The Table: priceless
Driving slowly up an unusually long curving driveway, I found myself admiring the beauty of this beginning fall season. It was an end of September beginning of October kind of magic day. One in which the trees glistened. Their leaves, heavy laden in dew, were shining with the brilliance of precious gems. Prisms of light produced by the suns rays caught each dewy leaf as it danced in rhythm with the softly flowing breeze. Every leaf of every tree was simply shouting out, “Hey look at me! Look at my leaves!!!...Bet you've never seen color like this before!!! Get a load of my greens and golds and reds and browns and purples!!! Aren't we brilliant just brilliant! Don't you see!?!?”And I did see! As I always had seen in years past. I breathed in deeply this living mural of life's beginning and ending cycles.
Seems appropriate I thought. After all I am on my way to visit another family to discuss their parents estate: the ending of another cycle of life while another continues from the same root.
I was called upon, by the court, to counsel with the children. There were five siblings, all grown, all with families of their own, all with separate lives. They were in disagreement on the best way to dispose of the personal property of their parents. ( Many of you reading this will perhaps recognize yourself here. You know, “ been there, done that!” ) The estate had been willed to them, all of the real estate and all of the personal property. They owned it, but to decide how to divide it among themselves was causing much consternation. Oh, the real property was not difficult, that was simply a matter of selling it and dividing the income. But, the personal property well this was ( and always is ) another matter. There was one big problem that they could not solve, but before we get there....
Driving up the drive immersed in fall colors I also realized that I was being taken back in time. This beautiful farm with its white woven fences, huge red barns, and Victorian farmhouse had its fields neatly strewn with horse drawn vehicles, plows, wagons, buggies, and all manner of turn of the century farm equipment. Equipment that even the untrained eye could readily see was still being used.
I pulled the car off the drive and into the parking area behind the house. I found myself thankful for the vehicles of the children parked there also, otherwise I believe I would have felt a twinge of guilt for not riding in on a horse.
As I got out of the car, the 5 brothers and sisters all came out the back door to greet me and introduce themselves. “ Great we're off to a grand beginning!”, I thought. They put me at ease and for that I was grateful!
As I entered the back door, once again, my eyes were met with a time long past from this generation. I was in the kitchen! There was....No electricity, No running water, No indoor plumbing. A Wood burning Cook stove, Iron Cookware, Kerosene Lanterns, Homemade brooms, a sink with a Hand Pump for drawing water, Graniteware, Butter Churns and more! Further inspection of the home and property revealed many pieces of handmade furniture, Quilts and Linens, Bibles all worn and one could tell read daily, old prints and paintings, loads of collectibles and primitives. Pristine antique farming equipment, plus all the equipment for hitching up horses and mules for a days work plowing or harvesting the fields.
There was however one Anomaly in this house and it was the thing that was causing all the problems among these 5 brothers and sisters.
In the Dining Room completely and totally out of place from all the austere and primitive furniture occupying the rest of the house sat one of the most beautiful dining room tables I had ever seen at the time. It was of Highly carved walnut, intricate in design, beautifully made and definitely early turn of the century. How did it get here? It seems that the wife had come from a family not of the persuasion to live an austere life and this was part of the agreement when they married that she would always have her Dining Table which had been given as a wedding present by her parents on the day they were married. )
I sat with them in the living room as we talked. All 5 brothers and sisters were equally invested. They had given this table a priceless intrinsic value. A table each wanted but found impossible to have as their own without tremendously hard feelings. We discussed the options and chose the auction method as the best way to sell their particular estate. The auction would give each of them an equal opportunity to buy the table by bidding against one another with the high bidder getting the table, and as I counseled them, they became comfortable with this plan, especially when I pointed out that whoever buys it the others would get an equal share of the money paid for the table. This satisfied them but it is by no means the end or the “rest of the story”.
Inspection Day, the day before the auction, was well attended. On Auction Day we had placed 300 chairs in front of the house and had a “mobile diner” in place with food and drink. I noticed the very first couple to arrive that morning was an older couple ( I would say in their 80's ) they registered and immediately placed their numbers on two chairs directly in front of my podium. They then bought coffee and danish and sat down to wait.
As with all my auctions, my crew would bring the furniture or small pieces out the front door of the house, show it as I was auctioning it, and then take it back inside to its previous location.
The auction was going extremely well and we were about 4 hours into it when the Dining Room table came out. I noticed that the 5 brothers and sisters were strategically placed apart to bid on the table. I had asked them to separate like that so that there would be no misunderstanding as to who was bidding. I felt at that time, ( 1970's ), that the appraised value on the table was approximately $1,400. The bidding started and the kids quickly took the bidding past the $1,400 mark. As a matter of fact they took the bidding to $2,100 and I was about to sell it to the last sibling bidding and I was asking for $2,200 knowing full well there would be no more bidders. Now, back to the older couple. They had sat there, directly in front of me, for 4 hours never making a bid or showing any interest in bidding. I am calling for $2,200 on the Dining Table and the old gentleman raises his index finger very slowly into the air! He's bidding!?! Why!?! It's over value! He doesn't have a dog to hunt in this game so to speak so why is he bidding!?! ( These thoughts are running through my mind as I am auctioning this table )
I then ask for $2,300 and the last sibling standing is still in the hunt! I go back to the old gentleman for a $2,400 and he bids! ( Can't be I'm thinking! Wow! ) I go back to the sibling asking $2,500 and the sibling stays in the hunt! Back to the old gentleman for $2,600 and then back to the sibling for $2,700. The old gentleman is the successful bidder at $2,800!!! There is a story here and I have to know what it is, so as soon as the auction is over ( about 7 hours ) I jump down off the podium to speak with the older gentleman and his wife. “Sir,” I said, “I am really curious. You and your wife sat here that whole time and you only bid on the Dining Room table. May I ask why?”
The old gentleman didn't say a word until he had reached into his back pocket and produced his wallet. With shaking hand, he pulls out an old lithograph ad from a turn of the century Sears Catalog. “Mr. Parker,” he says, “When my wife and I were married many many years ago in the state of Kansas, my wife's parents purchased this table for us (pointing to the picture). Our house burned to the ground two years after we were married and we lost everything including this table. We have been searching for this table ever since. Every vacation, every excursion we would stop and look in antique stores and estates sales but never found it until now. You know the ironic thing about this Mr. Parker? We have looked all over the United States and you know what?” “No, What?” I asked. His answer shook me to my knees. “We just live one mile down this very road.” and with that he thanked me for the auction, and I thanked him for a story and lesson of the cycle of life I will treasure forever!