Your trash, my Dad’s treasure

The cars ahead of me slowed inexplicably, something that happens more and more often as this once-a-town, now-a-city continues to push at its seams.

We have too many stop signs and traffic planners who can’t spell synchronicity and the fact remains: it is getting harder and harder to get anywhere.

And here we were again, a chain of cars ahead of me slowing to a stop for no discernible reason.

Then I saw it. A pile of household goods at the foot of a driveway. Hmmm.

A set of built-in bookcases from a 1960s rec room, a white industrial sink with a trail of rust from tap to drain and a bike frame. My city calls this Bulk Waste, when you can periodically put to the curb oversized household goods for disposal.

My father called this good garbage day.

Some households note important dates on the calendar, like anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas. Sommerfelds noted Good Garbage Day. My father would prowl around in whatever station wagon we currently had, declaring treasure amongst other people’s trash. My mother was humiliated, because this was before the reduce, reuse and recycle mantra was being chanted by schoolchildren everywhere.

The problem was my parents were one of those epic, romantic mismatches; Mom was the neighbourhood Avon lady and my Dad saw nothing wrong with rapping on a door and telling the homeowner that whenever they wanted to get rid of that lumber down the side of the house, to just call him and he’d come take it away in his station wagon. My mother didn’t actually die of mortification, but she came close on more than one occasion.

Some people can take a castoff appliance, rewire it and declare it new. Some can refinish wooden furniture. Some can upholster, paint, reinforce and rebuild. My father could do none of those things. He would take things that others had thrown away, bring them home, and tighten up some lagging section with various sized bolts which would ultimately just remind us why someone had thrown it away in the first place.

I learned a lot at my father’s elbow, driving around town like some crazy version of Bonnie and Clyde — if Bonnie and Clyde were father and daughter instead of killer romantics and held up garage sales instead of banks. It’s not like you had to drive a hard bargain: junk put out with the garbage is pretty much garbage. But you did have to get there early, because the best parts of Good Garbage Day could be over in the blink of an eye.

I was more enthusiastic about this form of retail when I was younger. I recall a small table on castors that I trundled home after school one day, one of its wheels missing and making the trek somewhat taxing. No matter; I’d found a mostly-intact table, for free!

My Dad stared at the missing castor, and promptly poked around until he found a huge bolt that could be made level to the remaining three wheels. My table no longer wheeled, and was a little tippy, but it had a back story. It would take me several decades to recognize that this describes some of the best things in life, including many of my people.

After silently cursing the backed up cars picking over my neighbour’s castoffs, I came home to a note from my sister, Gilly. She said earlier in the day, she’d been caught in weirdly slowing traffic. When she realized it was Good Garbage Day, she’d thought of Dad.

Twenty years on, we still think of you, Pop. Holding up traffic and cherry-picking the neighbour’s garbage.

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2 responses to Your trash, my Dad’s treasure

  1. Pat says:

    When I used to go to the dump with my Dad, sometimes we’d come home with more stuff than we went with. When I was a little guy, the Oakville dump was right downtown, where the library and concert venue are now. Now the area is million dollar condos, yacht clubs and “nouvelle” restaurants.

  2. Padraig says:

    What I do is to put unwanted stuff out at the end of the driveway, and put a sign on it that says “Free to Good Home”. Used toilets, old barbecues, planks – it always seems to go in a couple of days. Perhaps we have a long-lost branch of Clan Sommerfeld here in Port Hope.

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