- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) - The sign on the lawn says there’s a yard sale today. But there’s been a sale here every day forever. And it’s really more of a yard explosion.

Pete Jackson was sitting in front of the abandoned machine shop across from his childhood home, as he does just about every day, listening to the news on an antique radio, waiting for someone to stumble upon his spectacle.

“Only way you’re going to find this place is if you luck up on it,” said the 77-year-old Jackson in an old Louisiana country drawl. He was sitting on the corner of Hamilton and West Grand Street. “If you don’t luck up on it, you ain’t gonna see this place, and I don’t mind if you luck up on it.”

His home is a colossal art project that spreads out from the house into the alley and up to the curb. It’s a nameless wonderland of antiques and folk art and plain old junk engulfed by vines and framed by trees, an outdoor gallery where everything’s for sale. It’s hard to find, but impossible to miss once you’re near it, because it’s one of the only signs of life left out here.

The neighborhood is literally gone. Jackson’s street is surrounded by whole blocks with nothing on them but tall brown grasses and a handful of trees. Other blocks have only a house or two left standing.

This part of Highland Park got so desolate over time that the city said to hell with it about a decade ago and closed entry to much of the neighborhood using concrete barriers in the streets and alleys, letting the whole neighborhood go back to nature.

And Jackson loves it. That’s why he’s here every day.

He doesn’t need to stay here; he’s lived for years in a newer, nicer house in Belleville. He doesn’t need the money; in fact, he claims to be wealthy.

But this house is where he grew up. And since his wife recently died, this is where he wants to be again, where he gets to live like he did as a child on the farm in the rural Deep South.

Like much of Detroit, which completely surrounds it, parts of once-dense Highland Park became prairieland over the years as people fled to the suburbs in droves. Instead of Jackson having to move back to the wilderness, the wilderness moved back to him. And it provides a surreal frame around his never-ending yard sale of an art show.

“I like Highland Park,” he told the Detroit Free Press (http://on.freep.com/1kmY42Q ). “I like everything about it. Ain’t nobody around. I got the country in the middle of the city. Couldn’t ask for nothing better.”

He was born in Louisiana, came north with his family during the Depression and settled in Highland Park, where they moved into one of those mail-order Sears Roebuck homes that got shipped to the home buyer to assemble. It’s the same Craftsman bungalow he comes back to every day now.

He spent eight years in the army, worked in auto plants and on construction jobs when he got out, and collected antiques from houses he’d clean out before renovating them. Soon he had a large, strange collection of odd things. He always had an artistic streak, and he used some of it to make unusual creations that gradually filled the yard.

Over here is a painted blob of melted pop cans made in the 1950s. Over there is a crucifix made recently out of trash. Out front an array of little horse-drawn carriage figurines line up in display. Colorful shutters block the windows of the abandoned machine shop, mirrors hang from trees and poles, and wood cutouts of red-feathered cardinals perch in the trees that largely hide his home.

The extravagant display draws a lot of visitors who pass by on Hamilton Avenue and are visually ambushed by this colorful burst of creativity.

“It’s actually become a big part of the city,” said Mayor DeAndre Windom, who’s known Jackson since childhood. “It’s almost similar to the Heidelberg Project. It’s become a pillar in our community.”

Years ago, with his antiques piling up, Jackson opened a knick-knack shop in a shack he built behind his home, back when people could still drive up through the alley and happen upon an unadvertised store. Thus began the ongoing yard sale.

“Everything’s for sale,” he said, with a sweep of his hand. “You can buy the whole house if you want.”

You might find anything here as you walk along the vine-draped paths through the yard, or inside the ornamented house. There are valuables like the antique Coca-Cola cooler that once sat in his grandfather’s general store, and the Nazi dagger with swastikas on it hanging on the wall in the house, right by the antique muzzle-loading rifle.

Then there are the kitschy ceramic dog statues, a wrought-iron peacock, bird cages and piggy banks, wheelchairs and wind chimes, and countless other items of little value except to the handful of regular customers who’ve found this place and keep coming back.

He’s usually here when they come. His wife of 38 years died not long ago, he retired long before that, and he’s got a lot of time on his hands. Often he spends the night here instead of driving back to Belleville. And almost every day he hosts the longest yard sale in history.

“It just gives me something to do,” said the 77-year-old. “I don’t want to sit in an old folks’ home in front of a TV.”

His grandmother was a Cherokee Indian living on a dirt-poor reservation in Houma, Louisiana. And wouldn’t you know it, that land turned out to be sitting on top of a whole lot of oil. One day during the Depression the oil and gas companies began showing up seeking to drill. And suddenly his grandmother wasn’t so poor.

When she died the royalties checks she was getting went to Jackson’s mother, and when his mom passed away they began coming to him.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said matter-of-factly, as he sat in one of the city’s bleakest neighborhoods. “You ever hear that saying, ‘Land rich and money poor?’ That’s me.”

“But I didn’t inherit all my money,” he insisted. “I made it by working. I worked for a long time.”

Across from his house, several ripe green gourds hang from a vine. He planted them because they’re like the gourds that grew down on the family’s Louisiana farm. They remind him of what he came up from.

“We didn’t have cups when we dipped our water for the well,” he said. “We’d cut the gourd and make a handle and make a dipper out of it. It was country living back then.”

It’s country living here now too.

Ferns hang gently from the covered front porch. His fence is laced with grape vines, which he uses to make homemade wine. And he built a walk-in barbecue out back along the alley. It’s got a fireplace made of concrete and a pit made out of brick, a hideaway entered through wood French doors he found somewhere in the trash.

“This here is a real barbecue pit,” he said proudly. “You put the wires over it and you put your whole hog on it.” He sat down for a moment in the easy chair that sits inside. His gout was flaring up, and he had to rest a lot.

“In the wintertime I throw a hog on there, throw on a log on, there’s snow out there, I sit here and I say, ‘What a lucky guy you are.’ “

There’s an eerie quiet here in the daytime. You can hear the bugs in the grass, the birds in the trees, the sound of the dry brown leaves scraping the pavement as the wind blows them along. Sometimes a car passes through. If someone’s talking on the phone a block away, you can hear everything they say.

The few residents left living around here wander the potholed streets throughout the daytime. There’s the guy they call Bucket Man, who forlornly carries a pail everywhere he goes and offers to wash people’s cars for a few bucks. And the guy they call Yard, who does odd jobs for people. He’s around a lot, shadowing Jackson whenever he can.

“He’s a good guy,” said Yard, lingering around as he waited for another task. “That’s why I call him my uncle.”

In a course of a day they come by over and over again.

“They use this area for entertainment,” Jackson said. “They sit over there, sit over here. You come around and there might be 15 people sitting around. They all know me.”

Jackson’s hours here are erratic. The yard sale isn’t advertised. The art display isn’t listed in tourist guides. He doesn’t even have a cellphone for people to call to see if he’s there or not.

“I don’t want no phone,” he said. “I don’t want no dog, I don’t want no woman, I don’t want no car. I want peace, and this is how I get it. I had all that. I don’t need it.”

He closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair for a moment and soaked in the fall afternoon sunshine as the crickets chirped and a stray dog howled and nothing else was happening at all.

“I couldn’t ask for nothing better,” said the millionaire in the wilderness, as a dozen mirrors sparkled in the trees. “I’m going to enjoy this sun the rest of the day and thank the Lord that I’m here.”

___

Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide