Lancient History

Trash Grabbers

My coworker and I were strongly considering rescuing an old audio/visual cart from the dumpster area the other morning.  We were laughing about being trash grabbers.  I am a shameless trash grabber.  If I see something that’s going to the dump, I’ll grab it if I like it.  I blame my grandmother, who used to take my cousins and me trash grabbing when we spent summers with her.

Let me paint you a picture.

It is 1979, summertime in Georgia.  Early morning.  So early that the dew is still on the St. Augustine, and wetting the blacktop, and the sun hasn’t quite cleared the thick pines that separate the wood frame houses in the neighborhood.  A white, Crown Victoria creeps down the road, driven by a little, fuzzy haired woman.  With a cigarette in one hand, she steers toward a pile of trash waiting at the streetline.

A back door swings open and three small children hustle out, and scramble over to the garbage.  The two little girls wear bubble suits in the pastels of laundry-faded hot pink, and royal blue, summer legs eaten up with bug bites and the bruises of backyard play, the bottoms of their bare feet as black as the tar they are walking on.  Their hair isn’t combed–it’s summer.  Summer is for bedhead.  The boy wears thick, plastic framed glasses, a mesh-back baseball cap, white t-shirt, and shorts he outgrew a couple of weeks ago, shorts that fit him when the summer started.  His bare feet are just as dirty, and his legs just as backyard scarred, covered in goose pimples because he is always cold.

They skirt the line where the lawn meets the blacktop, no sidewalk between front yard and street, and creep up to the trash pile, keeping an eye out for anyone who might be coming.  They have been briefed on the importance of stealth.  Their grandmother has seen a stool she wanted in this garbage pile, and sent them to fetch it, but along with that stool they found a few boxes.  The boy calls out to the car, and the cigarette waves at them to hurry.  Pursed lips shush him from the driver’s seat.

He grabs the stool, and the smallest girl, his sister, helps him wrangle it into the trunk of the car–a cavern so deep, they wonder if they could just climb in and ride home that way.  Their cousin has cautiously pulled back the lip of a box, and squealed with delight.  A whole stack of 78s!  On top?  The soundtrack to the movie Grease.  

Just like that, stealth is forgotten as all three children descend on the boxes like vultures, hopping around one another with excitement, trying to see over the other’s shoulder as he and she scrabble through the other two boxes of another man’s junk.  Loaded with treasure, they return to the car, chattering over their finds.  Any worry they had in scavenging has transmuted into the thrill of a good haul.  They don’t even mind how early it is anymore.

Their grandmother watches them in the rear view mirror, smiling with vulpine fondness, and eases her foot onto the gas.  There are still other treasures to find in the half hour left before the garbage man comes to sweep away the waiting trash like the tide.

When my mother found out Grandma was using us as her personal trash pickers, she had a fit.  It was too late.  I had found the soundtrack to Grease, a movie then forbidden me, and I was sold.  If I could find Grease in the trash, what else might be out there?!

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