The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Ernest F. Reynolds © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

Believe it or not, Matoaka, West Virginia, once had its own newspaper, "The Mercer Recorder," a weekly, or was it a weakley? It arrived just any day of the week, but usually a day later each week. The eight-hour-day confused them; they had apparently adopted an eight-day-week, or thereabouts, give or take a couple of days. After supper Mom would sit under a coal oil lamp and search the Recorder for news to use. No full page grocery ads like those of today, the biggie was, "If You Eat to Live, or Live to Eat, Riggs' Is the Place to Buy Your Meat." The revenue from Riggs' must have paid for the ink.

Papa was auctioning the homes of bankrupt coal barons, their commissaries, tipples, and oft times a whole spread (a coal mine). Pa always tried to get the Recorder ad paid by the County. The editorials were depressing; the general consensus was that things were going to get worse before they got better. Unfortunately the editor was correct, but he failed to say just how much harder hard times would become.

A circus went belly-up and was auctioned. About the onliest way to get cash sales was to auction. There was a wee tad of under-the-mattress-money that could be extracted.

I had become a hoarder; two silver dollars were stashed in my battered snap-type purse. I had not begun to read solo, so I had my Mom to run the Farm Auction ad by me several times. My head spun like a whirligig as she read about five Mallards that would go under the hammer. Mallards are ducks, you know.

Without a word of farewell I left for the sale, a six mile trek over frozen ground. I arrived at John Parker's farm while John was cooking his Bull Dog Gravy. Without knocking I barged in, "Where at is 'em ducks you goin auction?" I kept screaming about 'em ducks 'till he'd et his "dravy and drease."

The auctioneer arrived at eleven and brought a few bidders along. After reading the terms, he led with a horse. I grabbed his sleeve and reminded him of his promise, "Ducks first." He tied the old horse, again, to the fence, and sat the ducks and me up in a wagon. I clinched my snapper purse in my left, and threatened the crowd with my right fist. He chanted lively, pelting the crowd with stale jokes.

I was anxious to get those ducks and high tail it home. At last he began crying the sale, "Five fine fat ducks for one money, one money, one money buys all five ducks, this diddling drake and four faddlin, paddlin hens. Who bids a dollar? I jumped the bid, "Two dollars," I screamed.

Someone bid three. I managed to scream a little louder, "Two Dollars." From there on the bidding heated up. Each new bid brought louder screams from me. Now I was weeping, and screaming, "Two Dollars" before and after each bed. Bidding went past the ten dollar mark. Who could believe that honest folks would pay such a price for ducks in winter? I was so exhausted, not from the exertion, but the heavy disappointment of being out bid, that I slowly sank to the wagon floor. I had given up and was now crying bitter tears of defeat.

I smelled corn licker on the auctioneer's breath as he lifted me by collar with one hand and with his other hand he held up the ducks. "Going! going! gone! he roared. "Sold to the man with the two dollars." I didn't have time to pay; I was taking charge of the ducks. He opened my purse and took the two cart wheels. He helped tie the ducks legs together, I draped them around my neck and left without thanking the crier.

The sun had turned the road into a quagmire. I could barely pull my feet from the mud at each step. The flapping birds beat me unmercifully each time I stumbled. Meanwhile back at the homestead-they had called, searched, and poked into every likely place, hoping to find me alive. About three o'clock I rushed, mud, ducks and all, into the parlor where my loved ones were discussing memorial services with or without a body. They hugged and kissed the mud off me and the ducks.

Praising the ducks, dad said, "The price was right! However, I must teach you to announce your departure. I must give you a good whupping?"

Folks, a five-year-old who could bamboozle an auctioneer out of five ducks for two dollars wasn't about to "whupped" by mere Deputy Sheriff. I turned to my Papa and said, "I believe a whupping would do me more good if you waited until after I'm rested up."

He instantly agreed. I still make the auction circuit. Papa still owes me one.