It all went according to plan the morning of the sale. Charles took our two children to the babysitter while I met my father at my parents’ bank. Promptly at 9am he signed for the $8,000 cash withdrawal, and I went to meet my husband at the sheriff department.
The crowd at the sale numbered only 10, and we were the first to arrive. Among the others we recognized the daughter of the current owners of the house we would be bidding on. With her was a gentleman we did not recognize. I tried to push back the idea that he might be there to bid on the property. Most of the people sat in silence. One gentleman joked with the man beside him, and offered his prediction that banks would be the only buyers this day. Among the people in the lobby there were four who obviously were attorneys. I couldn’t help but wonder which one we would be bidding against.
When the woman behind the podium asked for other bids I felt nailed to my seat. I’ve never been in a car accident or had any of those fabled “near death” experiences where your life flashes before your eyes in a matter of seconds, but I have some idea what it must be like. Because somehow, within the next two seconds, visions from the entire past year of house-hunting came unbidden to my mind. Old Winchester, Lemert Road, Township 44.
Beside me Charles sat as still as I. I tried to raise my eyes and scan the room, but my gaze was locked at the sheriff’s seal on the front of the podium. Another second ticked by and I had the distinct thought, “What the hell is this attorney waiting on?”
Still another second ticked by. I tried to consciously think of a reason why the bank wouldn’t want to bid on the house, but it was a puzzle I couldn’t solve. The entire room seemed frozen in place and my mind went blank.
It had been six or seven seconds at most, and the realization was dawning in me even before I heard the woman at the podium, “If there are no other bids then going once, going twice, sold to Mr. Charles…….”.
And suddenly I could move again. I looked up. Sitting across the room I caught the eye of the current owners’ daughter. She smiled at me. I turned to look at Charles and I saw the disbelief I felt reflected in his face. What had just happened?!?! Suddenly, overwhelmingly, I wanted to stand up and yell, to run, to jump! Could this be for real? It was hardly 10:05 and it was over! And it was ours – for the minimum bid possible!
But I couldn’t jump or yell. There were 11 other properties to sell that morning. So Charles and I both continued to sit quietly. I was oblivious to the next 5 or 6 properties that sold. Several times I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. But every time I opened them it was the same scene. The same people sitting quietly. The same podium in the front of the room. The same smile I kept feeling spread over my face.
About eight miles out of town on a county road sat the house and property that would soon be ours. Just over seven acres bordered to the south by a tree lined creek. A nineteenth century fieldstone farmhouse filled with the original unpainted woodwork. A matching stone springhouse tucked under trees along the creek. An arched stone bridge crossing the creek. And in the distance a country cemetery that includes weathered stones for our home’s first owners, John & Elizabeth Einsel.
Gradually, I came back down to the earth, and as the last few properties sold I followed along on the listing sheet. The woman running the sale began to thank everyone for coming. But she was interrupted by one of the attorneys sitting at the back of the room. He had arrived shortly after Charles and I and had sat quietly through the entire sale, sorting through the papers on his lap. I had watched as he bid on one of the last properties sold, buying it back for the bank that held the former mortgage. But now he stood up and interrupted the auction’s closing comments. “Wait,” he said, “what about the property at….” My breath caught as he briefly shuffled his papers again, and then he read out the address of the house – our house. OUR HOUSE. OUR HOUSE.
Every eye in the room turned to Charles and I. “I’m sorry, sir”, the woman who ran the sale said, “that was the first property we sold. It was bought by ….” She shuffled a few papers and read out Charles’s name and bid amount. The man seemed nonplussed. “But I’m here to bid on that property” he said, “I’m authorized by the bank to bid on that property.” The woman up front repeated that it had already been sold. Suddenly my head was spinning. I was aware that my lips were silently forming the words, “You can’t do this! It’s too late! It’s too late!”. And my mind was screaming, “No! Haven’t we lost enough houses already?!? Please, God, don’t let this happen again! Please, not like this!”
....to be continued. Part 3 here.