Being retired now and having more time than ($$) means, I knew that going into the auction I had a very limited budget available to me, and that if I was going to do something as crazy as purchasing an instrument that I could not play, I had to sit on my hands when the bidding started. No looking at other pretty, sparkly stuff that would sway my attention – and budget – away from the violin.
I had one item up for sale in the auction which would give me a buffer of sorts, but the estimates when we consigned that piece were quite low, and would not buy an antique violin, much less two of them, at a high end auction.
I knew that I could easily buy a most useable instrument locally from my luthier for around $600-700 (before the bow, the case, all all the knick-knacks) so given that the violin I wanted (the newer one, the one going up for sale second) was already set up (ready to play – it was only mildly out of tune, not Wildly, like the other,) in a nice protective case, and with a bow that was probably worth more than the entire instrument’s auction estimate I decided that I would not break a sweat if the bidding went to $500, and that I would have to think (and by think I mean pray) fast if the numbers went north of that.
We were out – no matter what – at $600.
The second problem was that my second choice went across the block first, and then the one that I truly wanted So: a little stress here over how to spend the budget and walk away with at least one of these instruments.
And so we began:
Things didn’t look good at all in the first couple of hundred lots because the people there were paying crazy money for an important collection of folk pottery. Two phone bidders drove the prices well over estimates by 50-80% and there were a few surprises like one lot with a $400 estimate that sold after a drawn out phone-vs-internet battle for $5000.
My heart was not happy.
The day wore on: pottery was Insane. Jewelry was running very high I ended up within the auction estimate for my piece which was good because it was about double what we discussed at first. I now had that money in the bank to offset this, but still:
the budget is what the budget is.
Furniture was very soft. Some very important pieces of 18th and 19th century antique furniture sold for the cost of the wood. Well below retail for the new stuff in the stores that now reproduced it! That could be a good sign.
I mentally dozed off during the rugs and carpets sections because we have three dogs and a territorial cat, so the last thing I want to do is throw a 200 year-old prayer rug on the floor to become the doggie men’s room!
In the middle of this hubbub about 400 lots in, two cars that came up and the battle was on for them. When those two lots sold, the place cleared out like the house was on fire, so I was hoping that, with the pottery lunatics gone, and the car guys out licking their wounds, things would settle down.
More jewelry (high again), Antique books (way too high)
And then we came to the violins.
I’m not sure exactly who I was bidding against. I had 1 person on the phone, and a few in the room. I’m not sure about the internet because when it comes bidding time, it’s Focus time! It’s me, the auctioneer, and the sound of his voice, and the sound of the voice in my head saying “do not go crazy with the money – remember your budget” added this time with “don’t Pad your bids based on what you sold! The budget is the budget is the budget.”
Bidding didn’t jump up at once which meant no reserve bids. He opened in the middle of the estimate, no sound. He lowered it to $200 for a few seconds and with no sound went $175 and knowing that if I didn’t jump in soon, he would withdraw the piece, I put up my paddle and the game was afoot. Immediately the phone bidder was on me like dogs trailing squirrels, and we went through 200, 225, 250 and stalled, the bid was with me at $250. This could work out well as long as the second violin stayed just as low.
Someone in the back of the room went $275, the phone bidder had time to make up their mind, and went $300, and my card stayed up through all, holding on as the person behind me went $325. I stayed up for $350 and the phone bidder stalled again. Too long: the auctioneer called Fair Warning, and the hammer fell to me at $350.
The first violin was mine.
I still had nearly a couple of hundred left in my hat just in case things did as well for the second one – the violin that I really wanted.
Chemo brain kicks in: suddenly the conversation in my head flew over to “you can always consign the first violin to pay for the second, but you have to stay with your budget!” Meanwhile I’m making a note on my card of how much I’d bid for the lot, else I knew I’d never remember the exact amount ten minutes later….
“Sir. [long pause] Are you in?”
The auctioneer actually stopped in the midst of bidding on the second violin, THE ONE THAT I WANTED, because I was sitting there writing notes on what I’d done, and the sale had moved on! He already knew I’d previewed both and loved the second one. I’ve never seen him stop in the middle of an auction to invite a bidder into the fray.
I didn’t even know where the bidding was. It could have been $1,000 and then I would have been done for! My paddle went up, stayed up, as I caught on to the bidding at 150, 175 on the phone, 200 to me, and…
Silence in the room.
The woman taking the phone bid sat down. This means her bidder is out of play, and the violin went to me at $200 with no other bid from the floor.
There are moments after the great battles in my life like the hours of chemotherapy and re-learning to walk from its aftermath, of coming out of a 2-day coma to fight off my irrational fears of the night time. Those after-moments when suddenly the air clears, it’s daylight again, the sun shines and the black-and-white world of my crisis burns away to Technicolor and Panavision. In my Author days, when I finally put the end to a book and I could look up from the sidewalk to see the city around me, i called this time time of seeing in color again.
I sat for seven hours in a chair – plus the occasional bio break -I listened to the rattling drill sergeant voices of budget, and had focus when I needed it to step out of chemo brain cloud to accomplish what I’d wanted. Everything fell perfectly into place.
The air suddenly had that wonderful auction house smell of old books and furniture, my fingers flexed a few times to get the tension out, and to my left, Bill smiled what we call down south the Shit-Eatin’ Grin that, once again, as with so many other fights and scraps, I had won.
But he wasn’t the only one: as you know we’re always surrounded by the spirits and wishes that hold us up and mean us well. As the banter of the auction moved on through the lots, I heard in that spiritual ear that some cancer folk have, the sound of the big thick Guarnieri violin, and realized it hit the same notes of the most-unusual laughter of my Grandmother.
She had a laugh that once you heard you never forgot. I have the gut-busting belly laugh and she had a throaty, absolutely sincere chuckle deep in the low range of her voice that was like… chocolate to the ears.
That was the sound that I heard the first night, pulling open strings, and didn’t realize it until then, as somewhere my Grandmother was laughing along with my soul that again, together, we had WON!
Such a simple epiphany there is to be found in a $200 violin. Such simple realization there is that when we think we’re getting dumped on by Life because we get sick, or somebody leaves us, or we lose the physical ability to play an instrument… when that happens, on the good days, some other instrument falls into our lives, and always by happenstance.
As Mr. Olivander told Harry Potter, “The wand chooses the wizard,” so too, when our lives change in very big and very awful ways, a new and better wand literally out of no possible part of our imaginations will arrive to choose us.
Every day, every moment that we sit here: that is our next thing, and it is then up to us, our strength, our willpower, and our souls to decide how BIG this new blessing will be.
That night we were (finally) drove back home back after an 11 hour day of it. In the back, the two sister violins, they slept together in their cases, head-to-head, and the whole car was surrounded with the chocolaty, throaty laugh of another day and another great victory.
They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.
That’s a tough idea to follow through on, “But preacher, my wife left me.” … “I lost my job.” … “I’ve lost my faith.” How can all those things place us in that well-watered garden? That’s so easy: we weed and harvest like we should. We rake up the leaves. We carry the water. And we work our lives around in great anticipation for that day when – just like before – the wand chooses the wizard.
That is why we get up each day, and fight, and win.
Keep the faith!