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Mud-Dauber Auction

Eric Lyke


The boy looked out at the gathering as they pulled up along the side of a crackling country road and parked the car behind a remuda of muddied pickups.  A slow congregation of peoples were gathering around the back of a simple, tan brick home:  his grandfather’s.  Behind the house a number of familiar out-buildings and implements were present but the fields were noticeably feral.
            When he walked to the back door, he could hear people interpreting the piles of stuff that were accumulating in the yard as the auctioneer’s helpers made neat rows of the house’s contents:
            What is this?
            I don’t know, looks like a cake dec’rater deal.
Boxes of Reader’s Digest condensed novels, old dolls, coffee pots and cleaning supplies, TVs, and little chicken salt and pepper shakers . . . . 
            A lively pair of Dickies whisked up to a central point in the yard to make an announcement.  His grey sideburns protruded from underneath a mess of doctored-dark hair like two opossums clinging hairily upside-down to the side of his head.
            All right folks.  You need to register back yonder on the north side of the house to get yer bidn’ card.  We’ll start here in just a couple a minutes with lot number 1 . . . looks like a box of dishes.
The brisk air enhanced coffee sales while buyers gathered under pecan trees to fondle all of the boxed merchandise.  Overalled old-timers in Carhart jackets mingled around the tools; they picked up items or toed them gingerly with muddy boots.
            Finally, the crowd began to heave toward one end of the yard, trampling the dead grass in anticipation.
            All right hoogimmee two dollaha dnnnnnndnnnn two n n TWO now Three neeeneee nw.  Three.  Ok. threedollar buyernumber 36.
The people gathered around the auctioneer in a circle.  They listened to his calls on this skyless, gray afternoon.  Church people walked up in suits, boots, and Sunday-best dresses.  Some women wore feathered hats:  bright feathers flitting stealthily amongst the boxes.  
            Bidders find their familiar language:  they quietly communicate with their looks and gestures.  Wives tell husbands to bid with a wide-eyed look and non-buyers look at their feet as if in prayer.  The women paw and sway in front of the undulating vortex; the men nod, tweak, and smoke.  Like a church service the stern-faced men in the back.  “Amening” to that and this; the women like busy birds in the front, smiling and talking after the benediction.  The auctioneer drones on in tones an entomologist couldn’t interpret:
            This 50th anniversary plate is hand made in Californy.  China plate.  Hand painted.  Hoogimee TEN dollars . . . tennn nnnnnnn ten . . . five now five ndnddnnnnnn five now, no?  two dollars hoogi . . . Two.  Sold to number?  27.
            Some men rolled out the last of the appliances on the back porch.  The neat rows of stuff are slowly devoured by the slow, revolving circle of people passing by the boxes like a Charybdisian whirlpool.  It was all disappearing.
            A woman’s voice bellowed:
            Box of material.  Fine cloth and patterns.  Scissors.  Other sewing stuff.
            The man continued his proselyting, the speaker around his neck.  Hoogimee two dollahh dollahh todollahh nnnnn two, now three dollahh three nnnnnnnnnn three, four now four nnnnnn four sold yonder . . . 42.
            The farmers in the group looked back into the field from the fence.  An old Ford 9n and some implements sat among weeds and old, grey cow pats.
            Momma, it’s sad that we have to sell all of his stuff.  It don’t seem right.  I mean all this people an all.  Comin’ here buying his stuff.
            Well, we gotta sell it.  Pay for the funeral and split up everything.  Your uncle Bill worked it all out that we would get a portion of whatever is left.  Probably won’t be much with the funeral and the nursing home those last few months . . . . You know I can still see your PaPa, my Daddy, up on that ol’ tractor right now.  He’s got his pipe and that silly straw hat that was missing the middle part, he said it kept him cooler on those hot days . . . . Well, we don’t need this stuff, it just brings back memories.  You know, you are s’posed to get a share.
Without answering, the boy walked through the parlour door in which they had been watching the proceedings and out into the front yard away from the crowd and eventually wound up at a haphazard pile of boxes.  The floppy tan pile, like a large misshapen puppy, a little wet from the recent rain, was half in the street and half in the yard waiting to be picked up.
            He rummaged through the stuff overlooked by all – things not worthy to sell.  He found old crumpled snapshots, broken Christmas ornaments, half used cans of oil, nails, and a couple of rat’s nests in the boxes.  Under a pile of old newspapers a rusty, red tool box lay half trampled in the mud.  It was not a particular favorite of his grandfathers; in fact, he hadn’t used it in many years and even then, it was purchased second-hand.  He utilized it only briefly before it became lost behind some paint cans in the shed.
            The boy opened it up and found a tarnished pencil and a rusty penny.  He cleaned out the inside with a wad of the rat’s nest and a stiff paper towel and laid a piece of cloth in the bottom.  He then placed the crumpled photos in the box, photos of a half-focused hand, a bird on a fence, and one of grandma trying to get dressed putting her hand up to block the camera on a Sunday morning.  He also put the penny in the box and began looking for other memorabilia in the tattered cardboard.  When he had finished, he closed the little chest and set it in the backseat of his mother’s car.
            When he walked back around to the back, the swarm of people were converging on the furniture.  He then walked over to the workshop where he and his grandfather spent a few summers building a sturdy collection of work benches and cabinets out of old grey barn wood.  The last year saw a number of mud-daubers building their homes like little clay pan flutes all over the walls of the shed.  The boy began to systematically scrape all of the houses off the walls using the backside of a “sharp-shooter” shovel.  Every once in awhile, he noted a red wasp circling overhead.  By the time he had finished, he had worked up a mild sweat in the cool, autumn air.  He put the shovel back as the crowd approached.
            Alright now.  We’re gonna sell everything in the shed as a lot.  Who start me at fifty.  Fifty dollars.  Nnnnndd.  You.  fifty and five.  Now, five, five.  Seven now eight now . . . .
            As the bidding went on the boy walked around to the back of the shed to see if anything was left of the scrap pile:  old disks and an old hay rake among other things.  When he got back there, he was met by a large couple trying to drag an old harrow.  The husband complained:
            Damnedest thang.  The man struggled with his words, the implement, and his voluminous blue sweater crawling up his back all at once.  I leave you for a minute to put that box a’ dishes in the truck and you buy this.
            I done told you.  We’re gonna put it in the yard by the deer,the woman said while flicking a cigarette at his feet.
            They finally were able to get it out from beneath a clump of brush and they dragged it clumsily through the yard.  They both had one of the handles as they dragged it backwards and left a jagged line through the drive and part of the front lawn.
            The view down past the shed for the boy was clear, serene.  He could see the old water tower, made of rock and cement by his great-grandfather.  He could see the earthen tank dug by an even earlier settler, with willows and brush so thick around it you might have believed that it was one of those mythic Texas ponds.  On it landed a lone crane, noiselessly.
            In the further distance a windmill rose, recalling herds watered, looking around at a clump of cedar beneath it not spinning at all, its motion arrested, becoming a tree itself.
            Having taken in the scope of things and wiping the tears from his cheeks, the boy then witnessed the closing of doors and the buzzing of motors as cars and trucks began to light from the place at auction’s end.  The sun began to cut the tops off of the pecans with a rusty blade of ether as he walked back to his mother’s car, took out the toolbox and placed it back in the trash.