This Rusty Lining
an island populated by monocled goats
These are all legitimate candidates for the place I'd most like to be right now. But with the possible exception of goat island, none win top honors.
Whenever I think of the place I'd rather be, my mind always returns to a rural backyard not far from the small town of Durant, Mississippi. Prior generations of Mississippians once flocked to Durant to visit the famous Castalian Springs, seeking mental and physical regeneration in the deep sourced waters. In more recent years Durant's major engines of commerce and tourism have been reduced to Danny's Auto Repair, a prominent Dollar Store, and the Double Quick gas station which offers lined up lunchgoers a full array of fried delectables dished out into styrofoam trays. But every once in a while, travelers still pass through Durant forgoing the Castalian Springs and seeking out a different type of Baptism, but leaving equally refreshed in body and spirit.
Pulling off the rural route into the driveway, the unassuming house and front yard look like many others in this state. An assortment of vehicles scattered about, each with the hauling capacity to remove all the others, if necessary. The one story house slightly leaning with the shifting earth, spilling out furniture in various states of disrepair. Sagging chairs and rickety tables spotted with the remains of rainwater pools long evaporated, and old dusty grills that haven't seen a burger in years. Check the GPS because you could be anywhere in this state.
But venture through a chain link fence trailing along on side of the of the yard and all familiarity
rapidly dissolves. A darkened forest populated by hulking piles of jagged metal, rusty husks bearing the barely discernable shapes of ancient stoves, farm implements and tools. A fleet of schoolbusses partially sunken in the earth, packed full with mouldering books, hooks, bolts, nuts, cowbells, teacups, saucers and spoons. Radios, typerwriters, dishes, the detreitus accumulated from generations of human habitation. I took a deep breath. I was home.
Presiding over this rusty fiefdom is Felix. A genial and generally shirtless man - save for a lifting belt used for heavy objects and a T-shirt when driving to satelite storage areas around town - Felix built a junk empire through four decades emptying farmhouses and homes across the region, lovingly and indiscriminately hauling the contents to his burgeoning piles.
It had been months since my last visit to Felix, and upon return I recognized that peculiar chest tightening that I've felt sometimes when reuniting with certain people, or special places. I bounded past old cotton scales, ploughs and wagon wheels, carefully disentangled my foot from a length of blackened chain coiled aside the vague path. Not knowing where to go first, I ultimately settled on a slanted shed near the back of the property. Warily eyeing the red wasps building a nest in a nearby cupboard, I pulled out boxes of records, sifted through old family papers and photographs and for the first time in months, breathed easy.
Cats scampered in and out of view as I made my way to the beached schoolbusses, packed tight with narrow paths down the aisle. Felix had removed the seats, and instead of young children on their way to school, the sinking vehicles now drove busloads of junk slowly into the earth.
My hands gathered rust, I breathed deep into the musty boxes and slapped at whining mosquitos. A thin perfume of the past settled onto my clothing. I stubbed my toes and reached blindly into dark corners, not knowing what my hands would encounter.
After accumulating a satisfying pile of keepers and having my fill of run ins with the wasps and other belligerent winged fauna, Felix drove me over to another house, his "auntie's", filled to the brim with old tables, chairs and cabinets. Any careless steps left dents in the rotten linoleum flooring and we both carried flashlights. I didn't know where auntie lived now, but I hoped she'd gone to a better place. My eyes lingered on a large cedar bookcase, before settling for some smaller pieces which we tossed into the truck and headed back to Felix's lost city of Junklantis.
On the way back we chatted about why certain people (us) can't be held down to regular jobs. At one point Felix motioned at the items in the back of the truck and said "for me ... I just love doing this ... this is my greatest hobby." I couldn't agree more.
Back in his yard we haggled and fought. We both knew that I was going to buy and he was going to sell, but we relished the posturing, the back and forth, the discussion of insignificant dollar differences with the utmost gravity. After the agreement smiles returned. Felix admired the amount of stuff I could fit in my van, he seemed impressed with my plastic bin storage system, and I felt proud.
The stuff is still in my van, I haven't brought it in yet. I might leave it out there a little longer. And when I watch closely, I can almost see the tires settling a bit deeper.