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John, Jess and Jimmy
by Marta Martin

I had been up to the junkyard before when I needed a part for my Cavalier. But if the dog hadn’t chewed up my seat belts last summer I wouldn’t have the privilege of knowing them like I do now—John, Jess and Jimmy.

John is the patriarch and Jess his bride. John’s brothers, sisters and their families – even John’s 81 year-old-hard-of-hearing mother – live on the premises.

Southern junkyards are a real slice of Americana, houses dotting a rusted metal landscape – spanning acre after acre of junk. Take a right off Route 21 and go about 2.9 miles and just like South Fork, this massive estate of wrecked, previously regal carriages, glimmers in the sun.

Every man carries a walkie-talkie and rides a Cushman or an ATV. Jess works the desk, six days a week from 8 to 5.

“Jimmy, we got a steering column for a 85 Corolla?” she yells into a hand held unit. A few minutes later she goes back to the phone; “Honey, we got an ’86, but he says it’ll work. $125.00. I’ll hold it for you.”

Other wives and mothers might look out their kitchen window and see flowers blooming, swing sets, trees. The junkyard bride is probably looking at the rusted out carcass of a 1967 Mustang.

I like John and Jess. I like John’s mom, and know enough to just listen and not ask questions because she can’t hear me anyway. I know Jake, the Pomeranian. I know he’ll jump up on the dusty seat next to me as I sit and wait for someone to fetch my part. I know he is not supposed to be off wandering, so when I caught him down near the hard top I brought him back to be scolded by John, who dearly loves him.

John looks much older than he really is and walks stiffly as though his back might be the source of his ills. But he forgets his back and his eyes shine when he shows off yet another part he just bought off the Internet for the old Ford Falcon he is fixing up. Truth is that old thing is still in his driveway, back behind his house and hasn’t been touched. I hope someday he gets around to it.

I spent three afternoons at the junkyard last fall because we just couldn’t seem to get the right seatbelts for my tiny car. As I sit and write this now, more than six months later, I’m sure it would take Jess a minute to remember exactly who I am but in my mind the events of that last afternoon there are just as fresh as if it were yesterday. That was the day I met Jimmy.

“Is that your son out there, Jess?” asked one of many nieces who drove up to say hello (in a Camaro no doubt rebuilt with junkyard parts) after school.

“Where?” Jess was immediately riveted and came to the door to look.

My ears perked up, too, as I didn’t think Jess and John had any kids. I stood to look toward the house and the yard that already housed ducks and chickens and a wading pool for their use.

“There he is! He’s wanting his lunch.” Jess said, striding out the door.

“I don’t see anyone,” I told the girl.

“Jimmy’s a deer,” she said matter-of-factly.

Jess walked into the yard and quietly called his name. It was then that I saw him and those greenstick, gangly legs of his trotting down the porch steps. He ran to her and immediately nuzzled her face with his. I could have cried. He was wearing a fluorescent orange collar. She led him back up the stairs and into her house, closing the door behind them.

“That’s a deer!” I said out loud to no one in particular.

“Yes, it is. I reckon he’s eating now.”

“What is he eating?”

The girl pondered a moment and said, “Mostly cheese puffs, grapes, apples and sweet tea.”

Ah, he was a southern deer.

In the summer of 2004 a pregnant doe had come far too close to town looking for food. Each year the problem here gets worse. It is not uncommon to see deer feeding on the lawns of apartment complexes or crossing busy intersections.

This nameless doe met a tragic fate when she was hit and killed by an unknown vehicle with a faceless driver who left her to die by the side of the road in the summer heat. Sometime in the last moments of her life she delivered a tiny buck. Not that anyone noticed. Not for several days anyway.

Even the maggots and black flies thought the fawn was dead. They covered him and had already begun to eat at his flesh.

A nice lady saw movement at the side of the road. Not much, but enough to get her attention. She wrapped him in a warm blanket and took him from his mother’s stiff body. She knew someone who would take any sickly animal, nurse it, feed it and love it. Jess took the small bundle from the nice lady and clucked her tongue in pity as she began a process that would take many days…picking off the maggots with tweezers. She called the little deer Jimmy. Jimmy thinks Jess is his mother, for his life did not truly begin until he met her.

I’ve waited all this time wondering how he made it through hunting season, or whether he got his antlers yet. I broke down and called Jess who remembered me immediately.

Jimmy went through a total of five collars during hunting season, he was spotted many times, but thankfully each hunter recognized the collar meant he was to be spared. His antlers are three inches long. And this year he has siblings – Jess is raising two more orphaned deer.

I ask if I can bring some grapes or a bag of apples to help out. She tells me she appreciates it but a local produce market is in on the secret and donates all of the food for the three deer.

I tell her that her secret is safe with me – and chuckle to myself at the thought of three sweet tea-drinking deer.


Marta Martin makes her home in Charleston, West Virginia. After spending 17 years in radio she gave up her microphone for a keyboard and has been writing ever since. She says writing is the only thing that comes close to the "shut up and listen while I talk" kinda feeling she enjoyed in her radio days. Contact her at FUNNY GIRL.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We are saddened to report Marta's death on Friday, May 19, 2006. She will certainly be missed and remembered as a tremendously talented writer.

Read more of Marta Martin's stories at USADEEPSOUTH!
One Man's Treasure
Strength in Unity

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