It was popular to have them in my time. Most families had them for business, others just for help around the house.
Yet after all of the good things I heard –and saw- that slaves did, I still couldn’t believe that Papa hadn’t gotten one by Pacarona County’s monthly slave auction in the center of town. I was keen to remind him to save up the money and buy one but the last few, but Papa always forgot to, and simply came back home with nothing; he would just shrug his shoulders and join me out back in fixing up our field. Even though Pacarona was a small town, with only three-hundred seventy five people, we were still the only family in the whole town to never own a slave. I would have gone out and bought one myself if it wasn’t for the fact that I wasn’t 18. You see, I had just turned 16 that year, and that was a big deal in our town; you could vote, or smoke, or buy whiskey. The only thing I thought about doing was using the most important privilege- the ability to go to the auction with your parent.
The closest auction was a week away, at the end of the summer, in the center of town. I made sure to remind Papa of two things; 1) To save money for a slave, and 2) To bring me to the next auction.
Until we could finally get some help around our house, I was stuck with the biggest chores around the house, which weren’t just meaningless and just a reason to keep me in the house (or on the farm), but also things that only I can do, so I couldn’t put them onto my sister Ann, who deserves more harsh treatment than me, the little picky brat…
Anyway, the good thing about the chores was that once I was done with them- I got to take off my farming clothes, put on something comfortable, and go join my friends and have a good time, especially before school started on the third week of the first fall month. This went on for the rest of the week –me doing my chores, having fun with my friends and reminding Papa- until the night before the auction. After Supper, Papa beckoned me to his room, to show me something. I didn’t know what to expect when he pulled out a huge glass jar filled with coins and bills.
“Remember how you always ‘reminded’ me to put money into savings and I ‘forgot’? Well, I would like to thank you for telling me, but I’ve been saving up anyway. Over a thousand five-hundred is in here, definitely enough for a young slave. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow! Don’t tell Ma, it’s going to be a surprise for her!”
Then he sent me off to bed, a look of complete surprise still on my face. I couldn’t believe it. We were finally going to get our first slave! Now I wouldn’t have to do the chores, HE would! What luck! I was so excited, I could barely fall asleep, thinking about how much better it will be to finally have a slave.
It wasn’t long before the time came to go, to go to my first auction! By the time Papa came down, I was already waiting with the horses, dressed and brimming with excitement. Papa had his arm wrapped around that glass jar, as if his life was dependent on it.
We rode into the center square early enough to reach the circle in the middle before it filled up. As the rest of the town arrived, I saw all of my friends with their Papas and even Grandpas. My Father smiled smugly as he clutched his jar, everyone whispering around us.
“Looks like Old Tim is going to get one! Finally!”
“Hey, Timmy! Make sure you don’t buy out ALL of them! Save one for me, will you?”
Even some of my friends came over to talk to me. It was all our first time at the auction too, and we didn’t know what to expect. Most of them had come to give messages from their fathers to Papa, be it advice on what to buy or to “mock” him for his huge money jar (Papa had no qualms with anyone in the town, not that I knew of). I remember the sun being as bright as ever, having no competition with any cloud for miles, the cool breeze of morning blowing slightly on us.
Soon the time had come. The auctioneer had stepped onto the platform, signaling a hush amongst the crowd near it. He was a portly man, middle aged, with a big white mustache, white hat and matching vest, with a big brown holster, holding a metal-black pistol inside. He used that to get the attention of everyone else; even though I had heard gunshots before, that one sent a chill down my spine.
The auctioneer began: “Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy this stock! Remember, all must go now! I can’t keep the leftovers.” That got a few giggles here and there from the other men. The auctioneer went up to a podium on the other side of the platform and gave a signal.
Then they came out, as a grim spectacle. Thirty-seven men, women, children –some naked, others barely clothed- shuffled onto the platform. They all had looks of fear and grief, their chains dragging slowly along with them, as if they were ghosts. I was so frightened by the sight of them. I tried to hide my face as they were forced onto the platform, but Papa took notice.
“Enough,” He said, pulling up my face. “You be a man now, y’hear?”
Until they were all on the platform, I didn’t open my eyes. Then the bidding began, and I focused more on the crowd during the auction, trying to avoid the lifeless gazes of those living corpses on the stage. I saw people sizing up the bodies on the platform, whispering to their friends which ones looked the best or which ones were the worst. Others were excitedly waiting to bid on their target.
The number of bodies was dwindling, their new owners pulling them by a rope attached to their neck, their looks of sorrow completely ignored. For the first time, I felt the sense of callous inhumanity that was spreading through the crowd, something that I would never forget- these people might have been shocked at this at some point, but now they were all numb to it. It was at that moment that I realized what it meant to own another human being, and I didn’t want anything to do with those feelings, those people. Some of my friends had already owned slaves, but they never looked like this, sullen-faced and scared, all alone.
Then there were two left- a woman, and a child who looked very young, maybe around Annie’s age. The boy was up for sale now. Papa had a glint in his eye- he wanted this one.
“The bids will start at 750. 751, anyone?”
“800,” shouted Mr. Evans.
“850,” shrieked Mrs. Wildflower, all the way from the back of the crowd.
Then a pause.
The auctioneer looked a little tense, which now seemed typical.
“900!” Everyone turned to my Papa. I forgot about all of those feelings and felt nothing but immense pride for my Papa, especially after waiting so long to own one.
“900! Going once!”
Not a pin drop.
Complete and utter silence.
Papa was grinning from ear to ear.
“Going thrice!” SLAM.
“SOLD, to our good friend- Tim Whitcroft!” Then the auctioneer smacked the gavel. They crowd erupted in cheers! How exciting that was- I was so proud of my Papa. He winked at me as he went up to collect our slave, me close to his side. He only does that when he’s really happy, and I knew that.
As he went to pay the auctioneer later, we both knew that we had hit a bargain- we still had six-hundred dollars left over, enough for a lot of groceries, or even a good horse.