Saturday, January 28:
Milk from the store at three or four dollars a gallon is a commodity precious and not to be wasted; on the farm with pigs as well as a milk cow, there is no waste, and a failed cheese is just a learning opportunity that reduces one’s expenditure of pig feed. This is good, because the Paysano cheese we started in the morning fell victim to the further events of the day. Four gallons of perfect curd matted and grew acidic in the time it takes to say, “going, going, gone”.
We played hooky to attend a local auction, leaving our chores and venturing out into gale winds driving fine, sharp snow. We bought little; what was only marginally successful as a means of acquiring bargain equipment more than justified itself in lessons on human nature. Although our toes are still thawing from three hours encased in frozen mud, churned to mush by fifty pairs of boots, notwithstanding, the entertainment value of the outing was considerable. The things people save, to be offered for sale on their passing, and the things people spend money on, defy augury.
Cars were lined up for a half mile along the ridge road leading to the auction site; the two-acre yard will be rutted this evening by the vehicles parked at random on the grass. Several may require a tow to get them out; not everyone has four wheel drive. Sixty or seventy people mill around the house, garage, and sheds, inspecting furniture, lawn equipment, and the contents of boxes. Hats are pulled low against the gusting wind which surges through the bare branches of deciduous trees and the dark green of evergreens with a noise like an approaching freight train. Hard pellets of snow drive into the space between collar and neck, and people shrink into their coats like turtles pulling into their shells. The Beautiful river, a mile east and several hundred feet below us, crawls sullenly toward the Gulf of Mexico; perhaps when it gets there it will cheer up, like some snowbird arriving in Florida, and regain its sparkle.
Social and economic class blends to the point of confusion at an auction. Many layers of coats and scarves disguise even the prosperous as ordinary people subject to the elements, even more after an hour or so, when those whose bids have won them rugs or blankets are wearing them as a top layer. Bed clothing as outerwear transforms even the most solvent into people just escaped from a house fire, or people living under a bridge. Only their bids reveal them to be citizens with money to spend. A box of pens brings well over one hundred dollars; ditto a box of old-fashioned ladies’ handkerchiefs. No doubt the informed buyer knows. Two televisions bring prices which would surely have bought them new. Some items include surprises: bidding on a crate containing some hundreds of feet of coiled rope is enlivened by the discovery of a bonus in the form of a dead ‘possum curled cosily in the middle. Free of charge, the auctioneer assures the lucky bidder.
Boxes and boxes of miscellaneous household clutter bring anywhere from one dollar to twenty-five a box, their relative values by us undiscernable. Glassware of all kinds – but mostly of the ugly kind – moves briskly. Three boxes of tall, narrow bottles are sold as “collectibles”, the auctioneer adjuring the crowd that they are required by law to empty the amber and crimson contents down the drain when they get home. Sure, reported the successful bidder, and did I tell you a guy gave me six hundred dollars on e-bay for the bottle I bought for four dollars last month at auction? I told him he had to empty it down the sink, too. The crowd is appreciative.
The tools we bid on go high; three men in camo and heavy boots compete with one another for the last nod, the loser conceding the match with a shake of the head. We pick up a galvanized wash tub which will be useful for washing vegetables, and a heavy tool box with six drawers which someone at home will want. The wheelbarrows, garden carts and metal bins we are waiting for are kept to last, the final items in the furthest row on the lawn; when we get there we find that the dozen or so attendees remaining are there for the same reason we are. The carts are knocked down for good, substantial sums which would probably have bought the equivalent new at the hardware store. Maybe they are antiques. Maybe.
When we get home there is work to be done on the new hot water system which ties into the new wood furnace; piles of laundry to be folded, and dinner to get. Four-year-old S-6 gets very still in a corner of the sofa and is found to be running a temperature. Dark means time for the evening milking; then there is reading aloud, and popcorn.
The pigs enjoyed the Paysano.