In the tiny town of Monteagle, TN, there’s a flea market that Taylor and I peruse like shell scavengers on a beach.
The vendors sell toys with missing parts and corroded batteries. They sell boxes of Little Debbie cakes shaped like Christmas trees–in July. They sell glossy, sumptuously curvy bell peppers and apples that snap when you bite into them, crisp and sweet.
I approach one woman and ask how much she wants for a plastic car ramp.
“Oh honey, I wouldn’t sell just the half of it,” she says, pulling a fallen pink spaghetti strap back onto her shoulder. “It’s a whole set with little toy men.”
The woman’s booth is a mountain of stuffed animals, University of Tennessee sports memorabilia, opened boxes of lightbulbs, and broken baby gear.
“I’d need at least $25 for it, once I find the rest.” She straightens up. “It’s electronic.”
We move on.
In another booth, I scan boxes full of plastic green army figurines and naked Barbies.
And Hot Wheels.
In a split second Jackson has spotted them and jumps out of Taylor’s arms. He grabs two fistfuls of race cars, fire engines, and 16-wheelers. I kneel next to him and look up, worried the shopkeeper will tell us we better plan to buy those cars. But an old woman with a walker just hovered near us, smiling. “How old is he?”
“He’s a year and a half,” I say.
She crosses her forearms on the walker and sighs. “What a doll.”
Jackson makes a “vroom” noise and pushes the fire engine back and forth on uneven pavement.
“I can get some Clorox wipes for those,” says the shopkeeper, her face sharpening. “You know the first thing he’s gonna do is put them in his mouth.”
“Probably a good chance,” Taylor says.
She scooches forward. Lifting the walker, dropping it, taking two steps, repeating. When she gets to the table, she rests her weight against the counter, breathing heavily, and pulls out two wipes from a canister.
As I wipe down the cars, I see a piece of painter’s tape on the cardboard box that says “5 for $1.” I look up to ask Taylor if he wants to buy a few, but he’s already approaching the woman with several dollars in his hand.
“5 cars for $5?” he asks.
“Sure, hun,” she says, leaning over to put the Clorox canister back on the shelf. “That’ll be fine.”
We help Jackson pick out five cars, including a dump truck, a bulldozer, a tow truck, fire engine, and a tasteful sedan.
“Here, let me get you a bag,” she says, starting another slow journey toward a shelf in the back.
We take it, but Jackson refuses to let go of any of the five cars he’s clutching to his chest.
“Thanks for coming, y’all.” She nods at Jackson, who grins. “He’s a sweetheart.”
Jackson zooms the fire truck up and down his shoulder as we walk away. I look over at Taylor. “You know, those cars cost like 20 cents each.”
“Yeah,” he shrugs, the gravel crunching beneath us, “I knew.”