By Heather O.
It was yellow, with little chairs painted red with yellow handprints of the teacher. The kid’s thumbprints were all over the table, and some creative artist had turned the thumbprints into cute little characters. Each child had signed the table, and had decorated an individual checker piece. The checker board in the middle of the table was precisely painted. It could not have been more perfect. And I wanted it. Badly.
I sat through about an hour of the charity auction for J’s preschool, not raising my paddle once, just waiting for lot number 34, the perfect table. J and DH LOVE to play checkers and chess, and do so on an almost daily basis. Nobody else in the room, I thought, would want that table as badly as I. I watched in satisfaction as the other mothers of the kids who had adorned the table with thumbprints spent $100, $150 on other things. Surely, nobody would want to spend more than $100 on this thing. Ok, maybe $200. But that would surely be the limit. The only thing that had gotten even that close was a Superbowl party for 30, compliments of the preschool staff.
Finally, the table came up, and the parents acting as Vanna oohed and aahed over the cuteness. I got ready, with a woman on my right, a veteran auction attendee, coaching me on how to do it right.
“Don’t open the bid. That shows people you are eager. And don’t rush to put your paddle up. That makes the auctioneer go up too fast. If there is a pause, he will drop the increment of increasing value from say, 15 to 10.”
I nodded, my heart thumping, my hands trembling, while my rational brain said, “HeLLO! If this thing goes above 50 bucks, there is no way you can justify it financially.” I told my rational brain to shut up.
The bidding was fast and furious. I was surprised, and jumped into the fray.
“No, too fast!” my coach hissed. “Slow it down, or this thing will go sky high!” I tried to listen, but people were bidding left and right. Finally, at around $150, things started to slow down, and it became between me and 2 other folks. At $180, it was clear it was between me and The Man in the Back.
$180. Pretty steep. I sucked in my breath, thinking, Hey, I can go for $200. Nobody wants to spend more than $200 on anything. If I get that $200 bid, it’s mine.
“$200 from the woman on the right. Man in the Back, do I hear 210? Can I get a 210? 210? Looking for 210″, said the auctioneer with a loverly British accent who talked amazingly fast.
There was relative silence as the auctioneer muttered, “210, 210, do I have 210? Fair warning at 200–Oh, 210 from The Man in the Back!”
What? Somebody willing to spend MORE than $200 for that table? Well, $220 isn’t all that much more than $200, and while my rational brain screamed, “You can NOT be serious!”, I raised my paddle for $220.
Before I knew it, it was $250. Then $300. Then $350. The room let out a shout everytime we pushed it higher, as the organizers of the auction danced with glee at the money they would receive, and the rest of the people shook their heads and collectively gasped at the insanity that was unfolding before them. My rational brain had long since said, “Obviously you won’t be needing me, so I’ll just leave, shall I?” as I gripped my paddle harder and raised it for $390. Then, there was silence. The Man in The Back flipped open his cell phone, and began talking into it. The auctioneer went on.
“390, we’re at 390, three hundred and ninety dollars. Will it be 400? Do I see a 400? He’s on the phone with Mummy now, will she approve of 400 for this table? You know, they might make you another one for less than 400….”
I held my breath and my paddle as I waited through the auctioneer’s chatter, and then I heard it.
“$400! We have 400 from The Man in the Back! You know you’re ruining her evening sir, ok, we’ve got 400, do I see 410? Can I get 410?”
I looked down at the table, my face red, heart still thumping, and I knew I was beat. No way could I take home a table to DH and tell him I had spent $400 on thumbprints and a little paint. The auctioneer was continuing his chatter as he looked at me, and I shook my head and laid my paddle down. One mom looked desperately over at me, and said, “Hey, I’ll loan you some money and we can like split it, or something!” It was a nice gesture, but I shook my head again. It was over.
“Going once, going twice, sold for $400 to the Man in the Back. Now those are some expensive checkers!”
The room cheered again, and everybody started clapping. It was the most expensive item sold that night.
The next item to be auctioned off was a night of gourmet cooking with a personal chef, who would come to your home and instruct you as you cooked a meal for 6. His services were auctioned off at around $180. He said loudly, “Hey, I’m better than checkers!”
I couldn’t help myself. I hollered back, “But do you have thumbprints on your body?”
The room laughed, and I went to the buffet table for refreshments. J’s teacher greeted me and said the whole thing had made her so nervous she had to leave the room. Another woman told me I was a good mom, and that she appreciated my efforts to raise the money. Yet another person told me that she was glad I stopped, because nothing was worth that much.
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t your kid’s thumbprint on that table,” I muttered, but I hoped she didn’t hear me.
I contributed to the auction by buying a nice tourist package, complete with dinner for 2 and tickets to a special historic tour for 55 bucks.
I saw the mom who won the table at school today, and just couldn’t think of anything to say to her. “So, how’s the table working out for ya’?” seemed pretty lame. So, instead I did the socially mature thing by giving her a small smile and walking right by her without saying a word.
My rational brain who just recently balanced the checkbook and paid all the bills has returned and is telling me I absolutely did the right thing. I would probably end up hating the thing, demanding that J use it constantly and counting how much each minute of use cost me. I did the right thing, I tell myself again, and then I even feel a twinge of guilt for not stopping at a reasonable amount and letting somebody else have it for far less.
But the Mom part of my brain tells me that would have been a fantastic addition to our playroom, and a keepsake I would treasure forever. After all, it had 4 year thumbprints on it. If that’s not worth $400, I’m not sure what is.