route, yet. What about consignment?
That could take forever to get a return. Besides, consignment doesn’t take everything; we’d have to decide what to do with the other stuff.
Family rules, we should vote.
Then let’s vote. Auction?
There, three to one. As Dad would say, it’s a done deal. Now, it’s our job to box up the stuff however we want.
You’ve already talked to someone about this?
Someone had to come prepared. And we have to decide about the land. Do we split it or sell it with the house?
We’re selling the house in the auction?
It’s an old house. It could take forever to sell. If it’s part of the auction, then it gets sold with the rest of the stuff that day and we can finalize the paperwork.
Are you broke? Is this why we’re rushing through this, selling off stuff to pay your stupid debts?
Are you going to pay for someone to check the house while it sits on the market for God knows how long? Or maybe you want to stay here while we wait. I’m sure that five or six months will give your husband plenty of time to have another affair.
Stop fighting, you two. We promised Mom we wouldn’t fight over this.
Let’s just get this thing done so we can go back to our own lives."Sold. Bidder 489."
Some of the scavengers still wander through the aisles of tables heavy with knickknacks, pots, and books. They touch, inspect, discard; unmindful of the memories each item contains. Like the typewriter, still in its original box, almost as new as the day Martha bought it. She thought she’d try her hand at writing when the last child left home and set it up at the dining room table. Every day she sat in front of the machine, some days pecking away until a page was almost full, others just staring out the window at her vegetable garden. After two weeks, she returned the typewriter to the box and told Bert she had no imagination. And, besides, she needed to pickle all those cucumbers. Bert simply smiled and hauled the typewriter up to my attic.
Look, there are still pickles in the fridge.
I loved Mom’s pickles. They should still be good?
I hated her pickles.
The way she left the dill stalk in the jar, yuck.
What did you do with all the jars she doled out every fall?
Gave them to the food bank.
Remember that one year, I think she had a bumper crop. I got two boxes full of jars that year.The box of canning supplies lay next to those filled with records. Oh, how Bert and Martha loved to dance. My rooms would be filled with music as they held each other, swaying in time throughout the years. Not that sixty years of marriage was harmonious every minute of every day. My walls have secrets that will never be shared. And those who look closely at the box of china lovingly received as wedding presents from relatives near and far, will see a large platter is missing. As is one lone teacup – the result of the most serious disagreement over in-laws and expectations. Later that night, after pieces of bone china were swept into the garbage and apologies were whispered in the darkness of their bedroom, Martha placed her hand over Bert’s heart and told him she was pregnant.
The prairie wind scatters withered leaves across my driveway. The sun no longer blinds my eastern windows. The land is gone, subdivided and sold to neighbors. The vehicles, tractors, farm machinery wait in my yard for the new owners to drive them away. The auction tables are empty. Sixty years of belongings gone and only one thing left to sell.
Someone will buy the place and tear it down to build something new.
It’s close enough to town, if we keep some land with it a developer may be interested.
Yeah, with everyone wanting to own an acreage there’s a good chance. We could get a good price if the auctioneer markets it properly.
But it’s a beautiful, old house. Someone will want it.
Too much work. Mom certainly couldn’t keep up with all the repairs after Dad died. Renovations will cost a fortune.
But it could be a good family home again. Kids could swim in the creek or play hide and seek in the attic. You said yourself it’s close enough to town for school and work. Someone could use Dad’s shop for a small business. And the garden’s overgrown, but it could feed a family enough potatoes for a whole year. We had a good life here, so did Mom and Dad.
That’s right, we had. But we can’t go back and we can’t hold on to it. Just take the memories and let’s move on.
You’re cold hearted. This would break Mom’s heart.
And you’re overly sentimental. What other choice do we have?Sixty-six years ago, Bert paced out my dimensions on land given to him by his father. Martha followed in his footsteps reminding him of the big family they planned and I would need to house. My foundation was dug, walls erected with help from neighbors and friends. Once enclosed, I had to wait for Bert to harvest his crop before my inside could be finished. Months of hard labor passed until I stood proudly in the prairie sun, my paint fresh and my door open to a future of possibilities.
"I’m sure everyone has a had a chance to go through the house, read the specs. It’s a stately home, lovingly built and cared for by the Swystuns. The family is selling a good ten-acre parcel with it, so let’s think about that as we start the bidding at fifty thousand dollars. Do I have fifty, fifty?"
A man in a suit raises his hand to begin the bidding. His briefcase gives me very little hope. A developer means my removal to make way for a newer, fancier house. One of the neighbors who bought most of the land ups the bid to sixty thousand dollars and I envision my demise so that he can add to the size of his pasture. A young man in coveralls nods once, bringing the bid to seventy thousand dollars. I recognize the van he stands next to. He’s driven past many times in the last two weeks. On three occasions, he’s pulled into the drive and stared up at me. The businessman counters.
So, we’re agreed? Everything goes?
Not again. Why can’t you get over the fact that everything here is worthless to us?
It was worth something to Mom and Dad. I want one thing, just one, to remind me of them. Of this house. Of my childhood.
Me, three. Done deal.
Fine. But we have veto power over what’s picked.Bert and Martha’s youngest sits alone, next to her dad’s truck sold to a local farmer. Tears have fallen throughout the day as piece by piece her parents’ life was displayed, haggled over, and sold. Opposed to the auction from the very beginning, she is the one who insisted they each choose something to take, free of charge. The eldest took his train set, the one his parents bought for his eighth birthday. The twins chose the quilts that had adorned their bunk beds, the colorful squares sewn together by their mother night after night for an entire year. And the one who believed there had to be a better way? She found a box and packed up every photograph she could find.
The bid increases again and the siblings join the youngest as I await my fate. The twins, the ones who colored one of my walls an indelible blue, stand with their arms around each other. The eldest, hands in pockets, always the strongest, the bossiest, bows his head as the bid goes higher. I remember every one of them. Their conception, their arrival, their spills, and their accomplishments, even after they left home. They were Bert and Martha’s pride and joy. And I will never see them again.
Silence descends and my destiny now belongs to the young man. The van’s passenger door opens and a pregnant young woman struggles out. She waddles around the front bumper and places her hand over the man’s heart. The young man simply nods his head and smiles. Laughter settles over my yard, wraps around my deck, tickles my joints. They come toward me, the woman pointing and talking about paint while the vultures fold up their lawn chairs and collect their spoils.
I settle back into my foundation in the hope of another sixty years of laugher and tears, celebrations and family. Furniture will adorn my rooms. My walls will display new photographs, new artwork. Children will once again slide down my banister. Love will restore me. And Martha and Bert’s memories will mingle with new ones.