March 31st Auction

I pulled into the driveway, stopped the car and got out. Wind blew down my open jacket collar, making me shiver. Despite the afternoon sunshine, the early March afternoon had a sharp bite to it. Patches of melting snowdrifts dotted the yard. I shrugged, thinking, “The air is chilly, like inside an old-time refrigerator, but as soon as the snow finishes melting, it’ll feel warmer.” Pulling the mailbox open, I found several envelopes. Among them was the monthly letter from my elderly friend.

Saving the letter for later when I could sit down and slowly read it, I began preparing supper for the family. Having prepped our meal the night before, my husband Arnie, our two children and I were able to sit down to eat lasagna a mere hour later. Arnie came to the table and glanced at the mail I’d brought in from the roadside mailbox. He chuckled, “I see your boyfriend wrote to you again.”  

“Yes!” I admitted with a demure smile. “It isn’t every day a gal has a sweet old boy writing to her all the time, telling about his life 70 years ago in the very house she lives in!” After serving everyone, I sat down to rest and enjoy my meal with the family.

When the dining room table was cleared and the dishes were drying in the rack, I sat down and opened Mr. Elton Greta’s letter. His flowery script in blue ink scrawled from the top of each page to the bottom, continuing on each side for a total of three pages. He wrote, “Each spring I am reminded of my family’s March 31st, 1913 farm auction. My dear sainted mother had hired an auctioneer to sell our farm and equipment.”

I put the letter down for a moment to wonder, “Why did Elton’s mother sell the farm? He seldom mentioned his father. When he did, he pointed out he was not a good man. Elton once wrote that his pa worked in Marshfield and was home only on weekends. Since there was no bridge over the Little Eau Pleine back then, he described how his family could hear pa’s horses splashing through the crossing whenever he came home. Had his pa been abusive so they dreaded his homecoming? Divorce wasn’t a common thing in that part of the century. If Elton’s ‘sainted mother’ was selling the farm, perhaps his pa had died?”

Elton Greta’s letter continued, “I remember a couple weeks before the auction, my brother and I walked to all the well-traveled roads for miles around to nail our auction flyers on poles. March 31st that year was warm, like a summer day. We had a large turn-out for the auction.”

I paused to reflect, “Elton was ten years old at that time.”

Turning the second page over, I read, “After the sale was over, the auctioneer gave my dear sainted mother the money which the auction had earned. My mother wrapped the money in a towel, opened the basement trapdoor and tossed it to one side into the darkness below. While we ate our supper, a man we didn’t know came to the house. He asked where the money from the auction was. Mother told him she figured it was in the bank because she sent it to town with the auctioneer to deposit for her.”

Looking around at my kitchen, dining room and living room, I wondered where the basement trap door had been. Although I suspected that the south and north parts of my house were built at separate times, I didn’t know which end was here in 1913.

Elton mentioned that after the auction, he, his brother and his much-loved mother boarded a train taking them to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. In his letters Elton often mentioned how he missed his childhood home along the river where he had climbed trees, fished, gone to school and loved daily life with his mother and brother.

Mr. Elton Greta started to write to me the year my daughter Tammie was born. His letters stopped coming when she was in her early teens. Old age caught up with him when his wife had had a stroke and he fell and broke his hip.

Each month I wrote back to Mr. Greta, sending him flowery descriptions of my family’s life in the house of his childhood, the flora and fauna still found on the north bank of his beloved river. He complimented my descriptive writing abilities, encouraging me to write more. It was his encouragement that made me brave enough to apply at the Marshfield Buyers Guide when the weekly columnist position opened.

Whenever March 31st rolls around, I remember Mr. Greta and feel grateful for his unexpected gift of friendship.


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