When I was a kid one of my favorite summertime outings was accompanying Mom and Dad to the auctions held every Wednesday at the county seat.
The auctions took place in a large barnlike structure next to the county fairgrounds in Kahoka, Missouri, and included the sale of everything from livestock, through farm machinery to household goods. The sales usually began fairly early in the morning and followed a pattern that never varied.
Farm equipment, such as tractors, plows, etc., was lined up outside the building and was the first thing to be sold. The auctioneer and his assistant would range themselves in front of whatever piece of equipment was up for bid, then once it was sold, move on to the next.
When all the farm machinery was disposed of they’d move across the lawn to where the furniture, household goods and other miscellaneous items were lined up in rows.
As with the farm machinery, the auctioneer and his assistant would move along the rows sometimes selling an item singly and sometimes grouping them together in lots.
Once the miscellaneous items were disposed of, everybody would take an hour’s break for lunch then move inside where the bidding on the livestock would begin.
The sales were held year-round, but, of course, we school age kids only got to attend during summer vacations, which was perhaps the reason that the weekly routine never got old.
Although I enjoyed the entire auction, it was the sale of the miscellaneous items that always interested me the most.
When we first arrived Mom and Dad would carefully examine the stuff up for sale, checking out each piece of furniture and going through every box item by item, still it was rare that they actually made a purchase. Or, perhaps I should say, it was rare that they passed over cash and took home any of the items for which they had been the highest bidder. Because the auctioneer, a personal friend of my parents, had a habit of pronouncing an item “sold to Jake Logsdon” whenever he felt the bidding wasn’t actually reflecting the monetary worth of the item being sold, even when Dad hadn’t made a single bid.
I asked Dad once why he did that.
“Honey, farming is a hard life,” he said. Sometimes the only way to keep the wolf from the door is to find a way to come up with ready cash and Bill (the auctioneer) knows the people and knows who’s hurting for money, so when he isn’t getting a high enough bid he sells the item to me on paper then puts it back and tries again the next week. And, because the people who are actually doing the bidding don’t have much money themselves, they understand what’s happening and play along.”
It’s been nearly 52 years since I lived there, but looking back I am still struck by the understated manner in which the people of the community came to each other’s aid when the chips were down. Even to the point of silently approving the “sale” of an item they had bid on to someone who would never actually pay a cent for it.