The long, drawn-out process of closing dad’s estate took a big step towards closure a couple of weeks ago. I hired a reputable auction company in order to liquidate all of dad’s household goods and personal belongings. I also took advantage of the event to liquidate the lion’s share of my own stuff. In effect, we had a double auction.
Back in December the company gave me the choice of a couple of available sale dates in February. I wanted a weekend sale, so they scheduled the estate auction for Sunday, February twelfth. After the December holidays, I began gathering cardboard boxes from the supermarket and a couple of other stores and started packing them with knick-knacks, memorabilia, kitchen wares, mechanic’s tools, and other portable items from around the property. Larger items like lawn mowers and antique farm tools were left for the auction company to haul to the auction venue.
My own items were already packed in large plastic totes because I had anticipated moving to dad’s old house, which is 30 miles away from my present home. When that plan fell through, I decided to leave the stuff in dad’s basement and get rid of it during dad’s estate sale. It would be a prime time to finally downsize my semi-valuable clutter.
At last, February eleventh rolled around. It was time for the auction company workers to empty the house, garage, and two outbuildings. They had to haul everything to the auction venue, the National Guard Armory, just a few blocks away. That morning, four strong young men arrived in a large pickup truck pulling a long cargo trailer. They backed onto the driveway and began loading the first of several trailer loads of stuff.
It was the actual removal of items from the house that seemed most upsetting to me. Many of the items dated back to my childhood. There was the dining room table around which countless family gatherings and holidays were centered. Dad’s desk where he conducted family and professional business. It seemed like an endless procession of dad’s collectables and antiques passed by on the way to the cargo trailer.
The young men brought up my totes from the basement. There were probably 25 or 30 of them. They contained antique and vintage ceramic vases and colored glassware. Most of the items hadn’t seen the light of day for several years, so I didn’t remember what I even owned.
By early afternoon, the last load of stuff was on its way to the armory. I was left with a mostly empty house with scattered litter and lots of tracked-in mud on the carpeting. It was an unsettling feeling to see the results of the men’s labor. I had to begin the clean-up.
Finally, it was Sunday the twelfth. I drove from Norfolk, Nebraska to Wayne in the dark hours of the morning. It was dawn as I unlocked the front door to the mostly empty house. I pondered the sunrise while sipping coffee. What would the day bring? I needed to gather the remaining small valuables from the wall safe and get ready to meet the auction company at 9:00 am.
Upon entering the armory, I noticed several eager buyers already milling around the rows of tables set up with merchandise. After a short conference with the auctioneer and his wife, I began browsing the tables, too. Seeing a lifetime of dad’s accumulations spread out on tables made me feel melancholy despite the beautiful, springlike morning. Each table triggered many fond memories. A cloying nostalgia engulfed the entire venue.
Next, I wandered to the tables that held my own things. I felt a twinge of greed when I saw beautiful items I had completely forgotten were mine. It was too late to load them up and take them back home. The best ones were advertised on the sale bill, anyway. Oh well!
At precisely 12:30 pm, the auctioneer began his patter and started hawking items from the first table. The sight of the auction actually underway made me feel dizzy. I stayed only a few minutes, then decided to leave for an extended lunch break.
Two hours later, I returned and noticed that two rows of tables had been emptied. Workers had folded and stacked the empty tables along the north wall of the armory. While surveying the scene, I spotted a middle aged man placing a small carnival glass plate into his coat pocket. I confronted him and asked if he had paid for the item. The man said nothing. With a blank look on his face, he removed the plate from his pocket and placed it back where he found it.
During the next few hours, I witnessed two more acts of petty theft. I resolved the problems without having to notify the police. I wondered how many other small items were stolen and not detected. The petty crimes were very upsetting to see. In that some people had no qualms about theft, it was especially galling to have family memorabilia involved.
During the balance of the auction, I mixed with the crowd and enjoyed the social aspect of the event. An aunt and several cousins were there to snag a few belongings for posterity. I saw some old acquaintances from my younger years. There were also a few of dad’s old friends who shared their memories with me. Because of all the activity, time seemed to speed up.
Amazingly, the very last item was declared, “sold”. The clock on the wall read 5:00 pm. Buyers lined up to pay for their treasures. Janitors began sweeping the floor. The rest of us wrapped up our chatting and prepared to leave.
The auction was an eye-opening, somewhat unsettling experience. I’m glad it’s all over. I don’t want to go through another one anytime soon.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the art dealer and film director, Arne Glimcher. “When Robert Benton was doing the movie ‘In the Still of the Night,’ I’d choreographed the auction scene and supplied the paintings and had a bit part–I was bidding against Meryl Streep.”