With a demanding sing song in my voice, I yell after Dad as he walks to his shop, “Like items together!”
“As always!”, he responds while chuckling to himself, “Wouldn’t dream of something different!”
It’s our little joke. I try to invite the semblance of order; he insinuates that I’m a bit neurotic.
In Dad’s smudged and hardened hand are ten powerful magnets. He dug them from a rotting plastic crate.
As he bent over the cracked tub, Mom barked at him, “I already went through that stuff!”
But, that just egged him to dig a little deeper. “Ohhhhh…I wouldn’t want you to get rid of any treasures!” When he discovered the magnets, he was vindicated in his search.
An hour earlier, we wrestled Dad’s new welding table off the back of the truck using chains and the tractor. After the steel monstrosity was put into place, Mom wandered over and begun poking through a hidden corner of the property.
That corner had been the home of a battered RV for several years. Frank was in a tough place and my good-hearted parents allowed him to park his RV behind Dad’s shop, a long extension cord providing him with power. He stayed long enough to compile quite the assortment of stuff, mostly leftovers from job sites, or so the story goes.
When Frank fired up the RV and drove away, there were promises of coming back to pick up his stuff and clean up the mess. But, months have passed. We know it isn’t going to happen but keep joking about it anyway. “You’ll never guess who I heard from” and “Frank will be back any day now.”
Surrounding the weed-free rectangle where the RV sat, there is a leaning stack of warped barn wood and a small pile of white tile. Tools, left outside, are rusted or hardened. A tower of old-school electronic equipment is balanced on an ancient riding lawn mower. At the edge of the area is a red truck with uncertain ownership. The desert has begun reclaiming some items, burying them into the sand or breaking them down with the unrelenting rays.
No one in my family is very good at throwing things away, the remnants of historical want. Digging through the abandoned stuff is painful at times. Thing after thing, wasting away. It’s hardest to know what to do with the items that still have a small flame of possibility.
I walk some dirt-covered hangers toward the “keep” pile and mom quickly gestures toward the “dump” pile. I launch a defense in the silence of my head about their merit but place them into the trash bin. My desire for order defeated by the reality of the time and effort it would require to restore them back to usefulness. Not worth the $.75 of value the old hangers have.
By self-designation, I’m in charge of the “burn” pile. We’ve only just begun the clean-up but the pile is already past the size of a “small fire.” I will need to figure out a secondary pile before the project is complete.
Mom is going to call a local guy to see if he wants to pick up the “metal” pile. Waiting for scrap prices increase again, he has been collecting.
Occasionally, after a day of puttering through his projects, Dad will direct the remote to the Kiltchners and say, “Let’s see what my friends are up to.” As the Alaskan homesteaders root through their boneyard of stuff and repurpose the broken down items into something astounding, Dad will smile and say, “Those are my people.”
As we lose light in the setting sun, the work quickly comes to an end. In our own little way, we are righting a wrong, restoring the order and dignity of the desert. Working alongside my parents, in a small portion of our family land, I think to myself, “Like items together!”
There is no doubt: these are my people.