The Auction

When I think of “the auction,” my initial thoughts are of French fries (it’s where I first encountered malt vinegar) and apple fritters (though I only remember getting a fritter once, that single memory has been seared onto my brain). Then I think of the long hard wooden benches in the auction room (which no longer exist, having been replaced at some point with old movie theatre seats). And the big counter in the middle of the hallway outside the auction room where old women in plain dress served grilled sausages. That does still exist, exactly as I remember it. (Hmm… Do people not from Pennsylvania know what “plain dress” means?)

We used to go to the auction periodically on Friday evenings when I was a kid. Like everyone else in the area, we just called it “the auction,” though I learned its official name last weekend: Crossroads Sale & Market. Despite its common epithet, “the auction” is of course much more than just an auction (though it does have an inner sanctum complete with an auctioneer, that operates as far as I can tell like a competitive yard sale). It’s part farmer’s market with fresh produce from near (and far, truth be told), local meat and cheese stands, and greasy food on demand; it’s part candy counter; part tacky souvenir shop, flea market, yard sale, and dollar store. You can buy yourself a Pennsylvania peach, a fake Coach purse, an obscure baseball card, a half-pound of Amish cheddar, and a grilled hot sausage with saurkraut on it, all in one convenient location. It’s half inside and half outside, and it’s hot–very hot–when the temperature outside is in the mid-90s as it was last Friday. I’d guess there are at least fifty booths total with assorted goodies (and not-so-goodies).

Now I am kind of stuck, not knowing what to write about this place. My mom was certainly correct when she said, “We have to go to the auction while you’re home, so you can write about it.” I do need to write about it, because there’s something there about community that I can’t quite put my finger on yet. So we did go, despite the heat, even though she didn’t need to buy anything (she visits a particular meat and cheese stand periodically and gets produce there when she’s in the area).

So let’s see. What is there to say about this place in terms of community?

First of all, I’m glad J was along, since he’d never been there, and he asked me questions I couldn’t answer. This prompted me to ask my mom questions about the place, which filled in some background, or at least context. For instance, there’s a lot of Amish folks who run food stands at the auction, selling produce or making fresh lemonade (we saw a teenager who was phenomenally fast at this process; she had it down to a science) or standing behind racks of baked goods. And there were non-Amish workers in plain dress, more common among the older women working there. And there were lots of  your typical flea-market-booth-operators. There were the local farms selling their produce, with booths operated by teenagers; there were other produce stands with super cheap prices and long lines, operated by middle-aged men, their produce not being local but shipped in from far away (hence the cheap prices). And there was such a diversity of clientele, something that surprised me, since I guess I always took it for granted before, it being normal to me as a kid. Amish. Non-Amish. Lower socio-economic people (rural Pennsylvania is in general an underprivileged population), but also the upper eschalons of rural Pennsylvania. Everyone was sweaty, but some were freshly pressed and sweaty, in nicer clothes with, say, crocs on their feet. Others were not so freshly pressed, in cut-off shorts and cut-off T-shirts.

By the way, something else I always notice when I get back to this part of the state is the dialect. Upper central Pennsylvania has a lot of the Pennsylvania Dutch influence, so along with a strange vocabulary and somewhat strange sentence construction, the voices we overheard as we walked along through the crowds were lilty in a way to which I can’t do justice in a blog post. (It wasn’t until I moved away from this area that I was told that my sentences often lacked the verb “to be,” that the word “awhile” doesn’t mean what I think it does, and if you end your sentence with the word “yet,” people will think you have more to say.)

Yes, it was good to be back in central PA.

So how did this place, this auction, this diverse community in rural PA come to be?

Well, I still don’t know. The Amish have pretty much always been involved with it, and it provided a good place for them (and other local farmers) to sell their goods before farmers’ markets were as common or as “hip” as they are now.

However, I did find out some things I didn’t know before. Like that my mom came here as a kid with her family to buy produce, and some of the booths that sell candy now (or sausages, or subs, or whatever), sold it back then, too. I learned that my stepdad also grew up coming here a lot, which I didn’t know, and his mom used to make subs on Thursdays that the little old ladies would sell at the one central counter outside the auction room. Sometimes she took a turn at selling them. I learned that people would come and pick up a dozen or two-dozen subs every week, all at one go.

There’s more worth talking about, but I’m going to shift gears. Here’s something else I’ve been thinking about: I am part of this community.

What I mean is, we ran into people I knew! Okay, so this might not strike some people as odd, since that’s just what happens when you go anywhere among people who tend to practice “the art of stability” (that sounded more polite than “people who stay put”), but we ran into an old family friend I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. Twenty-five. And we can be that precise because he is celebrating his 25-year anniversary this year and I was in his wedding as a flower girl at the age of three. We also ran into the mom of one of my childhood best friends, someone I hadn’t seen in years. (The auction is at least a half-hour from where she lives, and she almost never goes, so it was rather coincidental that we ran into each other.) And we also saw the father-in-law of one of my mom’s sisters. (Is it amazing that we saw him or that my mom knew who he was? Again, everyone knows everyone, right? I shouldn’t be surprised.)

