Volume 9, Number 51, 2006

On The Auction Trail
by Anne J. Fotheringham

Evelyn had just stated the obvious for the fourth time during our magical mystery tour of Temiscaming.

I had arrived in Rouyn-Noranda shortly before, after an eight-hour bus trip. Forewarned, I had whiled away my time with music on my Walkman and reading a tear-jerker novel - hey, on a bus no-one knows you and you can sob to your heart’s content. Fortified by a mixture of granola bars and pudding on top of two turkey sandwiches and a fruit cup, I had relaxed, sipping my designer water, enjoying the luxury of having two whole seats to myself. At the time, I was unaware I was destined for a surprise tour of several farms and a couple of logging trails in a fruitless search for the location of a furniture auction.
“I’ve got some fun planned for this evening,” my friend assured me when she met me at the bus station. We hugged and then fought to rescue my suitcase from the pile being built by the bus driver who was unloading the bus bays as if his vehicle was on fire.

As we headed for her car, she asked me if I was still up for going to the auction she had mentioned on the telephone two nights before.

I have to explain that my friend recently acquired an old rectory dating from the 1930s. It was located in a village about 40 minutes south of Rouyn-Noranda. She had renovated and restored it and was constantly on the lookout for furniture and other items that matched the original decor.

“Sure,” I replied, game for anything. A whole day of no domestic crises and no-one yelling “Mom” had loosened my inhibitions. I was footloose and fancy free and, since attending country auctions was something I had never done, it had a high degree of attraction for me. We headed off for the car.

Evelyn and I go way back to the days before I became a mother and had to take life a bit more seriously. We had been away on vacation twice back in the ‘70s. Once we had spent an entire week in a predominantly gay community on Cape Cod. At the time we were sick of guys hitting on us whenever we went out for a drink in Montreal so had headed where the guys wouldn’t bother us. We naively hadn’t counted on the women, who thought we were a cute couple. The following year, we had run away from civilization by joining a week-long schooner trip around uncharted islands off the coast of Maine. These experiences are stories in their own right, but believe me, after sharing them, our friendship had become one that could stand the test of time - as well as looking for an elusive auction.

So here I was, 20 odd years later jaunting off to see her in Rémigny - yes, I know I’d never heard of it either, but I can now find it on the map if you like. See me later. Back to the auction hunt. We loaded my suitcase into the back of her stationwagon, then stopped off for the essentials - money and food.

“We’ll drop by the auction and if there’s nothing interesting going on, we’ll just head home,” she said. As we travelled out of Rouyn-Noranda she handed me a map.

“I’ve been to this place before, but usually from my home village. I’ve never come from this direction but I was told by a friend I can take side roads after we hit Nédélec. They are all paved so we’ll be fine.” She pointed to some thin grey lines on the map as she drove.

I stared at the roads marked on the map. “Should be easy to find,” I said.

“Look upon it as a car rally,” said my inner self. “Remember those in university?”

I did. I also remembered getting lost during an Engineering faculty rally one winter and coming in second to last, frozen and out of gas. Another high point was the time a rally routed us onto a road that the municipality had just decided to resurface. The result had been $300 worth of damage to the car. I pushed these thoughts away.

Ev knows this area. She’ll get us there, I assured myself. If not, time to live dangerously.

We chatted over old times and our families as she drove. She filled me in on the joys of renovating a 70-year-old building and I complained about my kids. It was very satisfying. Then we hit Nédélec. Not one of your great metropolises, however, it was larger than a blink and offered us two possible side roads, neither of which had any signage to guide us. We tried the first but it appeared to lead to someone’s farm. We turned around, drove back through the village and took the second road. We began to wend our way through a maze.

This road led us through farmland featuring cows and too much hay for my allergies. Then we came to a T intersection. Evelyn assured me we had to head west into Ontario. We went left, then turned again at another intersection and then again.

“The road is supposed to be paved,” said Evelyn, slowing the car. “This road isn’t paved.”

“No, it’s not,” I agreed. So she turned the car around in a side track that seemed to lead straight into a wall of trees and we went back the way we had come, looking for that elusive paved road. We came to an intersection and found the other branch was paved so off we set again, this time through a number of very quiet farms.

