The Playhouse

Our trip into New Mexico along the interstate and the back roads didn’t disappoint. Traveling never does because there are always interesting people to meet and new sights to see.

On one of our excursions outside of Santa Fe we stopped at a Mercantile store. The only “mercantile” was Indian jewelry, carvings, and old western memorabilia. The collectibles weren’t for sale, but trunk loads of Indian jewelry were.

The proprietors were a husband and wife who stood stationary behind the showcases of jewelry. She smiled slightly and offered to show us any of the items. Her husband was rather stone-faced and didn’t appear at all happy to be running the Mercantile. Our visit was short and so was his hospitality.

The hodgepodge dwelling and yard artifacts next door to the Mercantile were light years away in comparison. The owner and proprietor waved us in with a welcome. He appeared to be salvaging his bath water and conserving his laundry detergent. Wearing his dingy T-shirt wrong side out may have been his means of getting longer wear out of his shirts. His disheveled, long gray hair and beard had also skipped a wash or two.

Still, he introduced himself as Leroy and invited us to tour his gallery of collectibles. What a gallery! If I had seen his dwelling when I was ten, I would have thought it a playhouse paradise!

The man had collected everything imaginable and nailed, hung, or glued it to posts, fences, walls and tree trunks. Low doorways led into small rooms covered with tin and other trappings he had collected. A string of wire that circled his domain clanged with bottles – all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Everywhere – I seriously mean every square inch was covered with items large and small that he had collected – mostly from garbage dumps. Some he had arranged and displayed on one of his good days. Other piles looked as if he had built his home next to a landfill.

While my eyes tried to take in the junk menagerie, I also tried to listen to his discourse on his life and pursuit of collectibles. He encouraged us and some others that had pulled in to visit every section of his domain.

There were hubcaps, tires, random car parts – surely enough to build his own mode of transportation. I spotted a fishing boat in one corner of the yard that had “ship-wrecked” on top of a waist high pile of boards and unidentifiable stuff.

His conversation and jolly spirit never diminished. He would share info about his collection and round it off with a hearty laugh.

Everyone in his captive audience was taking pictures because only pictures could confirm that this place actually existed. I asked if I could have a picture with him before we left. He heartily agreed and took a stance like royalty amid a palace.

I’ve thought about Leroy, his healthy, junked container of tips, his zest for the unusual and his appreciation of the discarded and trash. I’ve also thought about the owner of the Mercantile – the store that was full of expensive jewelry and works of art. Yet the owner appeared miserable.

But Leroy . . . there wasn’t a single item I would have wanted from his lifestyle of collecting EXCEPT for his ability to see treasure in the unwanted and discarded, and I’m referring to those created in the image of God.

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