My thanks to the late historian Oscar Bizzell for his keen memory and to the well-known Frank Jackson, for those years that he developed his wonderful reputation as a “charming auctioneer.”
This story, like so many stories swapped down through the years, has left legacies that make our South a richer place each time they are polished up and brought out of the memory box for another grin or two.
According to Oscar; “Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would never believed we had such a talented gentleman in our little town of Newton Grove as Frank Jackson. He was a real ‘charmer,’” said Oscar, with that rascally chuckle he had.
It might not have made the newspapers, or the late news, but everyone who’d walked out to the barbershop or the grocery story, or the Tuesday night auctions in Newton Grove, knew the story by heart. It certainly didn’t hurt Mr. Jackson’s reputation.
As Oscar recalled; “Back home in Newton Grove, Frank Jackson’s big show that evening took place on a high rafter in the old school gymnasium, where he was in the habit of storing items that didn’t move, during his day job as an “estate closer.” Come auction night they were prettied up and given a second chance to shine.
Items that didn’t sell today might just fetch more than a piddling price when Frank dusted them off and hauled them out during his Tuesday night auctions.
“At this particular time,” Oscar remembered, “I was working in Maryland and had come home for a short Christmas visit. After an evening of home cooking, and home stuffing, we decided to visit Frank’s emporium and see what the crowd was up too.”
As usual the place was packed, spirits were high, lots of backslapping and hand shaking. Old jokes and tobacco chews were passed around like grandma’s biscuits. Things were heating up; shoes tapping anxiously; time for the big show to get on the road. Heck it was exciting!
Frank was ‘in good voice.’ “’Course, he always was,” remembered Oscar. “Master of his trade. He would smile that big slow smile of his, let his eyes linger over his prospects for a minute, take a swig of water, and start his auctioneer’s chant.”
Frank had long ago established his reputation as a “musical auctioneer.” And nobody had his laid back ‘Southern boy-style.’ So, it was entertainment itself just to watch Jackson and listen to his well-tuned spiel.
The auctioneer is given a figure to start the bidding. He cries the bid and watches each bidder carefully for signals that the bid is being raised. “Do I hear fiveeee, fiveeee, sixxx? Oh c’mon on now let me hear sixxxx! “Frank would raise his eyebrows and sing the auctioneer’s song, looking straight into those familiar eyes of the folks he knew so well, hoping for a decent buying sign.
“Jackson had a talent that should have been on Broadway, or at the least in Washington, D.C. He handled any potential problems with a grain of salt, and could defuse a disagreement with a spark of humor before things even came close to getting out of hand.” Oscar recalled.
That particular night Frank got a great opportunity to use his talents,( long before anybody exhibited any bad history) and really defuse. And defuse he did!
Above the roar of the activity on the floor someone yelled, ‘Hey Frank there’s a hungry looking snake up there hanging from them rafters.’ Everything got pretty quiet. Frank stopped his chanting on the button and gave the situation a close once-over.
Meanwhile the crowds somewhat scrambled, giving the snake all the room he might need. Without the auctioneer’s chant to charm him, the snake coiled slowly back on the rafters. At this point nobody was feeling too comfortable over this unexpected change of events. A few old-timers admitted sheepishly;” that though they sure weren’t scared of a snake, they’d just as soon like to know exactly where he was”.
After carefully analyzing the situation, Frank decided the wisest thing he could do was continue the sale. He certainly had no intentions in hunting down a snake, and he hadn’t noted any volunteers. Nor, had he forgotten for one minute that he still had in his possession, two bedroom suites, some dinner bells and several ‘goody boxes’ that needed a home, pronto!
Within moments after Frank continued his melodic chanting, the snake unfolded and again dropped his body, like a tired strip-teaser, swinging and swaying in time with the auctioneer’s chant.
For quite a while the crowd was nervously mesmerized by this unusual change of events, wondering whether to go home or brave it out. In no time, Frank, with his usual charismatic auctioneering, had their attention almost back on himself and the snake was pretty much ignored, so the beat went on. And except for anxious peeks every now and then, things went back to normal, and ‘goody boxes’ found new homes.
Of course not all Frank’s auctioneering career was quite as challenging as this particular night, nor, truth be known, did he want it to be. But the notion among all his friends that he was quite a “charmer” probably follows him to this day.
Nobody bothered the snake. Unless by chance Frank sold him……………………..end
* From the January 2012 issue of the Huckleberry Historian