Mar 18, 2023

From trash to treasure to treasured memories

Saturday mornings were magical.

There were cartoons, Roy Rogers movies in thrilling black-and-white … and garbage pickin’.

I was young, probably 5 years old, but wandered up and down the sidewalk on Rosedale Street in Buffalo, picking through the dented, stinky, aluminum garbage cans our neighbors had hauled to the curb.

I never dug too deeply, as I recall, probably because I was too short to reach very far inside, but if there were any treasures near the top, or — even better — balanced on top of the lids, well, they were mine, all mine.

I collected whatever looked interesting or still mostly kinda almost good, and hauled it back home …

… where my mother promptly threw that junk into our own garbage can.

After moving to Kentucky at age 8, I quickly discovered that garbage picking is not a "thing" here. The neighbor kids scornfully mocked my first few feeble attempts to continue this tradition, until, finally humiliated into compliance, I quit rooting through other peoples’ trash in hopes of finding treasure.

Some years later, however, that old skill revived itself as I found myself in the position of trying to furnish a ratty apartment with no furniture and no money.

They say "one person's trash is another person's treasure," and they are telling the truth.

My greatest haul was a mattress I found leaning against a dumpster behind a local furniture store. The fact that one edge had been chewed off by … let's say mice … did not deter me in the least. I dragged that thing home, covered the chewed edge with a firm tug of my fitted sheet and slept on that thing for the next 10 years.

Other "scores" collected back in those days included a green vinyl couch with no discernible flaws besides being ugly and uncomfortable, an end table that just needed a little glue to reattach the broken leg, miscellaneous lamps that almost always worked and two wobbly TV trays with just the slightest hint of rust along the edges.

I still think about that furniture now and then. I laugh to myself at how uncomfortable that ugly vinyl couch was, but I can tell you this: It was a darn sight better than sitting on the floor.

But for the most part, I don't really give much thought to garbage picking anymore. I suppose I may have reflected on those days when the television series "American Pickers" was first broadcast, but those guys operate on a completely different level — and an entirely different budget.

But I was driving down the street the other day, in a nice residential neighborhood, when all of a sudden, I saw what would once have been a holy grail.

There by the side of the road was a loveseat, fawn brown in color. It looked like suede. It looked like new. Next to it, a coffee table, with no scars I could discern from my drive-by vantage point, and a floor lamp — complete with a shade! Duct-taped to the pole was a hand-lettered sign with that magic word: FREE.

What does it say about me when I tell you I reflexively tapped my brakes?

I don't need a loveseat, coffee table or lamp. I have all the furniture I’ve ever wanted, and I like all the furniture I have.

I wasn't sure whether to be amused or embarrassed, so I went with a mixture of both.

But most of all, I hoped someone — maybe the ghost of the girl I used to be — would come down this street and see these treasures, have the means to transport them and would enjoy them for years to come …

… and appreciate them even longer.

Like forever.

Like me.

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