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Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm a trash picker from way back...Memorial Day memories of things that have shaped me.

Yes, I said trash picker and that's exactly what I meant.  I come by my trash-picking ways quite honestly actually.  You see, my granddaddy was a pig farmer.  No, really!  He really was a pig farmer.  He also had cows, chickens and ducks.  Granddaddy had two farms.  One was in Live Oak and the other was in Miami.  He owned the farm in Live Oak for a long time until he finally sold it and moved south to Miami because the cold weather during the winter bothered his arthritis.  I have some really cool memories of going to stay on the Live Oak farm when I was really little and some that aren't quite as happy as well.  He leased the land for the farm in Miami (which was located right where the Aventura Mall is today) and it is that farm helped turn me into the trash-pickin' mama I am today.

This is not my Granddaddy's farm, but I remember the pig pens looking just like this one.
What, you ask, does pig farming have to do with trash picking?  Well Granddaddy, you see, had to feed his pigs every day.  To do this, he would wake up at 3 a.m. and go on his "rounds" as he called them.  Granddaddy had cultivated symbiotic relationships with grocery stores, bakeries and Dunkin Donuts in the area of his farm.  He would drive to each of his stops and would pick up donuts, produce or baked goods that would otherwise have been thrown out.

Most of the places he picked up at would put the goods out near the dumpster at the back of the store, but others didn't do this.  They would load up the dumpster and my granddaddy would, well, dive in and get the good stuff out.  After making the rounds, he would go to his farm and "slop the pigs."

One time, my sister and I got to wake up early and go out with Granddaddy.  We may have been 7 or 8 years old at the time, but I am not sure.  What I remember is this, my grandfather was a happy, hard-working man. He always looked old to me...he had white hair and was slightly bent over.  His was a little bow-legged and sort of waddled when he walked.  I know he had trouble with his back and he took "kidney pills" (Doan's backache pills.)  He smelled a little odd (due to the dumpster diving?) but not offensive, like a combination of farm smells, sweat, Avon "Old Country" aftershave, and Absorbine Junior liniment.  His fingers (every single one of them!) was wrapped with white medical tape because he was constantly cutting them on things in the dumpsters or on the crates the produce came in.  He did not complain about getting up that early because it was what he did.  In the cab of his truck, there were papers piled high on the dash board.  I don't know what all those papers were, but to him, they were important and he knew where everything was even though it just looked like a big mess to me.  The seat in his truck was a bench seat and my sister and I would fight over who got to sit next to Granddaddy because he was such a love. 

On the day we went with him, Granddaddy went to the Dunkin Donuts first.  As he loaded the boxes stacked at the back of the store into the truck, he grabbed one of the donut boxes and gave it to us to eat.  Wow!  What a treat that was!  Our mom never let us eat donuts!!  We scarfed those down and then were on to the Publix.  There, he loaded up the produce and introduced us to some of the people from the store...he was very proud of us because we were so well behaved (thanks to mom's iron fist) and everyone complimented us on how helpful we were for coming out early and keeping Granddaddy company.  After he was finished loading the produce, I saw Granddaddy hop into the dumpster to see if there was anything "good."  He came out a short time later with a box full of dented cans missing their labels and a few "perfectly good" loaves of bread which he put into the cab with us.

More stores, more dumpsters.  Each time, Granddaddy would put a little something extra from the dumpsters into the cab of the truck.  We didn't know what was in the dented, label-less cans, but Granddaddy said it was wasteful to let them go "to the dump."  Later, after we got home, we added the boxes and cans to the other stacks of boxes and cans in our "dining room" at the house.  Later, when it was time to cook supper, we would open a can...would it be cat food?  Dog food?  Tuna fish?  We never knew till we opened the can.  Conveniently, if it were food for dogs or cats, we had plenty of those around to feed as well.  Those kinds of early teachings kind of stuck with me.  My mom must have had her share of life lessons in this regard as well, because she was a garbage picker too.

At that particular time, my mom was married to Bill.  He was her 7th husband and the one I remember best.  Bill was a nice, quiet man and I can't for the life of me figure out why he married my mom.  He seemed to be pretty smart, but then again, how smart could he have been to marry my mom??  Well anyway, he was a golf-cart repair man as well as a "junker."  Isn't it funny how people come together?  So Bill the junker and my mom would take Anna and me out "junking." on Friday nights.  In the late afternoon, we would hit the hot spots where people used to just go and dump stuff in Miami.  Now I remember we had quite a few places we would go to do this.  It was the 70's and people were just starting to see public service messages on TV regarding littering (remember the Native American on his horse looking over the side of the interstate with a tear running down his cheek?) however, I remember that even we were guilty of throwing our empty McDonald's wrappers out of the windows of the car on the highway...everybody did it (can you even believe that???)  There were also plenty of areas where people would dump their stuff they didn't want anymore...stuff like furniture, old dishes, clothes, mattresses.  You name it, we found it.  We had a pickup truck and Anna and I would ride in the back on a sofa (conveniently taken from a dump) that was in the bed so we could be comfortable.

Upon arriving at a "good spot" we would all hop out of the truck and start sifting through the piles.  Sometimes, it was gross, but as a kid, I don't remember minding it too much.  My mom and Bill were looking for recyclable metals like copper and aluminum to take to the recycling place for cash, but Anna and I were looking for "goodies."  It was like a non-stop treasure hunt.  We would find boxes of stainless steel creamers from a restaurant, plates, and glasses from who-knows-where, metal cabinets that were great for storing things in a garage, old chairs, dressers and lamps and gosh, I don't know what else.  We would pile it into the back of the truck and then sort it out later that night at home.  The next morning, we would get up at 4 a.m. and go to the "swap meet" at the Tropical Drive-In off of Bird Road.  We would get there by 5 a.m. to set up and people would start walking around looking for a bargain.  I remember that we couldn't even see because the sun wasn't up and we were already selling things.  Anna and I always got to keep the money for the stuff we found and sold.  It was the coolest and funnest thing ever and I was hooked!

Since then, there have always been opportunities to loot a neighbor's trash pile and I never had a problem doing it.  I loved finding good things and taking them home...for FREE!!  I collected some really great things that I never would have been able to afford because, as you might have guessed, we didn't have a lot of money to spend on things that weren't necessary.  All of the decorations and furniture I ever had in my room as a child came from the dump, a neighbor's trash pile, Salvation Army or a thrift store.  I still love to search in Goodwill and Salvation Army (even to find cool furniture for my decorating clients) for a bargain.

Since I married Kurt, I have tempered my trash-picking ways, but haven't completely given them up.  Kurt did not come from a background like mine and is a little alarmed that someone might see me picking through a neighbor's trash pile.  He's also not a big fan of old and beaten-up (which I happen to love, it's called Shabby Chic!) so we really don't have much of anything left of my old pre-marriage treasures.  However, occasionally, I come home with something good from the trash.  In fact, the canopy we so happily cart to our sons' sporting events came right out of our neighbors garbage pile one Saturday morning. A small patched hole in the top later, we have a perfectly working $200 canopy for FREE!!  How sweet is that?  Oh, and by the way, trash-picking is eco-friendly, so I am very trendy in addition to being thrifty...love that!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I maintain that we are somehow related, you and I. My father...your mother...not impossible you know. My dad made the rounds.