Making Memories in Appalachia’s Auction Houses

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I was only ten years old the first time I was introduced to an old fashioned Appalachian auction house.

It was a Saturday afternoon and the stagnant July air seemed trapped between the mountains of Southern West Virginia.  My family and I were set to return to our home in Virginia the following day, but we had one evening left to visit with the two most incredible people to ever live — my grandmother and grandfather.

A lot of people claim there isn’t much to do in places like Mingo County, West Virginia, on a Saturday evening, but in my experiences, this is a far cry from reality. For us, the debate was should we spend the evening four-wheeling down the hardtop two lane road, go to one of a dozen camp meetings being held in “them thur hills” or go out to the Delbarton Opry House for some live music?

In the end, we opted not to do any of those things and instead decided to go to a nearby auction house that was being held in a building I have no doubt the health department or building inspector even had a clue existed… either that, or they happily looked the other way and turned a blind eye to what was one of the coolest assemblies my young eyes had ever seen!

No West Virginia Saturday evening would be complete without a short religious debate, which my uncle who was a pastor of a local Assembly of God was happy to oblige us with, as he argued that attending such an event was sinful because it dealt with “risking money”.

I still haven’t found the chapter and verse backing up his assessment, as well as even determined how bidding on something “risked money”, but that’s another story!

After driving “plum across’t Mingo County” we arrived at the auction house which was nothing more than an old shack that stood just a few feet from the road as well as a few feet from an unnamed West Virginia creek.

We arrived to the auction a little late and as we walked in, my young eyes were astonished at just how many people fit inside that tiny rundown building — it was like a circus environment.

They were selling hotdogs, chips and pop just inside the main entrance door, but for me, the true excitement was taking place in the large room just beyond the hotdog stand.

The auctioneer was one of the largest men I had ever seen, and he sat in an old ripped up chair holding a microphone as he raddled out the unmistakable rhythm of bids.

“Tweenie-five and ah haf, tweenie-five and ah haf, come own, y’all know what it’s worth, ahah, yeah, I see ya, teenie six…”

The bidding on a case of Home Interior decorations concluded with an excited woman exclaiming, “Whoah! I’se as nervous as a cat with the flux – thinking someone was ah gonna outbid me.”

That was exciting to me.

We found ourselves a seat on an empty row of metal folding chairs and the next thing to come up for auction was of all things a roll of bologna.

To prove that the bologna was “safe”, the auctioneer cut into the giant roll and popped some of the meat into his mouth.

“Yep, it’s good.  Let’s ah start the bid’n…”

The front of the room was filled with closed up brown boxes and after each auction, a new brown box would be opened and out would come totally random items — it could be makeup, fix a flat, a used T.V., or an outdated lifetime supply of candy.  The fact that you never knew what was coming next was part of the suspense and thrill of that auction house.

Sitting alongside my grandfather, I believe he could almost sense my desire for the next item to be randomly pulled from the box — “A real guitar.”

As they paraded the guitar around the room so that everyone could get a good look at the product, the auctioneer began bidding.

I was a bit of a shy kid and didn’t tell anyone just how much I wanted the instrument — I secretly had childish aspirations of being a country music singer and that guitar was to be my ticket to Nashville!

I watched with envy as two men across the room engaged in a fierce bidding war for the guitar until one of the men bowed out.

“Going once, going twice’t…” and out of no where, I heard my grandfather yell out.

Less than a minute later, I was holding that guitar in my hands.

I do not remember much about that evening after this moment — even the large man sitting on a ripped up couch seated atop cinder blocks couldn’t compete with the new guitar my granddad had purchased for me.

I have no clue how much he gave for that guitar, but some thirty years later, and too many scratches to count, I have no doubt that the instrument has lost nearly all its value — or at least to everyone else.

My granddad died of lung cancer about four years later and that guitar was seldom ever played once I got a drivers license; however, there isn’t anyone in the world who has enough money to get me to part with that broken down instrument I received on my first trip to an Appalachian auction house.

If you ever get an opportunity to go to a place like I just described, take it!

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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