Sunday, September 23, 2012


Now it's called dumpster diving, but when my sister and I were little kids, my mom called it trash digging. She hated for us to trash dig and warned us of all the diseases we might pick up and injuries we might receive on our hands and arms as we reached down into the big trash cans. But we had a long alley behind our house in the 1000 block of Stanley Avenue in Long Beach and it called to us all the time......"Barbara! Ginnie Lou! It's time to come back here and see all the new stuff in the trash barrels!" And like the lure of the sirens to the ancient seamen, the trash called to us and we had to answer.

I'll make a guess that I was probably 8 years old and my sister 6 at the height of our trash-digging escapades. In those days - the early 1940s - it was safe for kids to play in the alleys. In the summer, kids were home, mothers mostly didn't work, and dads had taken the only car to work, so there was mostly just a bunch of neighborhood kids running up and down the alley to get to each others' houses.  And to trash dig. Oh, what fun that was!

This was a time before trash had to be separated in ecologically correct bins. Furthermore, there were no foodstuffs in the trash cans because it all went into the garbage pails, which were emptied into the garbage truck two or three times a week. If we ever found anything disgusting in a trash can, we didn't remember it when we grew up. What we DID remember was finding old beat-up pots, pans, dishes, mirrors and other household objects which we appropriated for our stash in the garage. My sister, who was really keen on animals, amassed a rag-tag collection of broken knick-knacks -- I remember especially a ceramic horse head that had broken off at the bottom of the mane. The body was unsalvageable.  Ginnie Lou used some clay to fashion a base so the horse head would sit upright.  She thought it was beautiful, and it had a place of honor by her little bed for years.

One by one we also increased our collection of jacks and marbles with those we found at the bottom of trash cans. Once in a while there were a few coins and we carefully horded those until we had enough to buy a candy bar from the market around the corner. Candy bars were a nickel each in those days.

Mother never gave up on telling us not to trash dig, but she also didn't inspect us every time we came in from playing outdoors. We kept our treasures somewhat hidden in the garage, but mother wasn't dumb. I'm sure she knew we were trash digging sometimes; for us, it wasn't a preoccupation but just one of those things we did when the alley called to us. When the "singing" stopped, we went about our business playing hopscotch, jacks, kick the can, Old Maid, and dolls, just like kids do.

 I thought about that today when I glanced over at the dumpster enclosure across the street from our apartment and saw a man inside one dumpster, tossing things from that one to the one next to it. In these apartments we don't separate our trash into separate bins, so he has a chance of finding some really revolting stuff that has been sitting out in the hot sun since Friday's pickup. I'd guess the smell is the price he will pay for the extra bottles and cans he's hoping to locate and turn in for cash. In principle, I don't really like adults digging in our dumpsters, but what the heck..... I'm not in to tattling either. As long as he doesn't make a mess, I'll let him be.

I wonder what he'd do if he found a marble in the bottom?

1 comment:

Olga said...

In Vermont, the tradition was dump picking. Now we have "re-use sheds" at the area transfer stations. People can drop off unwanted items--books, games, kitchenware, furniture--usually for free and then anyone who wants it can take it away.