The Belt Buckle and Coffee Cup
Auctioneering was not a career I dreamed about. In the early 90’s I was looking for a cure for boredom and disappointment. I had a new marriage; no real direction for a career and my life-long desire to start an animal shelter seemed out of reach. The strikes were against me. I married a man with pet allergies. I tried but failed to respond to my husband’s allergic reactions to the yappy little rescue Chihuahua, Tiko, we agreed to adopt. It was clear that if I continued to pursue my mission to create and operate a rescue shelter, our relationship would always be a battleground. I chose to push forward with my dream and we finally divorced after twenty-five years of fighting this one unresolvable issue. The divorce was a relief and ended decades of hyper-focused house cleaning and the question he asked me daily, “have you touched Tiko?” I was finally free from the constant showering and hair washing and cleansing away of pet dander. The other obstacle was that I had worked a couple of jobs typically held by men - police officer and carpenter - I had no desire to prove myself and again and be labeled a “woman officer”, “woman carpenter”, or a “woman auctioneer”.
It was on one morning watching CBS Sunday Morning in bed alone that my brain bleeped. A story aired about a woman auctioneer for Christie’s or Sotheby’s, I can’t remember her name or what she was selling, but I remember thinking “I could do that!”. I suddenly saw myself standing behind a podium and selling items to raise money for my rescue. Never mind that I did not have a degree in art history or that I had never studied antiquities or that I knew very little about auctioneering. My knowledge was limited to riding along with my dad to the cattle auctions in Ellensburg as a child. I loved being with my dad and in the auction arena, but hated the brutality I witnessed the cows, horses and sheep experienced at the hands of the ranglers managing hundreds of farm animals. Huge trucks dropped big ramps and men in jeans unloaded animal after animal yelling “heyah” to keep them moving. I watched as the animals tripped and fell over the dead and dying in the bottom of the big trucks. I still remember the tractor pulling those poor creatures by a chain haphazardly wrapped around one leg allowing them to drag the wailing animals from the trucks to the downer pile often leaving crying calves behind and the chained animals even more twisted and broken. I can still see them jabbing spikes and prods shocking the frightened and disoriented animals to move along. Prior to the auction, I walked with my dad to the corrals while he previewed and searched for injured cows which meant those cows likely would sell cheap. I begged my dad to buy the orphaned “good” calves or save the downed calves. If an animal could stand with the injury, he bid on that cow. After the auction he loaded the injured animal in his red Jeep truck for the ride home. When we got the cows in the barn he applied Bag Balm to the wounds he found and wrapped sprains and breaks with bandages. Dad was unaffected by the horrific suffering and slow painful deaths we witnessed.
One time Dad caved in and let me have my own calf to raise. I called him Maverick after the western TV show. I fattened up my pet and when he was big enough and fat enough, dad shot her in the head with a Colt 45 and trussed her up for the blood drain and slaughter. Like all the others, Maverick was sent to the butcher and turned into hamburger and chops and kept in the locker freezer in a big warehouse in Wenatchee. When the home freezer got low on meat, I tagged along with mom to the locker to restock our meat supply. I remember licking the frost from the locker door sticking my tongue to the sparkling frost and metal like superglue.
Later on, I lived with my dad in Fenton, Missouri and worked in his restaurant to save money for college. Again, the only time I had my dad to myself were on Sunday afternoons and we often went to an auction house for fun. He lived in suburbia and livestock auctions were a thing of the past. Instead we went to an auction house with old stuff and strange objects. He bid on antique furniture and what-nots. What-nots are anything small and of little value. Mixed among the ordinary were treasured quilts, aged oak furniture and collectibles. We both liked kitchen utensils and dad bid on old wood rolling pins, odd looking potato mashers, iron toasters heated by a wood stove. I don’t know why, but my dad always did the bidding and I watched.
I’m sure the times I spent with my dad watching the auctioneers, planted a seed that took decades to germinate. That lonely Sunday morning, I decided I wanted to try to be an auctioneer. At the time the Yellow Pages revealed only a handful of auctioneers and 2 auction houses near Seattle. I called Murphy Auction and asked one simple question, “how can I become an auctioneer?” James Murphy’s wife answered the phone and told me to go to Missouri Auction School. I signed up for the next class.
In those days Missouri Auction School was held in the Kansas City Livestock Exchange building. The property was under development as a business center. Although the stockyards had not been used in many years, the pungent smell of cow excrement still permeated the air. A small number of cows were held in one coral that the school used to teach livestock auctioneering, a far cry from the thousands there on any day in years past. For one of my daily walks, I explored the abandoned feedlots. Bits of cow and horse hair remained stuck in chewed away wood fencing; even hoof prints were still visible. In the silence the ghosts of those cows and cowboys and the tractors and chains filled the vastness. I was reminded of the suffering I had witnessed as a child and I began to worry I had made a mistake. Most of what I was learning felt useless and I knew I would never sell livestock, and it’s fair to say all the isms were in place and annoying. And it was the middle of July and stifling hot. Several classes were held in the stockyard sales arena with those cows and Boyd Michael was a favorite instructor. Boyd was a gentlemen yet he referred to the women in the class as heifers - a line that got big laughs - and told us women could sell antiques but not cars or livestock.
I do have wonderful memories of my week at Missouri Auction School. Surprisingly, at the top of my list is Boyd Michael. He was old then, maybe 75ish. Gentlemanly, respectful, tip-of-the-hat kind of guy. Most instructors wore cowboy hats and sported the cockiness of a rock star. Boyd wore a ball cap. He was humble and soft spoken and similar in build and demeanor as my dad. Boyd was a good teacher. I started each day with a cup of coffee and biscuits and gravy at The Golden Ox - the original restaurant on the main floor that was surprisingly, still open. I would sit alone and read through my notes from the day before. Boyd caught me one morning and told me if I could get to his office early, he would run through the drills and help me leave school with a chant. “Getting your chant” is the hope of every student and not as easy as the notion might sound. I seized the opportunity and it was those 6:30 mornings with Boyd that I credit with getting my chant while I was dutifully practicing as I drove away on graduation day.
Boyd Michael - The Gift and The Legacy
My two most treasured possessions are the coffee cup I swiped from the Gold Ox and the belt buckle I bought from Boyd. Every day he showed up for work in blue jeans, Nikes, a dress shirt, ball cap and he wore a tooled belt with a custom silver 3D liberty head buckle. I fell in love with that buckle. I was seated for days smack in front of Boyd as he paced back and forth putting the class through drills and telling his stories. The buckle was at my eye-level tempting and irresistible. I wanted it. I asked Boyd about the buckle and he told me his dentist poured it from old fillings and scrap jewelry he collected for years. Before I left school he sold it to me for fifty dollars and I wear it nearly every day.
Note: I started Whisker City Cat Rescue located in Shoreline, Washington when I returned from auction school. I’ve been a full-time auctioneer and rescuer for more than 20 years.