Lee Family Vacation to the Mennonite Relief Auction

Every year in mid-September, a remarkable family threesome appears early at the Peach Cobbler Mennonite Relief Sale, taking their seats in the very front row of the Perry fairgrounds hall, auction number at the ready.  A grandfather, a mother and her teenage son have already scanned the quilts, the antiques, the tables of model tractors, tools and knick-knacks. What sets them apart is that the savvy bidder, the one who holds the all-powerful auction number, is the teenager, Allan Lee.  His grandfather, John William ‘Billy’ Gray, and Allan’s mother, Amanda Lee, who live together on the northern edge of Perry, may whisper encouragement or counsel, but it’s Allan who’s in charge having a discerning eye for interior decoration, a love of world globes, old manual typewriters and cash registers, given his fascination for ‘buttons’.

It just so happens that this annual visit to the auction that Amanda calls ‘a sort of – uh – family vacation’, falls about the time of Allan’s birthday.  This year is a biggie – his sixteenth.  When they take a breather from the excitement and shouting of chasing rare deals, they sit together at the lunch tables with a circle of family and friends. ‘It actually turns into a birthday party,’ explains Allan.  ‘And, get this, when we drive away it takes a pick-up truck to move all my ‘presents!’ That pickup truck might also come in handy for Allan whose dream is one day to go to culinary school in New York and gladden the world with exquisite French pastry. Amanda laughs an aside, “Imagine. His grandpa is a ground beef kinda guy.”  She adds with a mischievous twinkle, “If it’s New York, I’m coming, too!”  Allan’s not so sure about that.

But cialistoday.com – there there’s more to this story of an intriguing family and its yearly appearance at a local charity auction.  Billy grew up near the neighboring town of Unadilla.  In late March, 1961 before there were advance warning systems, an F3 tornado tore into the community leaving behind a morning swath of a dead neighbor, of injury and ruin. Billy describes what he witnessed: ‘In the growing darkness, debris came skidding down the roads on the wind, limbs from old oaks tumbling down on homes and yards.’  And then there was the  aftermath: residents traumatized, roads impassable due to fallen trees, people paralyzed by an air of helplessness and bewilderment as the wind and rain died away.  “About 10 AM,’ recounts Billy, ‘a 2 ½ ton truck approached the town.  Out jumped a crew of plain-dress Mennonites from Montezuma.  With axes and chainsaws they began the all-important work of opening the blocked streets so that service vehicles could come and go.’

No one called them.  No one gave them orders.  They just showed up.  And they began clearing the roads.  “Through the day, they filled that truck with debris from the streets and hauled it away to the town dump,” remembers Billy.  So began the work of restoring a shattered town.

It is this encounter of 54 years ago, that draws Billy – and now his family, Amanda and Allan – to the Mennonite charity auction. Yes, the quilts are beautiful, the antiques and baked goods may delight your heart and belly.  But for Billy, it’s all about grateful remembrance of a certain terrible day when help appeared unbidden to get a punch drunk hometown back on its red clay feet. And that somewhere else today, some community has been rocked by trouble and needs a ‘2 ½ ton truck to roll in’ with able bodies, willing hearts and donated assistance.

This year’s Peach Cobbler Mennonite Relief Sale happens Sept. 11-12 at the Perry fairgrounds.  Proceeds go to help communities in need around the world. This year’s theme is education for neglected minorities in Europe and Africa.