Your trash, my Dad’s trea­sure

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - LOR­RAINE SOMMERFELD

The cars ahead of me slowed in­ex­pli­ca­bly, some­thing that hap­pens more and more of­ten as this on­cea-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 among 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 that 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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