I was 8 years old. I had chicken pox.
All kids did back in the early 1960s. But mine was particularly painful. Not because of the disease. But because it happened the week of our big farm sale.
We were moving from the farm I had grown up on to a new life in the city. Unless you were raised on a farm, you wouldn’t know there is no greater diversion for an 8-year-old boy than a farm auction. Every piece of equipment and household good was arranged in rows out in the barnyard and lawn. It was a shopping mall before shopping malls had been invented. Row upon row of tractors, plows, wagons, balers, and cultivators, next to buckets of bolts and screws, alongside piles of pitchforks, spades, rakes, and hoes. The auctioneer arrived, the farm’s version of royalty, followed by helpers and secretaries to record every transaction. The food wagon pulled in and set up, dishing out burgers and loose meat sandwiches, ice cream bars, donuts, and coffee.
Everyone in the county came out. Farmers in overalls and wives in homemade dresses arrived to appraise the equipment, to sort through the dishes, to exchange gossip and local news, and mostly to measure up how they stood next to this farmer. An auction was a public confession–of how you farmed, how you maintained your equipment, what you had accumulated, and where you were headed.
And everyone brought their kids. It was a family event, after all. That was the part that hurt the most as 8-year-old me stared out over the goings on from my second-floor bedroom window. I was contagious, so I couldn’t eat those sandwiches or drink that lemonade, I couldn’t race around with my classmates and neighbors, I couldn’t even make eye contact with that cute girl from catechism class.
I remember it being a long, lonely day. This was before the world offered any kind of electronic diversion. We didn’t have TV in bedrooms, or even radio or record player. It wasn’t even my own bedroom. I was sequestered in my sisters’ room. So there was absolutely nothing to do. I sat on that bed all day, looking longingly down on the goings on, as the kids came, the auctioneer sang, the people ate and bought, until evening came and the yard was bare.
Of course my mom checked on me and brought me food. But she was busy being the hostess and watching over her other seven kids. There was one lady who came up to visit. I seem to remember she was a former neighbor from when my folks lived in town. She was an angel to me. For this adult to take the time and have the awareness that a little boy was sitting up in his room alone for hours during the biggest event in his life, and to come up and sit on the edge of the bed and just talk to me is still almost unbelievable. I have no idea what we talked about. After all, I wasn’t that worldly at age 8. All I remember is that she listened to my answers, as simple and naïve as they must have sounded.
I got better. I went on to have every other illness kids had in those days, but always it was in the company of my brothers and sisters. Even they had abandoned me on the day of the auction. Hey, there were sandwiches and lemonade and ice cream.
I would have done the same.