JOHN CONNALLY shed a tear when one of his saddles was sold, and at the conclusion of the four-day, $2.6 million bankruptcy auction of just about everything he and his wife, Nellie, owned, he remarked that the experience had been something of an emotional wrench. But aside from that, the thing that struck us about this well-publicized Texas event (judging from what we read of it and saw on TV) was the general absence of emotion.
The thousands of potential buyers who showed up acted as if it were nothing unusual for them to be roaming among the possessions of a former governor, former Treasury secretary, would-be president and, finally, ruined business Titan, examining the acquisitions of his fabled lifetime and considering whether to bid on his washer and dryer. And in a way, perhaps it was nothing unusual. For selling off one's past, in whole or in part, has become as routine a transaction as the Saturday-morning sale in the driveway next door.
Every weekend, people drag out piles of belongings and tag them for sale. The merchandise may include, along with that old fire hazard of a waffle iron, a birthday-gift sweater, the first bicycle (complete with training wheels) of a child now pushing 30 and the once-favored dress of a loved one.
All this sentimental history is of absolutely no concern to the buyers trooping across the yard, many of whom have plotted their Saturday-morning campaigns like Patton in Sicily. Somewhat more surprising: it seems to be of no great concern to the seller either. Nor does it matter to anyone whether the sale is prompted by death, divorce, bankruptcy or just a sudden impulse to clean out the attic. Whatever the circumstances might be, the first and unchallenged priority is to get on with this brisk, businesslike peddling of private things.
John Connally had his bad moments during his auction, but at other times he appeared to be like any other front-yard entrepreneur -- praising the goods, chatting with the folks and cheerfully accepting the fact that these days your world may end with neither a bang nor a whimper, but rather with a weekend garage sale.