Rusting away

by Maria L. Evans

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom

nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon

us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so

pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

–Collect for Proper 12, p. 231, BCP

Sometimes it’s fun to read the collects “out of season.”

I was reminded of this one as a friend of mine prepares to enter one of her drawings in a juried contest. It’s a rendition of the light dancing on her father’s old red Ford truck as it slowly rots away in the auto/machinery graveyard that many family farms have somewhere on their “back forty.”

What I’m about to say is not ecologically friendly, but I’ll say it anyway. I really enjoy those old junk piles tucked away on folks’ back forty. If the owners of the junk pile still live on the farm, every item out there has a story. Even if the original owners no longer live there, if a person is observant, one can figure a lot out with a little detective work.

The junk pile that always sticks out the most in my mind was the one that belonged to a friend of mine, where the item of intrigue was his dad’s old Henry J that he bought after he had gotten out of the service. For those of you who have never heard of a Henry J, it was probably one of the first four-cylinder cars in the modern automotive era, produced by Kaiser-Frazier. It was marketed as a vehicle designed to put automobiles in the hands of people who previously were too poor to afford a car, but in reality it was a way to get rid of a lot of surplus Willys-Overland Jeep engines and engine parts from the war.

The problem was that in an era where The American Dream included getting bigger, flashier, and more complicated cars, the Henry J was going the wrong way. For starters, it was missing some things that folks had come to expect in a car–for instance, a trunk lid (you had to put the back seat down to get into the trunk,) a glove compartment, and armrests. The fact it got 35 miles per gallon was worthless in an era when gas was 17 cents a gallon. Truth is, the story was that everyone made fun of that Henry J, and it never really got the respect it deserved. The reality is, the Henry J was probably a decent car, but introduced at the wrong time. My friend’s dad was so fed up by all the taunting and derision to get a “real car” that one day he just stopped driving it. Never mind he didn’t have another car. He walked, bummed rides, and hitched until he could afford a 1954 Chevy Bel-Air.

This particular Henry J was eventually consigned to the junk pile, right next to the rusting International Harvester tractor that had put in decades of faithful service. Enough years had gone by that both that tractor and the Henry J had become homes for little critters–rabbits, mice, raccoons, and the occasional opossum. The weeds were tall enough that in the summer, the old Henry J almost disappeared from sight. Yet, both the beloved, reliable old tractor and the comparatively worthless Henry J shared the same fate, and became equally worthy citizens of the junk pile. It was just as good a home for a litter of wild baby rabbits as any other decaying vehicle out there.

When I think back about that junk pile, it reminds me of how the things we label, the things we judge, many times, in the end, become of no consequence. The things we once coveted are no longer of even passing interest. The things that humiliated and embarrassed us become so covered in weeds that we’ll never see them again unless we look for them and unearth them.

There are times I ponder the possibility of returning to my friend’s farm, but he no longer lives there, and I don’t have a clue who inhabits the place now. Yet sometimes, when I pass an old junk pile off in the distance from a roadside, I go back to that junk pile with the Henry J in my mind’s eye, and imagine what it must look like now. Probably enough weeds and silt over the three decades since I was last there have set it further in the ground. It’s probably a lot less blue than it used to be–maybe even rusted all the way now, roof collapsed in, upholstery in tatters or down to just oxidized springs. But I suspect it’s still a dandy home for wild baby rabbits.

What are the things in your life that were once objects of embarrassment and humiliation, that now are places of nurturing for something you never imagined?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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