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Ps&Qs: Becoming a junk dealer

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I have come to a crossroads in my career path. Well actually, it’s more like one of those corner roadside stands in Mexico where they sell any/everything from fresh fruit to furniture… after 25 plus years of administrative work in myriad industries: art/entertainment, grocery, airline, etc. I am now a junk dealer.

My sister sent me a pair of coveralls, just to make it official.

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For the last few months, I have been helping my uncle clear out 70-plus years-worth of collectibles: everything from Howard Hughes’ trash to long-buried family treasure. Turns out, a Hughes aircraft crashed on the A Bar A Ranch in Wyoming where Uncle Charley was working one summer in the 1970s. As the airline executives on board all piled out and headed for safety, one man approached to ask if they had a shotgun on the ranch.

“Yeah sure, we’ve got skeet and trap shooting.” Chas said, puzzled.

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“Good,” said the man. “I want you to get a shotgun and head down to the crash site. Stay there until I get back, and don’t let anyone near the wreckage. I’ve got to get to Los Angeles and bring back a team to collect what’s left of the aircraft. There is radar equipment in the nose of that plane that no one has seen the likes of yet, and they’ll be coming for it.”

“They?” asked Chas.

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“Yeah. They’re all on their CB radios already.”

“I thought he was a bit melodramatic,” Uncle Charley said, as he told me the story. (One of the best finds yet was a metal airline kitchen box with HUGHES stenciled on it, and so I immediately called him to ask where it came from.)

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“But I did it. I grabbed one of the shotguns and drove down to the wreckage in my pickup. I sat on the hood with the shotgun across my lap and waited. Sure enough, before too long a truck came driving over the hill, making its way toward me. But as soon as they got close enough to see me, and more importantly, the shotgun in my lap, the driver turned around and I watched the truck disappear back over the hill. And the trucks kept coming… over the hill, within eyesight, then they’d turn around and head back. I never told you this story?”

“No.” I said. “And what a story it is!”

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As far as stories go, Uncle Charley’s a wealthy man — and not in shaggy dogs. (He does know a story about when Satank was called Yellow Dog, however.) Chas has a lifetime of stories stored in garages, alongside the items that trigger them, and he would much rather re-live a good story than count the money he could get for selling such treasures. When it comes to the kind of money Howard Hughes had, he says, “I’d be embarrassed to have that much money.”

Sorting through a lifetime of memories has turned out to be the best job I’ve ever had. I may be tired at the end of the day, and my overalls may be filthy, but I am always eager to go back and see what I will discover next. It’s like going back in time. I have discovered letters and journals written long ago, and the words on the page bring back people who are long gone. And I can see significance in the objects — sometimes even personality. Like in Beauty and the Beast, I imagine them at night, while we’re all sleeping, coming to life and running amok in the welding shop.

Possessions can connect us through the stories that we tell (even though the joy is in us) in sharing the experience. I feel I’ve helped my uncle set free a lifetime’s worth of short stories, by sending their agents out into the world to start a fresh chapter. I look at a small metal box that survived a plane crash and held up for fifty years of countless camping trips, and I am immersed in my uncle’s life’s adventures. 

Good work, if you can get it. Now I just need to print up some new business cards — Jeannie Perry: dealer of stories, relics, and used furniture.

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