Left in Andover: Auctions, both poignant and lighthearted

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Auctions were a form of family entertainment when I was a kid. There seemed to be two types of auctions. The poignant kind was held on a farm where people were still living. Often they would be just selling off livestock. But sometimes it would be the whole home place.

The other type was held at a special auction barn. The auctioneer would collect a mountain of assorted stuff from the surrounding countryside. This auction tended to be a more lighthearted event. The objects, separated from their original context, were emotionally neutral.

Mom’s much used and much loved cutting board.

I recall auctions at Carvage’s Barn in South Windham as pretty raucous. Rough-hewn bleachers erected in an old cow barn set the stage. A jolly crowd and lots of very affordable “junk” enticed my father into joining the bidding.

Sometimes there would be a mystery lot in a box. Dad would win a few of these grab bags for us kids for almost nothing. The goodies might include a hand mirror, books, an old doll, lace, some boots and a cooking pot. You just never knew.

I don’t remember any specific items we went home with from Carvage’s — or Garbage’s as we called it in private.

But I grew up with a couple of sturdy square oak kitchen tables. My father used to get them for free at the end of auctions, before they were busted up for firewood.

I still own a cutting board Dad made for Mom out of an extra leaf from one such table. It survived in her kitchen until her death in 2012. I treasure this cutting board for its scorch marks, smudges and the etchings of Mom’s knife in the dense grain.

One of the oak table Dad would collect after an auction was over.

I attended neither the May 1944 nor the July 1950 auctions at Popplewood Farm advertised in local papers. I was not born until after my family bought it in late 1950. But Dad should have.

As soon as he took ownership, he proceeded to collect all the useful-someday-for-somethings he came across. He prided himself on having on hand every size nail, hinge, all kinds of lumber, windows, tools, cultivators and tractor parts.

By the time he passed on Popplewood to us kids in 1978, he had provided for us handsomely. He was confident we would never ever have to buy additional supplies.

Had Dad not owned a giant barn in which to stash his treasures, he might have been a target for one of the junk ordinances adopted in recent years by Andover’s neighboring towns.

For the wealthy, it is easy to keep little or nothing on hand. A click of the mouse and Amazon will deliver. But if money is an issue, it makes sense to take free and cheap stuff when you have the chance, and keep it on hand just in case.

Auction notices for Popplewood Farm and contents.

When Popplewood did get sold out of my family in 1987, it was quite a production to disperse Dad’s collection. Luckily, the buyers did not insist on the premises being emptied. Although from the city, they appreciated the local aesthetic and having a variety of supplies on hand.

Would these new owners be the ones to fulfill Dad’s dream of building a glass greenhouse? All the supplies had been sitting right there in the breezeway ever since I was a baby.

So we held no auction. Just tag sales, free piles and trips to the dump. Mercifully, my parents absorbed our most sentimental household furnishings and memorabilia into their house in Massachusetts.

This provided my siblings and me an extra 25 years to decide what to keep and what to throw away.

In 2012, when Mom’s house in downtown Northampton, Mass., needed to be emptied, we just dumped the stuff we didn’t want on her lawn. It was a great time watching as pedestrians and bike riders alike stopped to load up on free stuff.

In 2019, Popplewood finally returned to members of the extended Leader family. And that is another story.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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