There were no signs of any humans or even cows this time. My grass allergies were kicking in and my nose was now stuffed. I was badly in need of my antihistamines which were, of course, back in my suitcase. The sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon and I suddenly noticed the lack of streetlights. The cut hay in the fields had been rolled into bundles and stuffed into long white plastic tubes that looked like alien slugs creeping across the landscape. That sight, coupled with a high number of beehives along the way and corn fields that seemed to be moving closer and closer to the road, soon had my overactive imagination humming the theme from the X-Files. My earlier bravado was beginning to recede. We ran out of pavement again just as we came to another intersection. Which way to go?

“The sun is setting in the west and we need to go west so we’ll turn that way,” said Evelyn confidently. Within five minutes we ran out of paved road once more and found ourselves at a deserted farmhouse. There was no help available there - only some curious chickens who stared rudely at us. They were definitely not to be relied upon for directions.

Returning the way we had come we took the other turn - it too was paved - and breezed along. This time no farms, no friendly cows, no houses and soon no paving either. There were just piles of logs here and there along the way and trails leading off into the tightly packed trees. At another intersection we tried taking the turnoff that seemed to lead west. Now the trees were even closer to the road. The light was fading and Evelyn coasted to a halt.

There was no sign any humans had ever been here except for the road. We felt completely alone until we realized there was probably a lot of wildlife hidden in those trees wondering who the idiots in the stationwagon were.

That’s when Evelyn said it again. “This is not a paved road.” We looked at each other and the decision was instantaneous. Evelyn executed a three-point turn on the narrow road and we headed back towards civilization.

As the sun began to get even lower in the sky we threaded our way back through the maze of country roads, navigating by remembered landmarks, making a few mistakes and hoping the light would hold.
Finally we found ourselves back at our starting point in Nédélec just as the sun dipped below the horizon. My friend turned the car south and we headed for the next town, our stomachs grumbling. Neither of us had any inclination to dig out the food in the back and make sandwiches, we wanted a friendly waitress and hot coffee.

“Well, I give up on that auction,” said Evelyn.

“Me too,” I echoed. “Say, where are we? This village is all lit up.”

“Oh, this is Notre Dame du Nord. It is all decorated for the annual truck rodeo.”

My interest was piqued. I have never been to a truck rodeo. My youngest has often tried to get me to take him to a Monster Truck Rally. The auction might be a wash out but a truck rally sounded promising.

“Cool,” I said.

“Sorry,” she replied. “It finished yesterday.”

“Just my luck,” I joked. “We can’t find the auction and I just missed the rodeo. What’s next?”

We both looked at each other and suddenly began to laugh uncontrollably as only two old friends sharing total absurdity can. We forced ourselves into a somewhat more sober mood as we pulled into a diner and parked.

The sobriety was only temporary, however, and by the time we found a table and asked for a menu, we were fighting down the giggles. We felt we might be attracting attention so tried to focus on ordering a meal. We started talking about how good a club sandwich would be, but one look at the menu sent us off into hilarity again. The menu read:

A club sandwich
Half a club sandwich
A club sandwich with fries
Half a club sandwich with fries
A club house sandwich
Half a club house sandwich
A club house sandwich with fries
Half a club house sandwich with fries.
A club special sandwich
Half a club special sandwich
A club special sandwich with fries
Half a club special sandwich with fries.

We ordered a toasted western and a BLT instead, while trying not to start laughing again. But I have to say it was hard. Evelyn and I tend to switch from French to English without any notice and often have been known to do so in mid-sentence. So here I was talking 1/2 French, 1/2 English to Evelyn, while she spoke only French to the waitress, who was speaking English to me, while I was ordering in French. By the time we finally got through ordering, even the waitress was beginning to have trouble controlling her face.

After we finished eating, we climbed wearily into the car, headed back down the road - this time the road was paved all the way - and we found Rémigny. It was just as charming as she had described it - what I could see of it in the dark, that is, and the bed waiting for me was comfortable and welcoming. But for the rest of my stay the words “This is not a paved road” - and believe me there are a lot of unpaved roads up there - was guaranteed to send these two old friends off into fits of laughter. They will forever remind me of the night we went hunting for an auction that we never found.