These glimpses into other people’s lives feel invasive and voyeuristic, yet I find them so fascinating I get in the car and seek them out. I peer at a floor lamp at the edge of a driveway with six different colored shades on Medusa-like tendrils, and I crane my neck to see if the green ceramic birdbath pedestal by the roadside is intact.
It is annual spring clean-up. One of the benefits of living in my tiny village of Otter Creek is that the town picks up stuff homeowners no longer want and hauls it away. Much of it no one else would want, either; old mattresses and washing machines, tables with no legs, and plastic lawn furniture that would threaten the life of anyone trying to sit in it. But much of it has enough value that it is snapped up by someone in one of the trucks that slowly creep back and forth during this week.
There is a lot of very cool stuff. I don’t want it, I don’t need it, but I love to wonder who originally bought it, and why. The appeal may be similar to reality TV, which I do not watch. I don’t need to–it’s here in my hometown.
I am frequently momentarily tempted–who wouldn’t want the entire Popular Mechanics Encyclopedia, hard cover, neatly boxed up and begging to be saved from termination? But I just look, and am confident someone will give it a good home.
Bricks, why on earth should bricks be thrown out? They were old, used, but didn’t have any concrete stuck to them, and would make a lovely little walkway. Two rather stylish armchairs were sitting alongside a matching couch. The couch was hopeless, but the chairs could be very chic with some TLC. Then there was a carton of gravy in jars. Sell by date was ok. It was turkey gravy. I can understand getting rid of it, but what on earth prompted someone to get it in the first place? A whole carton of the stuff! We pull away after I photograph it, and neighbor walking by say the guy who had lived there also had 60 turkeys in his freezer when he died. Guess that explains it.
In addition to entertaining myself looking at what people are getting rid of, I also part with things. I really should get rid of a lot of stuff, but that is not easy for me. I welcome this annual pick-up because it inspires me to jettison things, and I prefer parting with them hoping that people take them and use them. Hauling things to the dump that have a lot of life left, even if I don’t want them, just feels wrong. I don’t want to be bothered trying to sell them on-line, but I really loathe adding to our waste stream. I like that almost everything I set by the side of the road is gone before the town crew ever gets there.
This year we took an hour and tackled The Barn, which has been in my husband’s family for seven generations. His daughter’s family helped, and we spent as much time tossing stuff out for the roadside, as marveling. Some things we could not bear to give up. There was a 1917 annual report for the Town of Ellsworth, a 4-foot wide panoramic photo of Fort Deven. There were the horseshoes used to win a horseshoe throwing championship, and folding outdoor chairs that had been repaired with yarn. I cannot image taking the time to do that. I reuse and repair when I can, but whoever repaired these chairs not only wove new seats, but also wove designs of sailboats.
This year my family and I left a plastic tackle box in perfect working order, about 20 single-paned glass windows, a few hubcaps, a box of assorted glass vases, and about 50 feet of folding panel wall I’m not sure I was ready to part with. There were matching wall lamps with white glass shades. After we left them by the roadside, I went home and decided to write about the stuff. I dashed back for photos, but most of it was gone.
We got rid of stuff, we found stuff, we had a rather intimate view of our neighbor’s lives, and they of ours. This clean-up week is a lot more than it appears on the surface. And I have two chairs with blue and white woven seats we couldn’t quite toss by the road, but don’t really want. Any takers?