We’ve been up in Lancaster almost every weekend recently, Tim working on the apartments he owns up there and me helping when I can. This past weekend he was at the apartment building showing it for an open house before it goes up for auction, and I went to another auction with my mother-in-law, Cindy. Before I moved to the East Coast, the only auctions I was familiar with were the boots-and-cowboy-hat livestock auctions held in Toppenish, WA where they herded cattle, goats, and horses into a ring and men in overalls with stubble on their faces and huge wallets bid on the animals by the pound. One of our family’s best friends is the owner/ auctioneer. Sometimes we’d go down to the sale yard on a Saturday just to hang out or to show guests the real, live, sagebrush-and-tumbleweeds Wild West.
Auctions in Lancaster are a little different. First of all, auctions here are a frequent ordeal– they hold them the way most other parts of the country hold garage sales. And Tim’s family is huge. So going to an auction in Lancaster is like going to a reunion of sorts. My mother-in-law, Cindy always runs into about a hundred people she is either related to, taught in school, or grew up with.
I’ve been to several of them myself.
Once I was driving back from Ephrata and saw what appeared to be an auction going on off to the side of the road and decided to stop and check it out. I began to feel a little out of place when I noticed I was the only one there not sporting a dress and bonnet. My hot pink cell phone and aviator sunglasses only served to highlight that difference. I tried to blend in anyway, but the ruse was up when a sour looking woman in a bonnet came up and asked me to leave, informing me that this auction was for family only. I may be the only person I know who has actually gotten themself kicked out of an Amish auction.
That sort of soured my opinion of the whole Plain community for a while, and I began to take a certain delight in calling them “Plain” (even though, I understand, there is a perfectly acceptable way of referring to people that are either Amish or Mennonite as “Plain” ). Eventually, though, I consoled myself with the thought that I would probably be bitter too if I had to wear black tennis shoes with my long dresses and have people point at me and snap pictures.
On this particular day, Cindy, Grandma Helen and I headed to an auction held by a relative (of course). There were all the traditional Lancaster county foods: doughnuts, chicken soup with eggs, hot dogs and sourkraut, and pies, pies, pies. A Plain Mennonite woman (who is my husband’s grandfather’s second wife’s cousin. seriously.) sat there with her little daughter, about Taite’s size and very cute and quiet. She bid on two un-matching cups and saucers and when she won them, gave one to the little girl who held it with near reverence, turning it over to look at it, handling it like it was the most beautiful thing she had ever owned. I went up afterward and chatted with them a bit. That little girl was the cutest little thing ever (and her mom didn’t look a bit like she wanted to throw me out). And that was the final reforming of my view of Plain people.