Tribune-Star columnist Mike Lunsford

I went to an auction a few Saturdays ago, something I haven’t done in years. I came away with an old wooden box of muddy canning jars, an even older iron coffee grinder, and a 1928 Montezuma High School yearbook, the latter an object of desire that I simply couldn’t pass up from the moment my wife and I read of it in the sale bill that ran in our county newspaper. Overall, I was pretty pleased with my morning treasure hunt.

My buddy, Joe, is a regular at these sales, often hauling boxes of bolts, old lawnmower parts, used extension cords and rusty pipe fittings home. He sometimes smuggles his stash past his wife as if she’s a border guard when all she really wants is for him to show some restraint in his accumulation of things that “could come in handy.” I’ve been known to use Joe’s fabled workshop as my own personal hardware store, so I encourage him to continue his quest for this and that and the other as much as he pleases. We often speak in hushed tones of his latest acquisition or miraculous find lest Linda overhears us discussing a Briggs and Stratton carburetor or copper tubing cutter or some practically new drill bits.

Auctions are true studies in human psychology. Certainly, they can be displays of our weakness to buy things that we don’t actually need or can’t possibly use.

After all, it is a mighty hard thing to turn down an entire cardboard box of chipped glassware, greasy hand tools or mismatched placemats when it all can be had for a dollar.

But auctions also can give us the triumphant feel of curbing a desire to recklessly spend, too. “No, that’s too rich for my blood,” I told myself more than once as I stopped bidding on an ancient Remington Sure Shot box or pickle crock or picture frame, none of which I had in mind to buy before I stumbled across them as they forlornly sat on or under tables of sawhorses and plywood.

I came to one sure conclusion after going to that sale; we truly don’t get to take much with us when we go. We spend our time accumulating years of possessions, only a little of which our children will want or need when we are gone. But sooner or later, at least some of what we had will end up being sold at the barking of an auctioneer’s call or simply will be thrown away.

As much as I enjoyed picking through that menagerie of caned chairs, antiquated television tubes, door knobs and a miscellany of garden tools, I felt a little sadness knowing that someone once owned and used those things, that their old photographs and letters and dishes were sold for the highest bid. It was as if their memories and anniversaries and birthdays were thrown into those boxes, too.

But melancholy can only last so long where bargain hunting is concerned, and my wife was on the trail. She immediately spied several pieces of CorningWare she needed, particularly since she recently had broken a dish when it slipped through her soapy fingers. Her mother and our daughter profited from her largesse, as well.

There were sales at both ends of the building on that gray day, and everything from a car to clothes to can openers went on the block. I wandered the aisles between the sale tables like a kid in a candy store, and in fact saw a number of things that took me back quite a few years. Nothing did that more than a box of Noma Bubble Lights, the elongated Christmas tree lights that seemed to boil after the bulbs sufficiently warmed. We had a set of those lights on our tree when I was a boy, and seeing their bright oranges and reds and greens, and smelling the scent of a freshly cut evergreen tree, were among my favorite things about Christmas. Had the lights been in better shape, I undoubtedly would have bought them.

I found a stack of old records there, too. They were ancient LPs and the pile held the faces of Bing Crosby, the Ray Conniff Singers and Tom Jones, all frozen in time in their over-sprayed hair, incongruous plaids and hideous shoes. My wife had seen the stack on her trip past the tables, as well, and when we met as the bidding wars started, we almost mentioned at the same time that we should buy the Tom Jones album as sort of a joke for our son, Evan, who had inexplicably taken a liking to the Welsh singer after being forced to listen to my oldies radio station on the way to school in his pre-driver’s license days.

But soon we were engrossed in the buying and selling, the auctioneer, Doug Brown, loquaciously moving through tables filled with lamps and Tupperware, punch bowls and knickknacks with an admirable enthusiasm. I soon learned that to scratch my nose, run my hand through my hair, or to even move too quickly meant the potential purchase of a rug or teapot or vacuum cleaner. I talk for a living, but I’m a mere piker by comparison to Doug.

As the morning waned, so, too, did our enthusiasm. We had groceries to buy and leaves to rake and a walk to take, so we paid our tab and headed for the door. But before we left, my brother-in-law, Gene Baxter, who’s familiar with the scent of a good buy himself, walked up to me and handed me that stack of old records, Tom Jones’ toothy smile greeting me from the top of the pile.

“I saw these and thought you might want them for Evan,” he said with a grin.

Mike Lunsford can be reached at hickory913@aol.com, or through regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808.

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