rust, dirt, men, and the world

I stood underneath the lip of the yellow and white striped tent, in shock and in awe of all that loomed around me. Auctioneers hollered out their fast-lipped spiel as old men flashed their buyer number cards, fingers, and nodded their heads to bid again and again on a huge assortment of items. Old cars, buggies, plows, shovels, rusty chains, farm equipment odds and ends, car parts, toys, baby strollers, furniture – all collectibles. The man who had amassed this collection had died, and now it was all up for sale.

“Auction! One hundred, one-fifty. We’ve got one hundred, now one-fifty. We done? Who’s buyin’? One-fifty, One-fifty. One hundred goin’ once. One hundred goin’ twice. You? No. One hundred. One hundred. Sold! One hundred dollars. Buyer number… 413!”

Two auctioneers worked at once, yelling into megaphones that were attached to speakers. People grouped around the action, not only to buy, but also to watch. As I stood in the clearing between the two masses of people, the noise was overwhelming. There was so much to see, so much to hear.

I was in Port Hope, Michigan. If you haven’t heard of it – it’s in the top of the thumb area of our mitten-shaped state. It’s a very beautiful place.

I hadn’t really wanted to go to the auction. Port Hope is about a three-hour drive from my city, and, on top of that, I don’t really like rusty old bits and pieces. I like to think of myself as a minimalist: Who needs all that stuff? I agreed to go, anyway. Why not? I like to view every opportunity that you don’t really want to take as an opportunity for adventure.

I am so glad I went. It turned out to be quite the experience.

Going to a estate auction is similar to going shopping at a thrift store – you don’t really know what sort of people you will find there, and you don’t really know what you’ll find there for sale. That’s what makes them both so exciting, right? Sure.

So, yes, the auction was huge. There was just so much stuff. And it was interesting stuff – not like those little angel figurines you find at your local Goodwill. Old Ford vans. Piles of what use to be cars from the ’30s. Shovels, rakes, other strange farming implements – all made of rust. Tents full of collectible children’s toys. Percussion instruments. Trailers, tractors, washing basins, mirrors, stools, chairs, baby buggies, horse carriages, hundreds of bicycles. So much stuff.

Oh, and there were Mennonites.

Now, maybe you’re more familiar with Mennonites than I am. That wouldn’t really be a difficult thing – I know basically nothing about them – or anyway, I knew nothing about them then. Like I said, you never know who you’ll run into at an auction. It was a very interesting sight to see: Old, farmer guys, young kids, people from the country, people from the city, cowboys and their little cow-children, and Mennonites, and me. The Mennonites stuck out because of the way they looked. It wasn’t just their homemade clothing (very cool – where can I get me a Mennonite-made shirt?), but their bodies, their hairstyles, their hands, even their language.

You could tell these people were hard workers. Their back and arm muscles were much bigger than the “modern” men’s that surrounded them. Their hands were big, and callused, from lifetimes of hard farm labor. One older man was missing his index finger. My mom guessed he lost it in a farming accident. Another had an (actual) wooden leg that made it difficult for him to walk. All the men sported beards, bowl-cut hair, and suspenders; all the women donned bonnets, aprons, and long dresses. I even spotted a little three-year-old Mennonite boy (so cute!), walking through the crowds with his father, wearing the same getup as the older men.

As for their language, yes, even that was different. I’ve no idea what it was – Wikipedia suggests some sort of German, or Dutch – but I will admit to scooting closer to two older gentlemen as they were conversing in an attempt to listen in. Little good it did me!

It was an amazing thing to watch: Mennonites and men and families and teenagers and city-slickers all bunched together, all mingled, all enjoying their auction visit together.

(I wish I had had my camera. Ugh! Don’t you hate when you don’t have your camera?!)

(Yes, ok, also, I eyed the Mennonite guys from afar. You would’ve too, ok!)

No shame.

Honestly, standing there in the dirt with those suspender-clad men, I felt sort of worthless. I don’t do hard labor to support myself. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I don’t make my own clothes (with pants with double-pockets!), I buy them from mass-producing companies. I don’t raise all of my own food – I buy it from huge chain grocery stores for way too much money!

Should I be like the Mennonites? Should we all be like the Mennonites?

Maybe a little.

Let’s consider it. We’d all look more attractive, anyway.

After that day, I was left wondering that. I was also left with the mental image of the modern people and the Mennonites together. It was like the old generation of Americans had stepped from the past into the estate auction. It was, to be descriptive, really neat.

Always do the things you don’t really want to do – you might have a good time, or learn something, or both!

Also, there was pie. Mennonite pie.

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