My parents bought their farm in 1958. Last year, they held the farm auction that sold the dream.
My father worked hard. If farming was rewarded by the hard work put in, my father would have been rewarded with millions in riches, instead of calloused callouses and bent over bones crippled with arthritic joints
In the dreams of my father, one or both of his sons would follow him into the family business; farming is in his blood as deeply as his German heritage.
It was not to be.
The preferred alternative was that my father would never retire. He would rather, expire, just drop dead, as his father before him, of a massive heart attack while on a tractor; he would land face first in his beloved earth and become one with his land.
Alas, this also was not to be, his health was to have the last word. Now, my father had to sell everything.
It was mostly an exercise in clearing the yard. Many of the pieces were themselves acquired at auction, the auctioneer’s patter being “music to my parents’ ears”. My father made his money in farming by buying cheaper pieces of machinery and fixing them.
This auction was planned for months. The call went out to relatives, far and wide, relatives that had nothing to do with farming, relatives that hadn’t been to the farm in many years. Not one had any interest in anything that was for sale on this auction bill.
Everyone understood that this was about supporting my parents and especially my father as he unloaded his shop and his shed and his tool box and his garage and gently laid down his dreams.
The night before the auction, we greeted each other with cries and hugs as if we were long lost relatives. My mother had put on a gigantic spread, turkey, ham, and potato casserole, coleslaw, pickles and fresh vegetables, cookies, and cakes, enough food to drown out the conversation for a few minutes while we placed each other over the years and the miles and generations.
Evening brings darkness and a lively bonfire which brings laughter and stories and a bit of anonymity around the dark night, the fire crackling in its brightness
The next day, the day of the auction, threatens rain, which is not a good thing, as the auction will be held outside, in a giant theatre the size of the yard. The auctioneer truck will slowly traipse over the yard making its way past each item, the crowd shuffling slowly in its wake. If it rains, the crowd thins. The diehards stay, but there is less bidding.
Instead the day is hot, dry and windy and nobody leaves. The sky opens up and spits at us for a few minutes, but then shines brightly the rest of the day.
Most of the relatives have no idea, other than supporting my father, what we are supposed to do this day, the day of the auction.
But we find ourselves following along with the auction truck with the auctioneer’s patter; “one dollar bid, now two, now two, who will give me two, now two, now two”. There is a mawkish curiosity in our day as we, almost to a person, follow along in the wake of the truck, along with the tire kickers, the people who just want to see the yard and what’s in it, the people who genuinely wish to buy some item that was on the auction bill, and my father.
My father who is exhausted from the preparation for the auction; from ensuring in the weeks before, every item had to be in running condition, parts had to be purchased, new batteries installed, bits scrounged up, fields mowed, machinery moved. He felt he had to follow the auction from start to finish and had to start every item that had an engine in front of the audience, or he would tell the story of the transmission that had to be jiggled when it is in ‘drive’ gear and so on – he is scrupulously honest,
The day is thankfully over and everything is sold and the pieces are starting to move off the lot. We slowly move off the auction field back to the house as the buyers grab their new purchases and drive off.
Again, a feast awaits us, and we fall on it as if we haven’t eaten for days. We compare each other’s burned faces as a point of pride, taking the hot sun as some sort of penance for the purchases going on around us as we are powerless to stop this onslaught of my father’s decades of dreams.
Again we sit around the crackling fire. Nobody wants to be the first to leave, we all know the next morning we are going to scatter and we know we won’t see each other for another many years.
Finally, someone is tired enough to admit it and we get up. It is a hugging circle. A giant hugging circle where everyone hugs everyone else, even if they weren’t the ones leaving, even if they aren’t the ones they haven’t seen in decades. We hug people we haven’t hugged in years. When the circle gets around to the second cycle, people laugh, but keep hugging anyway. It feels very good. It feels very good and very sad.
Sometimes the dream ends.
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