Monday, October 17, 2016

Dad and I were Auction Groupies!

Part of the farm that I went to the auction last week.
That last blog entry was pretty heavy, so I promised myself that I would lighten up with the next one. I actually had a plan, then changed it when I went to an estate auction last week.  My mother gave me permission to say whatever I wanted to, because auctions in our life could be very funny.

My father died at the age of 47 when I was 24. If it were not for that, I would have been in the habit of going to auctions with him until he couldn’t go anymore.

We started when I was young. Dad always told me to get an amount in your head before you started bidding, and quit. (He said the same thing about poker games, give yourself an allowance and then quit). I remembered this as I bid on a quilt last week that was VERY similar to one I had at home that my husband’s grandmother had made—or maybe it was great-grandmother. This was the same pattern, trimmed differently, but in the same colors. I thought I could do something with both of them together.

Having watched the bidding in general, things were going fairly low. That is to say some things did, and then some of the craziest things went very high. That is part of the entertainment of the auction. So, in my head, I was not in Amish country bidding on a great creation (although it was nice). I set my price and lost it.

But I digress.

My mother never knew what my father was going to bring home. He had a garage workbench and a basement workbench to store some of this stuff, so the only ones who really suffered were the folks who had to clean up the workshops for the auction Mom had after he died. Sometimes he brought Mom something, that to her was the same as the cat bringing a dead bird to her. She usually took it in stride.

But not always.

There were box lots. Box lots, to the uninitiated, are when the auctioneer throws one good thing into the box, and then throws in a bunch of junk to get rid of it. While we know that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—and the same thing goes for women—usually the box is full of junk.
Tools are handled differently and Dad did have an affinity for tools……but he still bought those box lots. Mom would remove the items out of them while we all sat around in the kitchen and we would laugh uproariously at the ridiculousness of it. “Oh, just what every family NEEDS! Milking machinery cleanser!” I would nearly wet my pants.

This could go on for any length of time, and we were easily entertained in those days. Silly as it seems, it was family (and whatever friend might be witnessing this) bonding time.

There were times it wasn’t so funny. Dad bought a dining room suite without consulting Mom. That, friends, we don’t do! However, in the big scheme of things, she only had to endure it for about three years, because when the house we sold on land contract was refinanced, we came into the proceeds and Mom got all new furniture and carpet for the downstairs and the kitchen table she dreamed of. The point is, do not buy furniture at an auction unless husband and wife are there together.

It was difficult to watch my grandparents’ things auctioned off in 1972, and I didn’t attend the auction my mother had in 1978. When I settled my uncle’s estate in 1992, the auction wasn’t difficult for me at all. When the estate auction for my in-laws was held in 2002, I did not attend. That was a bonding time between my husband and son. They came home with stories and I smiled. “That (piece of crap) sold for $XXX!” Yeah, I know.

I went frequently with my Dad, but he had other “auction buddies.” We teased them just as much. When I was ready to start up housekeeping on my own, I never knew what he would find. He bought an antique ironing board for 25 cents that I wish I still had today.

One of Dad’s friends went to “auctioneering school” with him. Then the friend set up a business, still in effect today with his son running it, and Dad helped him at the auctions.

One thing is for sure. When you’re working, you can’t buy!

Auctions are social events too, for many of the people attending. Certain auctioneers have a following. (groupies?) Lots of people buy and resell it in other ways, flea markets, Ebay or whatever.

But you definitely can see that it’s social. The good auctioneer knows his people so well that he knows when a brother and sister (husband and wife?) are bidding against each other and don’t know it. A great auctioneer stops a person from bidding against himself. He stops the show and gets everyone straightened out before proceeding. I’ve seen “volleys” but never out-and-out bidding wars. These are local country folk who all know each other and have to face each other at the NEXT event!

The auctioneer at the event I went to last week was the grandson of the man who did my grandparents’ estate auction. Life marches on.

P.S. My in-laws farm (land) auction is a great story, but I don’t have permission to write about that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Skeletons Rattling in the Closet: A Story that NEEDS to be told!

My mom, her aunt and her
grandfather. Long before this
story took place.
I could also title this story “It couldn’t happen today.”

Every family has skeletons in their closet. Ours is no exception. I will not be using names in this because there are survivors out there that may not even be aware of the story. I don’t want to be the messenger.

My grandmother had six adult siblings. One of her sisters was married and divorced. I know nothing about that relationship except that it happened and there were no children involved. She married for a second time at about 30. She and her husband liked to "socialize," whatever that meant for the day. They went out a lot. When she was older and pushing 40, she had three children in three years, with between a year and 18 months between them.

Anyone of any age that has had three children within three years knows that it’s a challenge. To have them later in life, is even harder. To have them via Cesarean section is even worse! 

And it’s especially hard when the father is not home to help with them, but is running around with his secretary.

Back in the day, my great-aunt had what we might say was a “nervous breakdown.” Who can blame her? She took all three children out in the winter snow and was found in the middle of the street, yelling, "The Germans are coming!" (I estimate this to be 1944 as I put this all together, I don't believe the war was over yet). 

Her husband took the children to his parents' home, and I am sure they were loving grandparents. He had his wife committed to the state mental hospital. I have learned that his parents wanted to adopt them, as well as another cousin and husband, who could not have children.

