Sunday, May 20, 2012

Your memories at auction

The one thing in this world that my wife didn't want to do — the one thing that was anathema to her very soul, to her very being as a resident of the planet and a member in good standing of the human race — was to put her parents' life up for auction.

Well, not their literal lives. Mom died more than two years ago, and dad passed away in November. But their stuff remained. A 2,800-square foot house full of stuff, plus a once-popular news stand full of even more stuff.

And yet, an auction was the only reasonable choice she had to liquidate the contents and the real estate, in a single day, if possible. Especially in this, one of the worst economies in my memory. We elected to go with Al Futrell of Al's Auction and Realty in Welcome to help us through this.

For several months after dad died, Kim would go to the house, tearfully sort through clothes and other items, trying to determine what she and her brother, Greg, would keep. That was difficult enough, but we also knew what was coming — an auction.

I once heard Kim say that auctions are so sad. "The entire life of that person is strewn across their front yard going up for bid," she said to me. "Strangers are walking through your house. It's horrible. I don't ever want to go through that." And yet, here we were. Knowing how Kim felt about auctions, I feared the worst.

Because her folks had so much stuff, we held the auction over two days: on Friday, we liquidated the contents of the house, followed by the news stand on Saturday.

Friday's auction drew a nice crowd.
Friday broke fresh and clear with mild temperatures after nearly a week of rain, and that was lucky because it drew a large crowd. But here was her family's stuff, in the front yard. Strangers were walking through the house. And, indeed, there were moments when Kim had to go off by herself, to a place in her head where even I couldn't comfort her, and assimilate the process.

Even some of her childhood memories went on the table: a Charmin' Chatty Around the World doll, several Barbie dolls, a Schwinn bicycle from the 1960s. Then there were even more personal items: her mother's cookbooks and kitchenware, bringing back a flood of memories of Christmas and Thanksgivings, of family gathered around the table.

But now even the table was gone.

The auction took six hours to complete. The highest numbered bidder card I saw was 117, so that was good. Even though the house was sold for under tax value, we were fairly pleased. After all, it took Kim and me three years to sell our house before our latest move. You take what you can get. Kim hugged the buyers — ironically, old neighbors of hers — and through her tears asked them to take care of the house. It was as heartwrenching a moment as ever I've seen.

Saturday's auction at the news stand drew a smaller crowd.
 On Saturday, there were fewer bidders at the news stand, even though it's a Main Street property. We couldn't figure out why this happened because the weather was great. This auction took three hours to complete, and the highest numbered bidder card I saw was 33. Go figure.

Anyway, the prized item was a Coca-Cola box that dad had restored and it went for a reasonable sum, but most of the other stuff were virtual giveaways. The news stand itself, like the house, went for less than tax value — considerably less, and didn't meet the reserve — but after negotiations it did sell for slightly higher than the last pre-auction offer we'd gotten.

Kim often said how much she hated the news stand because it took so much of her father's time away from the family (along with his regular fulltime job at R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem), and yet, she seemed more upset on Saturday than she was on Friday. "It was still a big part of my life," she tried to explain to me. "It gave us the life we had growing up."

Could we have gone a different way? We might have generated more money by taking the consignment route, or putting items on Craig's list (even though money never did seem to be the overriding issue here). But there are no guarantees there, either, and they can take time to resolve. Here, at auction and in the blink of an eye we unloaded ourselves of two significant burdens: of two property taxes, of two utility bills, of two maintenance demands on our time and energy.

Interesting thing, though. Kim and her brother dutifully unloaded all the physical stuff. The one priceless thing they kept, the one thing that can never be auctioned off, are the memories. They still have those.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce,

    Put this one in your TOP 5 Blogs of all time. My advanced age will not allow me to remember the rest of the TOP 5, but this one is surely in that company. Most moving! Lee