You feel that you have to go. It's a rite of passage.
And it might let you hold on a little longer yourself.
Everything's out there in the yard and around the barn.
It's like a yard sale crossed with the aftermath of a hurricane. Glassware and dishes. Clothes and toys. Hand tools and garden tools. And of course all of the equipment, in various states of disrepair, for all the different uses the farm was ever put to. Dairy, cash crop, poultry, the disastrous peanut farming experiment.
Diligently you inspect it all. Maybe they had an old Allis Chalmers with some parts you need. Maybe that harrow could be made to work with some time in the shop over the winter. Maybe that's your old pickaxe leaning against the tree, you wondered where that got off to. How'd it end up here anyway? Better buy it back.
And maybe you ought to spend some money on a few things you don't really need, to send these people on their way with a few dollars in their pockets.
It's a sombre thing. Sometimes there's a bake sale and there's a lot of talk between old neighbours who don't see each other much nowadays. But it's not a happy thing.
You feel a bit like a vulture, picking over the ruins of someone's life work. It makes you subdued and a bit ashamed, and a bit guilty too.
Sometimes you see city slickers looking for something quaint or a valuable antique that they can cheat the rubes out of. Maybe an old milk can or a crystal family heirloom. They don't understand that they're present at a funeral. That someone's life work and career,
and often the pride and joy of generations before, has ended in failure and defeat. They laugh and point at things, and don't see (or care to acknowledge) the disdain of the "locals".
Sometimes the auctioneers handle it all and the family's not even there. But often they are. They stand on the porch and watch the ebb and flow of the crowd with hollow eyes.
They watch people evaluate and discard all the little things that were so important once. Is it harder to watch people carry away the bits of your life, or to watch them dismiss those bits and leave them behind?
Auctioning the big equipment, the wagons and the tractors and the combine, that's mostly business.
They're not so personal, even though they represent many hours in the shed, many days in the field.
But the boxes of glasses and plates, the "lot 25 - a box of toy cars" - that tears at you.
In the corner, waiting its turn on the auction block, a faded portrait of a dour ancestor scowls at the proceedings.
Back on the porch, a tired and confused child cries as she watches a swing set leave in the back of a battered red pickup truck.
A long hard battle has been lost. The dream of proud generations is over.