By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Seven years before he died, George Murray inscribed his Last Will and Testament by hand. "And it better be legal, as it comes from my heart," he wrote, with his usual intensity. "Anyone who doubts this, I will come back after my death and haunt THEM."
The time is right. That odd assortment of relatives, employees, friends and lovers to whom he left both the Murray family farm and a junkyard filled with five acres of rusting cars have not come to terms with each other the way George had wanted.
"I hope this will stand up in court," he concluded--although now, nearly two years after his death, that seems unlikely. "I remain in life and death the same. I love you all, and please excuse my spelling."
"He was indoctrinating us in how to survive in this world," says George's oldest son, Bob. "He was a philosopher. On a typical August afternoon, here would be five, six, seven guys drinking Cokes under a tree, sitting on old car seats talking with my father, laughing one minute and crying the next. If you got him in the mood, boy, he'd go on for hours."
But George is no longer here to direct Socratic discourses. And without him to center the discussion, the people who once circled around him have veered out of orbit. Two factions of heirs no longer speak to each other, even though they are now co-owners of George's junkyard.
"My dad didn't ask you, he gave it to you," explains Bob. "It hasn't worked out very well. Now, Ray, he didn't want this property. He didn't want any property."
Ray, a taciturn man in his late fifties, was George's right-hand man for ten years and still lives and works in the junkyard. But he doesn't want to talk about his inheritance or even divulge his last name. Sometimes, however, he will speak of George. He loved George. Who didn't?
Loving George was a tenet of life at Murray's Junkyard and Auto Repair, as accepted as the fact that 1934 Ford trucks last forever or that a junkyard dog's bite is worse than its bark. The only person who never accepted it was George Murray himself.
On the afternoon of February 26, 1993, he sat down on the steps of a small frame house at the back of his junkyard and shot himself with a shotgun he'd been given by one of his many friends. His body was discovered a few hours later by Ray, who says he knew it was only a matter of time.
On a springlike day in winter, Bob Murray is riding an old ten-speed bike along the dirt roads of his father's junkyard. He coasts from the front clearing, where his father held court against a backdrop of fenders, to the banks of Bear Creek, which flooded regularly in the Fifties and Sixties. Those floods would sweep cars away from the yard, and then the town of Littleton would plow them back onto the banks. Many landed upside down, loaded with silt, and trees and grass grew up through them. Today these creekside cars have a strangely gentle aura--unlike car-crash relics, they seem to have come to a muddy, pleasant end.
They are not your typical junk cars, but Murray's is not your typical junkyard. For one thing, it is crowded with huge old trees. Looking down into it from the 4000 block of South Santa Fe Drive--which you can't do unless you get out of your car in the middle of traffic and really look down--you see a cross between Dogpatch and Sherwood Forest.
"This used to be a nursery, see," says Bob, now lounging in a '55 Ford station wagon. "My dad moved in in 1942 and never cut down the trees. It's intoxicating in the spring, with all the foliage. I used to be ashamed of this place, but the love of it hit me a few years ago. I thought, `This is my home.'"
At fifty, Bob finally has an opportunity to appreciate foliage and dig around in his roots. As a teenager he had no time for such esoteric things, no time for play, no time even to love his father the way everyone else did. "Yeah, he was my father--he was my mother, too, when you come down to it," Bob recalls. "Everything I know, I learned from my dad. How to box, how to weld, how to use tools...but mainly, it was work. I mean, look around you. Is there even one place that doesn't need attention around here? My brother and I worked constantly. We got Sunday afternoons off and that's all, or we were in trouble."
When George Murray and his first wife separated in 1958, George took his two sons, Bob and Sam, and moved into the junkyard, leaving his daughter behind with her mother. Bob had just started high school, and the transition was hell. "We lived in limbo," he says. "We were so-cial misfits, no doubt about it. We lived in a junkyard, we slept in a car with a stove in it for heat. I remember mice running across my blanket at night. We used the water right out of the creek to wash with. The second I could, I got away from here."