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Five dollars


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We drove south out of Dodson, up onto the plateau and out toward the mountains. We passed the turn off at the long dirt road to the place where I used to live, a life-time ago. I recognized the same barbed-wire gate. Sun dappled the hills. A slight breeze teased the grasses. A perfect day. Signs marked "Auction" pointed us in the right direction. Oak pallets, each heaped with an assortment of goods, snaked across the field. Beyond the pallets, lined out like an old-soldiers honor guard at a funeral, slumped dozens of derelict cars and pick-ups, trucks, tractors and machinery. Stacks of lumber, tools, wire, boxes and bins of parts and nails and bolts flanked scattered outbuildings. I signed in and received the number 100. A good omen. I wandered over to the row of pallets where the auctioneer hawked trash and treasures. I didn't spot anything I wanted, but, feeling mischievous, I started a bid at two and a half. I was certain somebody else would pick it up from there. Three. Then four. The bid went to five. Why not? Okay. Seven-fifty? Going once. Twice. Sold for five dollars. Gulp! I had just bought a pallet. I had not intended to buy it. I had no idea what was on the pallet other than a large brown boxy thing and an old pressure cooker minus the petcock and handles. While the auctioneer proceeded along the row, I stopped to paw through my acquisitions. Within moments, I sold a box of dishes and a box of assorted car parts. That paid for my pallet. Soon I had sold or gifted everything but the cooker and a box of canning jars. An hour passed before I bought another pallet; again, for five dollars. It was heaped with odd dresser drawers, minus the dressers. Some old wood. A mix of cabinet doors. A sturdy box with dividers for storing all manner of things. It could have lived in a tool shed, a kitchen or an office. But what did I really buy? The dresser drawers will be raw material for art projects. Wait till you see what I can do with a dresser drawer. I set a limit to my bids based on what I could spot in the jumble on the pallet. And no matter how much I desired a particular treasure, I recognized when someone else wanted it more. An auction is a bitter-sweet place to spend the day. It is a book of somebody's life, easily deciphered but just as easily misunderstood. This ranch was probably homesteaded in the last wave of homesteaders, if I read the pages right. I looked out over the hills. Something within me yearns for this life, isolated as it is, out here on the flat with the snow-covered Little Rockies directly south and the Bear's Paws a notch over to the west. I lived out here during the sixties, snowed in every winter. We farmed with horses and an obsolete tractor. We had no running water though we had a good deep well. We had no bathroom facilities. We had no money, but we were rich in living. My friends dragged me away to take a break from my heavy spending. We sauntered over to the cook wagon. Replenished with a generous bowl of hearty beef stew, we marched back into the fray. We watched buyers haggle over the old car bodies. Much as I might covet an antique auto to restore, if I hauled a junker home I could do no more than watch it continue to rust. The auctioneer, like a mother hen with chicks, herded his brood around some large sheds. We ended up by the ruins where a fire had burned down the main house. Oh. That answered a lot of questions. A woman I had noticed before, hanging on the fringes of the auction, told me that her uncle had died in the house fire. He was ninety-three. She grew up on this farm. The pain of her loss was reflected in her eyes. Around the edges of the debris surrounding the burn stood several old stools. Some had three legs. Some had four. Some had legs each a different length. Some legs faced different directions on the same stool. This was not the work of a craftsman. But I recognize treasure when I see it. I piled up six of the stools and bid on them. I'll paint them each a different color and plant them in my back yard. I'll surround them with pots of petunias. Five dollars well spent. (Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http:// montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)


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