I remember when my burdens rolled away;
I had carried them for years, night and day.
When I sought the blessed Lord,
And I took Him at His word,
Then at once, all my burdens rolled away.
—Minnie A. Steele, 1908
My father’s hands were always covered in black grease from hours spent bent over a broken-down car. He suffered so many nasty cuts over the years to his face and head from gouging himself on the hood or trunk or some tool. Cars fell on him or popped out of gear and rolled away.
Often, he worked into the dark of night repairing a muffler or solenoid. It was always the solenoid. Sometimes, he called me out to the yard after sundown to hold the long, silver flashlight while he tried to position parts into place. I’d needle the light through all the dusty pipes and parts, just like he instructed. I tried so hard to hold that heavy flashlight still, but when I failed he raged, “Just forget it!”
Crushed beneath my father’s stress and disappointment, I’d wander back into the house. All I wanted to do was hold my tired father in my arms and tell him how sorry I was that I couldn’t keep the flashlight still. How sorry I was that we were so poor and that our cars were always breaking down. How sorry I was that he had to work so hard fixing things with used parts scrounged and bargained for at junkyards.
My father, who boxed with the Golden Gloves in the 1940s, was always a fighter. I suppose God gave him that because in life he got very beat up. Still, if some old boss man treated him like shit he told him so. And, then he’d come home from work, fired from his job and say, “It’s not like I’m some dog or something.”
Growing up, junkyards were the frequent jaunt. Trips to the you-pull-it salvage yards on Saturday mornings were a welcome departure from our otherwise boring lives. While my dad searched for manifolds and alternators, compressors and transmissions, I meandered through rows of burned-out automobiles. Popping my head in and out of busted windows, I hunted for pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes. Maybe I would find enough for a gallon of milk, a box of cereal or some soda pop.
One day, I discovered dried blood all over the inside of an old Zephyr. That was the day I realized junkyards were kind of like graveyards. The cars were the initial resting place for many a departed soul.
If I try hard, I can still hear my father’s voice above the barking junkyard dog, calling to me across the boneyard of wrecked automobiles. “Jenni, get back here,” he shouted. “Don’t go too far.”
Junkyard Memories: Sea of Wreckage
The salvage yards of my childhood were a sea of wreckage and salvation. We pulled spare parts from the skeleton frames of someone’s half-lived life. What we picked from those carcasses fixed our clunkers. And, for awhile it was miracles all down the line.
Also, I was 23 before I learned you could actually buy new parts to fix your crapped-out used car.
Junkyard Memories is another rough-cut chapter from a memoir I’ve been trying to ink for way too long.