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My parents bought their farm in 1958. Last year, they held the farm auction that sold their dream.
My father always worked hard. If farming were rewarded by the hard work put in, he would have earned millions in riches instead of callused calluses, bent-over bones and arthritic joints.
In the dreams of my father, one or both of his sons would have followed him into the family business; farming is in his blood as deeply as his German heritage. It was not to be.
The preferred alternative was that my father would never retire. He would, rather, expire – just drop dead – as his father had before him, of a massive heart attack while on a tractor. He would land face-first in his beloved earth and become one with his land.
Alas, this also was not to be. His declining health was to have the last word. My father had to sell everything.
It was mostly an exercise in clearing out the yard. Many of the pieces had themselves been acquired at auctions, since an auctioneer’s patter was music to my parents’ ears. My father made his money in farming by buying cheaper pieces of machinery and fixing them.
The auction of his own farm was planned for months. The call went out to relatives far and wide, relatives who had nothing to do with farming, relatives who hadn’t been to the farm in many years.
Not one of them had any interest in anything that was for sale, but everyone understood that this was about supporting my parents, and especially my father, as he unloaded his shop, his shed, his toolbox and his garage and gently laid down his dreams.
The night before the auction, we greeted each other at the farm with cries and hugs. My mother had put on a gigantic spread: turkey, ham, potato-and-cheese casserole, coleslaw, pickled and fresh vegetables, cookies and cakes. There was enough food to quiet the conversation for a few minutes while we placed each other over the years and the miles and generations.
That evening a lively bonfire brought laughter and stories, and a bit of anonymity in the darkness around the crackling brightness.
The auction day was threatened by rain, not a good thing as the event would be held outside on the three-acre property. The auctioneer’s truck was to traipse slowly around the assortment of tractor tires, combines, garden implements, milk cans, vintage machinery, graders and fuel tanks while the crowd shuffled in its wake. Rain would make the crowd thin. The diehards would stay, but there would be less bidding.
However, the day turned out to be hot, dry and windy and nobody left.
The sky opened up and spat on us for a few minutes, but shone brightly for the rest of the day. About 200 people tagged along behind the auctioneer – some locals, a few from farther afield and about 30 of us relatives.
We had no idea what we were supposed to do, other than supporting my father. But we found ourselves following and listening to the auctioneer’s patter: “One dollar bid, now two, now two, who will give me two, now two, now two.”
There was a mawkish curiosity in the air as we walked alongside buyers, tire-kickers, people who just wanted to see the yard, and my father.
He was exhausted from the preparations. In the weeks leading up to the auction he’d ensured that every item was in running condition; he’d purchased parts, installed batteries, scrounged up bit and pieces, mowed fields and moved machinery.
He felt he had to follow the auction from beginning to end, starting up every item that had an engine in front of the audience, telling the story of a transmission that had to be jiggled when in “drive” gear, and so on. He is scrupulously honest.
When the day was thankfully over, everything sold and pieces starting to move off the lot, the family moved slowly back to the house as buyers grabbed their new purchases and drove away.
Again, a feast awaited us, and we fell on it as if we hadn’t eaten for days. We compared each other’s sunburned faces as a point of pride or penance for the purchases going on around us while we were powerless to stop this onslaught on my father’s decades of dreams.
Again we sat around the crackling fire. Nobody wanted to be the first to leave; we all knew that the next morning we would scatter and would not see each other for many years again.
Finally, someone was tired enough to admit it and we got up. It was a hugging circle – a giant hugging circle where everyone hugged everyone else, even if they weren’t the ones leaving, even if they weren’t the ones who hadn’t seen each other in decades. We hugged people we hadn’t hugged in years. When the circle got around to the second cycle, people laughed but keep hugging anyway. It felt very good, and very sad.
Sometimes the dream ends.
Doris von Tettenborn lives in Calgary.