Like many people, our lives seem a little cluttered sometimes. In our case, it’s mostly my fault, as my family has lived in Galva since the 1800’s, with my dad’s Irish-immigrant paternal grandparents coming to town in 1879, while his maternal grandmother was a Bishop HIll Colony girl. The resulting five generations of Sloans (my sons are the fifth) living in and around Galva have, apparently, thrown nothing away.
Some of the furniture and other items that abound in our abode might even have a little value. But for the most part, I think that value is mostly sentimental. Or, in other cases, the stuff is just too heavy to move, so it stays put.
Some of it is kind of interesting, though.
Like the gun.
It’s a Civil War-era pistol that’s been part of my family’s possessions for as long as I can remember. It has a few missing pieces, but it can be roughly assembled into a long-barreled revolver that is--pretty impressive looking. It even has a few notches in the butt, indicating to my imaginative mind that it had maybe been used as a gun-fighting six shooter by some wild-west pistolero. Family history tells that it had been somehow acquired by my dad’s brother in his youth, but with no addition provenance available. But it was always a cool thing to have around. While it was too heavy and dangerous-looking to actually play with, I enjoyed the chance to show it to my friends, I even used to take it for show-and-tell when we studied the Civil War, long before a kid taking a gun to school was a matter for a SWAT team and CNN.
I’ve never been much of a gun guy, otherwise, with a hunting career limited to stalking sparrows with my trusty bb gun, a practice that was generally harmless to both boy and bird, as I was too soft-hearted to pull the trigger at the moment of truth.
So, for the past 50 years or so, the gun has remained tucked away in a drawer, only to be displayed in the rare occasion that the subject turned to antique firearms or the Civil War.
I’m not even sure when I showed the gun to some old friends from Chicago, nor did I remember that they, too, owned an antique firearm until we got a call from them one day awhile back with the news that they were coming down this way to have their gun appraised at a place called the Rock Island Auction Company, a business that bills itself as “The Nation's Leading Auction House for Firearms, Edged Weapons, & Military Artifacts.”
“Why don’t you meet us for lunch and bring your gun, too?” they asked.
So we did.
The auction company is a big barn of a place, with a large auction room and an adjacent display area that was filled with countless examples of the guns, knives and other deadly artifacts they deal in. Many of the displayed weapons included approximate values, which immediately drew our attention as we waited for the appraiser.
She: “That one looks just like our gun!”
Me: “Yeah, kinda. Maybe we’re going to be rich!”
We quickly began expressing our alternate dreams of what we’d do with the gazllions of dollars we would receive for our now-priceless treasure.
She: “We could send our grandchildren to college!”
Me: “Or just visit them in my new sports car.”
Our friends, meanwhile, had calmly and carefully unwrapped their antique, which I examined briefly and dismissed.
“It’s just an old cowboy gun,” I thought, thinking it looked more like the cap guns I had played with as a kid than a real, authentic piece of American history.
The appraiser finally showed up to examine our treasures, which were lying side-by-side on a counter.
He looked at both guns, then turned to my friends.
“I hope he lets them down easy,” I thought.
“I’m really glad you brought this in today,” he said. “This is a very rare gun.”
Yes, our friends’ Colt Peacemaker revolver was quite rare, and worth a pretty penny.
Then he turned to my gun.
“Here it comes,” I thought, dreaming of one of those Antique Roadshow moments, when one of the excitable Keno brothers turns to some lucky sap and tells them their armoire is worth a gazillion dollars.
“We usually just see weird stuff like this,” said the appraiser.
Actually, he didn’t call it “stuff,” but, instead used a less-polite term that also begins with the letter ‘s.’ A term I won’t repeat in a family newspaper.
He went on to explain, kindly enough, that my gun was, indeed, old, but was also a mass-produced knockoff of the Colts of the day. A gun that wasn’t worth much then and hadn’t increased in value since.
Our dreams of college tuition and red convertibles shrunk quickly to less-glorious thoughts of college t-shirts and a new road atlas.
Our friends made excited arrangements for their gun to be consigned and auctioned at the company’s yearly Premier Auction this past weekend, while I made plans to quietly put mine back in the drawer at home.
They came down last Saturday afternoon for the auction weekend. I knew things were going their way when we watched the Kentucky Derby together and his horse won. The next day, we attended the auction together, where there was a tense roomful of bidders, along with rows of auction house employees taking bids from around the world on the phone and online.
Bidding on their gun started high. And got higher. And higher.
I won’t reveal how much it finally sold for, but suffice it to say that it was a nice boatload of cash. Not quite a gazillion dollars, but close enough.
Afterwards, we went to lunch (they bought) and they went back to Chicago filled with plans for home improvements and other ideas for their sudden windfall.
And we went back to a cluttered houseful of things that may not be of much value to others, but remain invaluable to us as memories, mementoes and messages from the past.
Back to the weird stuff.