He got a divorce and married the secretary. We have no knowledge that his parents knew what was going on there. The children were taken to see their mother on rare occasion, but got to the age where going to the hospital wasn't something they wanted to do. After all, they barely remembered this woman, and the secretary was their "mother." (Incidentally, she had another sibling for them)

My great-aunt wanted to get them back. She just didn't have any money. I think she struggled with what we know today as bipolar disorder, but she WAS able to work for the hospital in a role of secretary to the doctors. 

She was given electroshock therapy sometime in this process and that did NOT help the situation, but she was able to function.

At a certain point, which we think was "retirement" from whatever work she did, she was moved into a retirement "cottage." I have got to think of this as a step down situation as you do not put the craziest people in a cottage.

She spent the remaining days of her life (at least 40 years) in the mental hospital or the cottages. I remember my grandmother monthly getting on a bus—she never drove—and going to visit her sister. She spent the day doing laundry, cleaning her room or cottage (my grandmother was if nothing else a cleaner!) and making sure she was taken care of. I do not know if any of her other siblings went to see her, but certainly not regularly.

When my grandfather died, grandma bought six plots, because she knew she would have to see to her brother’s burial (which happened to be the next year) and eventually her sister. When her sister died, grandma buried her alone. I’m sure her pastor was there.

Her children knew about her, but the grandchildren (who today would be in their forties and fifties) never knew anyone but the secretary as their grandmother.

I guess it’s pretty easy to say that this story really stinks! We didn’t know the whole story until my aunt, who was studying for her degree in Psychology at the Ohio State University, took a “field trip” to the state hospital before it was closed. She asked about seeing her aunt’s records and they were within months of being destroyed, so we are fortunate to have that part of the story.

So the questions that remain to me now are:

Where was her family? Why didn’t anyone stand up for her? How did a husband have SO MUCH CONTROL over this situation, with no questions asked? Maybe she was eccentric. Maybe the circumstances threw her over the edge. But no one came to her support. No one wanted to talk about mental illness in their family.

As my aunt and I discussed this, she being the same age as her youngest cousin in this family, we were reminded that my grandmother (her mother) and this aunt/sister were only two years apart and they were the cabooses of the family. Everyone else was older and had families of their own to be concerned with. I like to think that HIS parents/the grandparents might have helped, but we all know as parents, that once our child has set their mind on something, they usually see it through. We don't know if they hated this situation or eventually accepted it.

Could this happen today? Well, we don’t have the mental hospitals anymore, so it wouldn’t be like that. I’d like to think that there would be a woman’s organization that she could go to, and provide assistance. But she didn't, she went out in the cold with her babies, so there was some instability. We know that women’s shelters are important today. What I want to say is that nothing is new. 

To be fair, there is no evidence that my great-aunt was physically abused. It was about neglect, and infidelity, and no one to stand up for her.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Crashing Another High School Reunion

Some time ago, I wrote about my childhood hometown’s Bicentennial. It was a wonderful day to connect with old friends and make some new acquaintances. During this planning time, I became involved with the Historical Society. I met new people too. As I previously mentioned, last names were familiar to me, and my maiden name was everything. They didn’t know me as a Derge.

My neighbors

So it seemed natural that I would go to the 45th Class Reunion of the school I WOULD have graduated had I not moved. I have kept up with many friends and my childhood neighbors—which was a close neighborhood—and made new friends via Facebook. I have gotten together with several on some different occasions here and there. I seem to see TOO many people at the funeral home.

First of all, I must say that they graduated 274 to my class of 639 (who walked). Obviously, it’s a different situation. They repeatedly use the American Legion Hall and it was perfect for the group. It would not have been big enough for the reunion we just had. It was more casual, and that was fine. It was what the group was comfortable with.

One of the first things that I notice is the Memorial Table. While I use a PowerPoint display, we have lost 75 out of the 639. They have lost 40 out of the 274. Usually, when I talk to people, in-laws, cousins, the percentage of loss is about the same, regardless of the size of class. My class has lost 12% and less if you count all the people who didn’t walk. They have lost 14.5%, which is significantly larger in real life.

I would say that I knew about 1/3 of the people there, but what was impressive to me is how many of the other 2/3 introduced themselves and asked who I was. Some of them hadn’t moved into that area until after I moved out! They could never have known me!

The one teacher that attended was the choir director. One of the classmates sings with me in Symphony Chorale (a surprise to both of us!), and was sitting with him and his wife. I introduced myself and started talking music. When I said where I went to high school, he (at age 86) immediately knew who my choir director was! We had a lovely conversation about music education.

There was casual food, what I call picnic food. Fruit, veggies, a pasta salad, two kinds of meat sandwiches, and “cheesy potatoes,” which I understand is a favorite of one of the members of the committee. I get that. I always wanted carrot cake at every reunion. Actually, I didn’t make it to the dessert table this time.

Good people!
They had a very nice disc jockey who played great music. It was a little loud, but that’s because of my hearing. It’s harder and harder to hear plainly at these events. They had a nice table with pictures and mementos of high school life. Other than varsity letter jackets and choir robes, I have put most of these things and more on our web site and I direct people to that. But we always have something to look at.

This reunion was a good “fit” for the number of people who came. What is most important is how they made me feel. They were welcoming and we had nice conversations. My “best” friends didn’t feel the need to stay with me all evening. I moved around the room and met wonderful, friendly people.

That’s what it’s all about anyway.