Ten years ago, I sat out to be an auctioneer. Following a two and a half year apprenticeship, I sat out to start my own auction company. With the assistance of some very dedicated and adventurous friends and family, we had our first sale as Cindy Smith Auction on site on Ruffin Street in Durham. Little did I know that day, how very special and professional the folks were who stood by my side. Clyde, Gill, Sandra, Ron, Chris, Linda, Ronnie, my eternal thanks for your dedication and belief.
We lost our friend Ron at our first auction. One of the best “ringmen” in the business, his last moments were spent catching bids and entertaining a crowd. We had a moment of silence as the ambulance pulled away. My crew held on in spite of some very adverse circumstances and we finished the sale. One of the best and worst days of my life.
After our first few on-site sales, I happened upon a space at Iron Gate Square in downtown Durham. The first open air auction house! Aside from the pigeons, we were the only residents of the building. Sliding back the huge iron and chain link gate, we held sales every other week, or so during the temperate season.
December came and it was cold. Clyde and I would slip away to “Peek a Boo’s Tavern” on Ninth Street to warm our souls with sandwiches and beverage after we would work on advertising. We were waiting for our Hillsborough space to be vacant. We signed our lease six years ago this past New Year’s eve. Two weeks before we were to open, my father literally dropped “dead” face down in his lunch plate and was amazingly recessitated by another diner who knew CPR. My Mom and I spent the next sixteen days in the hospital with him as they replaced this, that and the other. During this time, my aforementioned friends, went to auctions, bought fixtures, decorated and painted the gallery, built the auction block and kept the spirit going. New Year’s Day, I awoke to a phone call from Clyde telling me that we had been robbed New Years eve. They took tools and sound equipment. Nice housewarming!
We opened the gallery with quite a nice New Years auction in mid-January. Our plan was to have sales every other Sunday, and we did. In August of our first year, my Mom, who was training to be my clerk was advised that she needed a valve transplant. Her procedure didn’t go as well as my Fathers. After a surgery with many complications and seven or eight emergency admissions to the hospital in five months, she passed away at sixty-four years old on January 17, 2005.
My crew carried on, and once again ran the business without me present. They prepared us for the sale we were to have a week later.
I must have operated somewhat mechanically for several months following, as my Mother was a part of my soul and I, an only child. My Mother told me to never “crumble”, and so for the past six years, I have kept going. The beginning, as exciting as it was to open a new business, happened to coincide with the worst year of my life. I suppose its true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but it can also make you tired.
In my business, the thing I worry about the most are my sellers. The expectation, the hope, sometimes the need for an object to sell well. We have said that we survive on the five “D’s”: Death, Divorce, Desperation Depression, and fairly new to the mix, Downsizing.
One meets many folks in this business, and many provided me with lasting impressions, educations and friendships. I have had client’s who, as the husband in a relationship in which both folks collected, have liquidated their estates’ collections knowing they had a limited time here are earth and they have wanted to ease the burden for their spouse. I’ve met many folks as a couple and now, they have both passed on. I’ve been able to give a diamond ring to a niece whose Aunt that passed on told me she wanted her to have. We have seen sorrow, grief, relief, appreciation, empathy and closure.
The adventures have been countless. I have been able to travel to Brooklyn and stay in a brownstone in the Hassidic and Russian Mafia district of Burrough Park. It was in Brooklyn that Clyde, Eddie, Chris and I stayed in the apartment that we were cleaning out. This building had one of the oldest escalators ever made by Otis with a porthole window. There were trips down from the fourth floor where we all were in the small elevator along with the furniture and goods we were moving. Reminiscent of the game Twister, I still don’t know how we did it. This brownstone was anchored in the very traditional area of the Hassidic Jewish religion, and Chris and I, large blond women in shorts and t-shirts were a bit out of place. Our faux pauxs were few, but innocently blatant. Clyde went out for breakfast one morning in search of bacon and egg biscuits. He also had dinner duty one night and returned with pastries, as this was the only store open after seven. We had been physically moving all day and our only sustenance was baked goods. There were numerous bottles of vintage wine in the closet, and gefilte fish in the cupboards, but not one of the bottles were drinkable and we didn’t attempt the gefilte fish!
