Junkyard rhapsody


“Ta-da” I say and shake-shimmy my little sequined heinie onto the makeshift stage. Gramma and her old dog, Rasputin, sit out in front of the velvet curtain suspended between two oil barrels. Gramma applauds wildly, like she’s an audience of 1000.

I sing her a song made up on the spot, about agony and love and winning the most important game of all time and saving the world. More wild applause from the packed theater. I can see smoke rising up from the candles in the orchestra pit, I can hear the bass players tuning up, grumbling in their beards. The violinists are all bald, thin and dyspeptic, and I can hear them tuning up too, making a shrill shirring like bees whinging past my ears on the way to the show. I sit down and flip the pink tulle of my tutu out of the way and crack my fingers like I’d seen my grampa doing when he tested out the piano the day he moved it in.

Gramma’s never seen me play for real. She’s still thinking of me as some 7-year-old little frizzle fart showing off for her and grampa back behind the shack where we lived for the first ten years of my life, when she and grampa still owned the oldest junkyard in Whynot Texas. Grampa died, shot or poisoned maybe, I never got the same story twice from Gramma and all I know is one day we packed and moved and kept on moving.

Even now I dream about that junkyard. About the things I found and lost in there. The pillows with fancy embroidery on them, only just a little stained. The chocolate-scented lotion that almost even tasted good. The beard trimmer. The defibrillator that scared the bejesus out of gramma when I tried it out on her foot while she was napping in her best Adirondack chair in the screen porch grampa built up against the shack. The shack. I didn’t strictly know it was a shack at the time, I can say that. But looking back on it now I can see it. A small wooden shack, with tin roofing, a little loose, that was held in place with old tires in case of hurricane or tornado. We had electricity, strung over the fence and jimmied in by my grampa or one of his cronies so we never had to pay a dime for it. No phone, water from a faucet and a hose in the yard, but no running water indoors.

I believe now I would have to say that we were living outside of time. That I was performing as a child star in the imaginary world of Mark Twain and backroom poker, sometimes in the crazy twenties, before the robber barons and Black Tuesday and the dustbowl poverty that made everyone, absolutely everyone, suspicious and sad. I lived in a time and place that did not exist anymore, through its castoffs, through its junk.

The smells of a junkyard are more varied than you might think. A junk yard is not a dump. The smells are of other people’s lives. Other people’s cologne, in fancy Avon bottles. The smell of spray starch on someone’s old cotton sheets. The smell of boots and mixed auto parts souring things up a bit, but even that just seems like an accent. I close my eyes and smell starlight and surprises in the junkyard at midnight.

Gramma and grampa took me in when I lost my mother. When she lost me. They gave me my first piano, and were my first audience. Gramma was upset with me when I went off to that Jew-yard to study, wanted to know what the hell I was thinking, family’s always been Baptist girl, even if your mother did turn out wrong. Which maybe she did; I’m not saying she did or she didn’t.

I am saying that anyone raised in other people’s stuff is likely to get a taste for adventure, a taste for novelty, a taste for things that, discarded by one child, make a bright and shiny path into the future for another. A path that might be followed, if the distractions that surrounded me did not take me somewhere else, where velvet curtains and audiences of thousands might be obscured by other images, more quiet, maybe a little dusty, where gramma and grampa might be sitting in the front row still, clapping and nodding, smiling while I say “ta-da” and spin in my little girl tutu before sitting down at that upright piano to play my first song.

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6 Responses to “Junkyard rhapsody”


  1. 1 Daisy September 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Teresa, I couldn’t find a link to email you so hopefully we can communicate this way. I found your junkyard picture and was wondering it is a copyright image. I would like to use it in a project. Please let me know. Btw, love your stories. Thank you, Daisy

  2. 2 Teresa September 5, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Hello, Daily. It is copyright Teresa Ybarra Phillips 2008. You have my permission to use it with attritution. Glad you’ve enjoyed the stories. What is your project?

    • 3 Daisy September 20, 2012 at 1:08 am

      Thank you! I will attribute the photo to you. My husband wrote a book about his father that spans from the 1920’s-1940’s. I painted many of the illustrations (I’m a watercolorist) and restored old family photos. Your picture will align with a chapter about his dad living in a bunkhouse in a junkyard in Oklahoma. I was going to paint one but came across your photo and my husband loved the feel of it. There are couple of modern items in it that I photoshopped out but you can’t really tell. If you would like to see it, email me your email address. I will send you a copy when it’s published; if you’d like. There will be a hard copy and an eBook. Again, Thank you! p.s. Where was this photo taken?

  3. 4 Teresa September 22, 2012 at 3:16 am

    Hello Daisy – I would love to see the book when it is ready. The photo was taken in the small village of Cedro, New Mexico, in the Manzano mountains. Here is an essay about Eunice, who has lived in that house for thirty some years now. http://bosquechica.wordpress.com/2008/04/07/doppel/
    She is a very good friend, and an unusual person. You can e-mail me at tphil00@hotmail.com with the book. Thanks and I’m happy the photo will get some travelling time. Teresa

  4. 5 Steven August 5, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Hi Teresa,

    I also think it’s a great image. Is there any chance I may have permission to also use it? I’m working on a webseries and this would be a great addition. 🙂

  5. 6 Teresa September 25, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Steven – sure, go ahead. With attribution please.


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