A Good Cause

“Sold at 45 dollars. 1-2-7, 1-2-7.”

I pick my way through the rutted grass lot. The auctioneer’s voice carries through the thick heat, and Mom walks in the direction of its origin, a pale yellow barn, devoid of farm animals but filled with people. We select folding chairs near the middle of the smooth concrete floor as breeze from one of the large fans brushes across my arms. Mom flips through the charity booklet, looking for items she wants to bid on.

Where I grew up, there is a large population of Amish families who show their support for the county’s Hospice by organizing and working a Labor Day weekend auction event. Hundreds of items are auctioned off every year, alongside baked goods and prepared lunches. Auctions in the county are not unusual and the event is popular.

I study my surroundings, noticing the saw horse and plywood tables that support artwork and other items along the perimeter of the barn. Regular auction-goers like my father bring their own lawn chairs to relax in while they wait for the items they want.

A lady introduces the next item. The auctioneer takes over from his station behind a dais. He speaks into the microphone with staccato rhythm as he opens the bidding and builds up the value like he is scat singing. Two pairs of Amish men watch the crowd, one for the front half, one for the back half, giving a “Hyup” or a “Herrre” as they sweep the bids back with an arm motion to the auctioneer up front. At his side, his assistant records the winning bid numbers.

The pace rolls on and keeps the crowd interested as I see a runner hand off the item to the winning bidder. The lady introduces a blue and white Amish quilt. I drink a sip of water and forget about the heat as I listen to the bidding.

“Will you give me 50, 25 dollars, there you go, now 35, 35, 35–Hyup–now 50, 50–Hyup–now 75 dollars getting started, 100, 100–Herrre–now 125, now 125, now 125, 125 in the back, now 150, 150! 150, 150!”

The two pairs of men make eye contact with bidders, waving their fingers in and nodding, encouraging more cards to rise in the air for the quilt. The younger men in brighter clothing who watch for bids defer to the older men with larger beards by glancing for a half second before eliciting more numbers.

“Hyup!—now 175, I got 175 up front, now 200, 200, 200, 200 right there, 225, will you give me 225, 225 –Hyup!–now 250, 250! 250, 250? Sold at 225 dollars. 1-6-7, 1-6-7.”

The runner gives the quilt to the highest bidder, and the crowd shifts in their seats which are arranged in neat rows. My mom’s gift certificate  is next. The auctioneer opens the bidding.

“There you go, dinner out, will you give me 50, 25 dollars, 25 up front, now 50, now 50, now 50–Hyup–now 75, 75, 75, 75…”

My mom raises her bid card. The young man makes eye contact with her, then waves his arm back while saying, “Herre.”

“Now 100, now 100, now 100, now 125, 125, 125…”

My mom shakes her head at the young man who waits for her to raise her card.

“Over there, 125, now 150, will you give me 150, 150, dinner out, no dishes—Hyup!–now 160, 160!,160…”

Mom raises her card and immediately the young man throws her bid back to the auctioneer.

“Now 170, 170! 170, 170? Sold at 160 dollar.  2-4-9, 2-4-9.”

Mom accepts the envelope from the runner and we gather our things up, but we wait to leave until the auctioneer finishes selling the next item. We make our way out of the barn and into the bright summer light. The smell of fresh-cut grass and fruit pies wafts over to us as we walk over to the accounting area to settle up.


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