Another trip was to Gwinup, Kentucky where Gill, Debbie and I traveled to pick up a small estate. Small, but mighty. The piano must have weighed two thousand pounds! We were a quarter of an inch shy from allowing gravity and equipment to assist us up our truck ramp. We were stuck. Debbie said she was going for help. The next thing I knew, walking down the street through the fog lifting off the river was Debbie and two prisoners, adorned in black and white convict stripes. With a heave-ho, in moments the piano was in the truck. The only place in this industrial poor town that we trusted for dinner was a Golden Corral adjacent our hotel, so we ate there for two days. Both Debbie and I were stricken with food poisoning from the “Le Corral Golden” upon our return home. Thanks goodness, it didn’t happen on the road. We have found ourselves in elegant homes and we have found ourselves literally walking on a foot of trash covering the floor of a home. Gill and I have cleaned out an attic during the summer, when it was so hot, our glasses of water evaporated before our eyes. Eddie and I spent hours in an attic that housed three generations of wonderful finds. However, when we descended, we found ourselves filled with three generations of organic dust. Too much to even enter a store on the way home. Another event that proved most interesting was that of a gentleman who to his family’s surprise collected “erotica”. I mean just that, not “porno”. Overwhelmed by the job to ready the house for sale, they began preparing by renting a dumpster. Of course, when they found they “erotica”, into the dumpster it went! Gill, the smallest of all of us, and the one we would refer to as “the little tough wonder”, wouldn’t have it. Into the dumpster she climbed, and even though it was during the rainy Spring season, she managed to recover enough books for the estate to realize over $1000.00 from the books alone.
In this business, confidentiality is a priority that must always be respected, so even though I share the stories, the origin will remain confidential.
We have been contracted for jobs because we aren’t afraid to get dirty and explore the depths of an estate from top to bottom. It is the thrill of the hunt that drives us, the undying knowledge to learn the history of an antebellum or modern estate, the after hours spent researching an item to learn that it is special and it will fetch more money for the client as a result. There is more than the “fine”, there is the interesting, the vintage, the rare. It’s often about the whole package. We once worked for a client, who overwhelmed by her own busy life inherited the duty to clean out her mothers house as she prepared for assisted living. She called me in as a whim, as she was going to have a yard sale. Her “yard sale” turned into a $13,000.00 auction. I recently had clients whose parents NEVER threw anything away. These folks spent two years trying to work through the house, spending days off and vacation time trying to finish the job. We came in and within a week, readied it for auction, a quite successful one at that.
There are so many moments that have touched my heart or had me in stitches. Some, I’m afraid, you would really have to be there to appreciate. For instance the time that Clyde was determined to drive his truck out of a rut up to his axles. Once he got going, he wouldn’t be able to stop and Gill just happened to be in his path looking like a deer in headlights as he chased her around the yard. Then there was the estate where I was bit by fire ants and had to call bids with my foot in a bucket of ice water. Could have been worse, it was a hundred degrees that day. People have asked me how I can call bids for so long without having to go to the bathroom. “You just do,” I reply. A case in point was a sale we did in Greensboro. I had no, absolutely, not one relief auctioneer either on staff or in the audience. I called bids for eight hours. It was Summer and Eddie brought me a towel he had soaked in a cooler of cold water. When I wrung it out and the water hit the cement stoop, several folks thought it was the sound of me, well, you know, cutting loose! That was the same sale where I started the sale without my clerk, Sarah. The clerk is the most important role in the sale, as they record everything that is sold, whom it went to and for what price. Poor Sarah was in the porta-potty when she heard me call the first item sold. Running out still putting herself back together, she asked me, “Did you just start the sale without me?”. Oops.
Then there are the moments that one wonders if there really are ghosts oe possessed possessions? One sale was in a home where the gentleman had been tragically murdered. Try as we may, we could never get photographs to turn out in one room of the house. Another, odd occurance followed, our good friend, Ernie’s death. Our front door of the gallery would simply and slowly open randomly. No wind, no person present, just opened. It began when we had his items in the gallery. It still happens now and again, so we just say “Hi Ernie”.