I am still thinking about this place, even a week later, and I just don’t know how to write about it. I forgot my camera, so I couldn’t try to capture it in photo-form, but I probably would be disappointed even had I tried.

That’s all for now, I suppose.

Mom, anything you want to add?

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9 comments on “The Auction

  1. Stephen says:

    So how does this place relate to community? This place is all about community. It’s the place where people from all over connect. Each week, each month, or only every now and then.. it’s where many worlds, backgrounds, socio-economic lifestyles collide under the guise of shopping for fresh fruit, vegetables, sausages, and random trinkets and junk.

  2. Elaine Wise says:

    This got Brad to thinking about the livestock auction in New Wilmington, PA, a large Amish community in western PA. While not owned by the Amish, the livestock auction was operated by Amish. His family would truck dairy cows to auction, and as a young person, that was a highlight. He recalls hoping that the trip would include lunch at the auction. The lunchroom was upstairs just through a door from the auction arena. Besides the usual lunch counter fare was featured home-baked pie by the Amish. You could buy your piece of pie then enter the three-sided arena area where animals were brought in to be auctioned. The auctioneer’s sing-song would ring out as various buyers bid. They sold an animal about every thirty seconds, so the pace was brisk.

    Last summer, I got hooked on the New Wilmington produce auction, where I would go to buy large quantities to sel here at our produce stand. The auctioneer would walk around among the aisles of produce. It fascinated me that he would remember everyone’s number after they only bid once! Several times I would end up with a lot bigger than I really wanted just to get the price and someone would wander over and ask if they could buy just a few since they only wanted some for their family. It was a lot of fun – but could be expensive if you weren’t careful!

  3. elizabeth says:

    Great stories, Elaine. Thanks for sharing! The mention of your produce stand got me thinking about the interesting community of folks who stop by and purchase items from you–I remember hearing about some who didn’t know how to husk an ear of corn, for instance. 🙂

    Stephen, you’re right that the auction “is all about community”–it’s hard to write about it without being so over-the-top explicit though, you know? I like how you say “under the guise of shopping for fresh fruit”… you’re so right!

    And here’s addendum to the post: We now have pictures! My dad drove up to the auction yesterday and took some pictures for me. (Thanks, Dad!) Now that’s commitment to community, isn’t it? (And, speaking of community, he saw my cousins there as well as the same distant relative mentioned in my post.)

  4. Dale Hoy says:

    This place is the place to go to connect with friends both current and with friends you have not seen in years. As was the case with seeing our flower girl of 25 years ago. Good fresh produce, good fresh meats & cheeses, as well as good food to eat there. Nothing beats the Crossroads Auction in Gratz (to locals often referred to as the “Great Gratz Mall”).

    • elizabeth says:

      And you probably didn’t think your flower girl was going to go home and write about the experience, did you?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Dale. (I am thankful to whichever branch of my family tree told you about the blog!)

      I love the “Great Gratz Mall” sidenote, by the way. I suppose that my never having heard of it points to the fact that I’m not a “true” local. My loving it, however, proves that I’m a true English major, though, because it reminds me of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ which strikes me as both lovely and ironic.

  5. Bonnie says:

    You have expressed the true essence of ‘the auction’!!!! I read the blog last night, then went back this AM and saw pictures. I thought, OMG, someone inserted pics into the blog!!!!! Great addition!
    I remember when we would go places and you would say to me, ‘Mom, you know everybody!!!” Isn’t it wonderful? I love the small town feel of Upper Dauphin Co. We are all part of each other. Love you and your blog!!

  6. Kelsie says:

    At my family reunion in July I found out that my ancestors arrived in America in the 1600’s. There’s a reason everyone seems to be connected – my family has been here so long we’re related to everyone. 🙂

  7. Olivia says:

    I still think it’s CRAZY you ran into my mom. HA! I have never heard of it called ‘the auction’. Our family have always just referred to it as ‘Gratz’. When used in a sentence, it was assumed you were going to the Gratz Flea Market. I remember going in like Jr High or High School once and buying a pair of fake Oakley sunglasses for $15, when I got to the car, they broke. 😦

  8. elizabeth says:

    Kels,
    Oy, 1600s. Goodness! Reminds me of the “April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring?” joke.

    Oliv,
    When I saw the cheapy Coach bags it reminded me of the time we went to the Coach outlet with Katie and were astounded at the price of those wallets. And while it is crazy I saw your mom–what’s even more crazy is that she saw MY mom and stopped her, asking “Are you Liz’s mom?” before she even saw me. She has such a good memory!

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