|The Dump Pickers--Me and
My Dad, Or a Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To Marden's
By Rhea Côté Robbins
My father, in his youth,
lived in the lower end of Waterville known as the Plains, or South End,
as I later did--the last house on Water St. The city dump was located
further down the road directly on the river bank (which caved in and created
a land slide when I was a girl and the dump had long been moved to a part
of town off the Sydney Rd., West River Rd. as it is called now.)
From the advantageous location of their house on Water St., my mémère
could see what was being hauled to the town dump and would send her children
after a particular load if something savory could be salvaged and put to
use. Things were tight in the 1920s and 1930s. Necessity and
poverty were the impetus to invention; dump picking was the direct effect
of the cause that others can waste in excess--throwing out perfectly good
things because they have worn out their usefulness.
My father's ritual of dump picking evolved through several states. He would haul some stuff in and then he'd bring it all back. In the later years, he would not pick the dump at all, but ask someone to have something even before they would throw it on the heap. The transference of things went from truck to car trunk. Some of the local industries would throw whole bolts of cloth away. My father would ask them for the bolts before they threw them on the pile. He loved to tinker and build. My first bike came from the dump and some of the building materials that went into his camp at Belgrade Lakes came from the dump--paint in unopened cans, nails, wood. The company he worked for had a junkyard that he almost picked clean single-handedly. He bought several thousand feet of pipe to use in his project of piping water underground to a pond he made on our land. He had plans to build things and he would do this in the most economical way possible. Or, articles he found would inspire projects. He built our house starting with an old building, a former store, and adding to it with found materials. He was always appalled at what people would throw away.
On his return from the dump, another one of my father's rituals was to report on whom he had seen there. Chuckling when he "caught" someone else at it, envious of their finds.
And then the rules changed. Less and less of the dump was available to pickers until eventually the whole thing was shut down, and the trash was hauled to incinerator plants or buried in landfills. No one was allowed to carry off even good, clean junk, or if they did, they had to pay for it. Now, there are transfer stations that allow trading of good junk with special areas set up for this activity.
That is why places like Marden's came into being--the trash is clean, all walks of life eventually go there, and the conversation flows. When Marden's first opened in Waterville, really Fairfield, my father would go there every night. It was the dump picker's dream fulfilled. He would inevitably find something he could use--especially tools--check out if the owner was in the store because his second, most favorite thing to do was bartering over the price of something. If the owner was not in, he left the item (hid it) and would return to buy it when he could argue with Marden over the price. A bargain store to him meant he was going to get a bargain. He always reported on whom he saw there and what they bought. The ritual of dump picking had become fashionable.
I no longer go dump picking, but I still have yards and yards of pink ribbon he picked up for me twenty years ago--and the experience--I have the experience.
First published in Le F.A.R.O.G.
Forum, "Mes Collages," mai 1988