For some reason I like going to auctions. The art of the auctioneer as he elicits the highest bid, the faint nuances of bidders as they try to gauge how high the opposing bidder will go, how high they are willing to bid themselves, the greasy food, the usually-bad coffee, the broad spectrum of society represented among the crowd: these and more capture my attention. Not to mention that I just usually like old stuff better than new stuff. Like the Plumb brand hatchet I bought yesterday.
I wrote about my grandfather in “the Load of Coal” (http://wp.me/p31XId-D). One of the earliest auctions of which I have specific memory happened to be at the farm from which my grandfather had been released from servitude in 1907. I can still feel the crowd, the chill air, and smell the cigar smoke and the farm. The first auction in which I bid was the auction at my grandfather’s farm, after Grandma died, as Grandpa was moving to the little house of his retirement. During his years as a child laborer he did attend school. At his auction I was six years old, and I bought the leather book bag that he used as an elementary student in the late 1890’s. Might one stop to wonder why a man in his late 70’s still had his elementary-school book bag? Or why he’d part with it at auction? (Was it an episode of rigged bidding? The auctioneer had been instructed to be on the look-out for me on that item, and the uncle on whose shoulders I sat wasn’t going to stop prompting my bids until the item was sold to me, at whatever cost.)
One Saturday I was perusing the items set out from old Randall’s kitchen on the auction table, and I came across a small stack of antique feed-store pocket ledgers. The sort of thing a farmer would use to mark his sales and purchases throughout the year, kept in his pocket on every trip to town. To my surprise they were blank, except for one. And it contained no market records. It was a book of notes from Ida Mae, in the years 1927 and 1928.
In the most beautiful and steady pencil-scribed letters I’ve ever seen I found these words from then 15-year-old Ida Mae:
“When I’m in my lonely grave asleeping, And the bending Willow’s o’er me weeping; Tis then dear Randall, and not before, That I shall think of u no more.”
This was family treasure; I took the booklet to the family and hesitantly inquired whether they really wanted to sell it. (In my heart I knew it shouldn’t be sold, but I really wanted to keep it. If I’d just been quiet I could have picked it up for a dollar or two. But I like sleeping soundly.) It had simply been put out in the process of cleaning the kitchen drawers and no one had known what it contained. Turns out that Randall’s family had lived near Ida’s family in Missouri; they were friends and to that day Ida’s brother George was still included in the family circle letter sent around by Randall’s clan. The booklet was not for sale. With their permission, I copied down Ida Mae’s poem as a means of encapsulating the friendship contained in all those written notes of love.
Further pages bore mention of a family picnic by the pond, a few other short notes, and then the last entry, dated February 1928, in which Ida Mae expressed how sorely she would miss him when Randall and his family moved to Oklahoma. She expressed her hope that they would somehow see each other again. The remaining 3/4 of the book was entirely blank.
Randall married Sarah. He lived and worked, they had children and grandchildren, he retired and created in his shop on the bluff above Big Cabin Creek, and died in 1996. And with all those passing years, there remained in his kitchen drawer the notes of a friend’s love, Ida Mae in 1928.