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Commentary: Auction finished. How do you measure success

auction photo southern Illinois
Rachel Heidenry | Beacon archive | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: It’s just stuff.

That’s what I told myself for weeks as I placed item after item in strawberry flats.

But it was mom and dad’s “stuff.” One bowl (Bavarian) was more beautiful than another (Heisey). One lure (wooden, hand painted) was more interesting than the next (a bass annihilator).

And the voice of the auctioneer would come back to me: “You’re not hiring me to care.”

Caring was what the family did as children and grandchildren selected pieces. The one rule was that you couldn’t take something to put in a box in storage. Take anything you want so long as you will use it or display it.

We all made selections. We all took things that had stories. And we cared for the items that had brought Mom and Dad enjoyment.

Still, so very much still remained. So much that the auctioneers had no time to care. And we needed their efficiency, not their concern.

The auction was on a Sunday, following a week of heat, humidity, rain and then cold. We had to have everything ready to take out on Saturday morning. My kids came in from the East, my nephew from in town (his sister was in a wedding – my bad in picking the date). My sister, brother in law and I made up the rest of the family contingent.

We could not have managed without the professional help. The time was long passed for remembering when we used the ice-cream maker or noting that mom had bought the silver at auction for the grandkids (who want nothing to do with anything that requires polishing). Quit talking; start moving. Make a train; hand out the boxes.

The auctioneer had 12 flatbed trucks. We called friends and got to 19. We could have used more.

7:15 a.m. Sunday morning: The coffee maker is on a flatbed. Coffee is not an option. I head out though the auctioneering crew is coming in.

The display work is in full force by the time I get back. Tarps are off the wagons. Glassware is being set upright. Stray pieces of patterns are corralled so – as much as possible – we have organization.

glass items on truck for auction
Credit Rachel Heidenry | Beacon archive | 2013

The first auctioneer starts at 9:30; a second 15 minutes later and a third ring opens at 11. It’s too much to keep up with. My sister and I stick with the glassware, as the toothpick holders were mom’s babies; and we have promised we won’t let any go for next to nothing.

By 2:30, the curious and those who came for fishing things or coins have left. We have dealers, family and maybe a few who have focused on a specific item and won’t leave without it.

I don’t know what time the sale ended. At some point, we start gathering the items people left behind. Maybe we’ll go through these things later and search out eBay-worthy items; now we need to get them into the garage.

Then my sister and I are called in to get the totals. We nod and smile. The auctioneers say it was a good sale, and I’m told again that a two-day event would not likely have done any better. My sister’s family finishes locking up the house. My kids and I head to take the news to Mom. It’s 6:20 when we walk into her room.

She’s pleased with the total. Finally, I can exhale. My son, the business major, later tries to break down the amount raised in regard to the years lived in the house or the monthly cost of the nursing home.

Making numbers relate aren’t important. The items were bought because Mom thought they were lovely or Dad thought they could trick a fish or a duck. They were gifts; they were everyday essentials. They have been used and appreciated. Now they have a new home, and we hope someone will enjoy them.

The cliché is realized: If Mom’s happy; everybody’s happy.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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