Take Out the Papers and the Trash

When my family drove down to visit my grandparents in Sacramento, there was often a black plastic bag or two of garbage in the car with us.

If we’d had a sedan then at least the garbage would have been in the trunk, but my family always had station wagons which meant the garbage was right behind the bench seat where my sister and I sat, often with the windows rolled down to counteract the smell. On Christmas, the garbage sat alongside the presents we’d be handing out to our relatives.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, paying my own water, garbage and electricity bills, and taking the garbage cans out to the curb for pick up every week that I realized why my family drove around with our garbage: we didn’t have garbage service.

“We did for a little while,” my dad said when I brought it up. But he didn’t think we produced enough trash to justify the cost of garbage collection. My dad was composting and recycling before Al Gore, and I’m sure that did reduce the amount of garbage. I notice the difference it makes in San Francisco where our (awesome) garbage service includes curbside recycling, compost, and garbage. Mr. WholeHog and I only need to empty our trash every other week since so much can be composted or recycled.

My dad may be ecologically conscious, but he’s also extremely frugal. He once served us a baguette he’d taken out of a random trash can because it “looked fine”. I remember him melting down once when we’d just barely missed the free carpool hours on the Bay Bridge and had to pay the toll, even though we had four people in the car. When he’s in San Francisco and boards a MUNI bus, he proudly tells the driver he’s a senior; he loves the reduced fare.

He’s intent on getting his money’s worth and I’m sure that when it came to paying for garbage service, he couldn’t fathom paying for a weekly service that he was only using twice a month. So rather than paying more than he thought he should, he opted to pay nothing at all.

Because we lived outside city limits, we weren’t required to have garbage service. We lived in a rural area that had no sidewalks and thus no curbs to take trash cans out to. We weren’t the only people who didn’t have their garbage collected. Other people burned their trash or took it to the county dump. My dad took our trash to the elementary school where he taught fourth grade.

When the school eventually locked their dumpsters or during the hot summer months, he’d unload it on others, usually my grandparents. If we were heading down to Sacramento, the garbage came along, too. If my grandparents drove up to visit us, as they did every Thanksgiving, Dad would toss a few sacks of trash into the trunk of their car while they weren’t looking. “Now there’s a little something in the trunk…” he’d warn them as they prepared to head home.

My grandparents are now gone, and my aunt moved into my grandparents home and inherited my dad’s garbage. “Have you seen her trash can?” Dad says. “It’s huge! She’s never going to fill that thing.” My aunt does have a large trash can, one better suited for a family of four than for a single person who drinks and smokes most of her meals.

But whether there’s room in my aunt’s can or in an elementary school dumpster or behind the back seat of your car where your children are sitting, dressed in their holiday clothes, is not really the point. For Dad, the point is always cutting costs.

Here in SF, we have sidewalks and garbage cans, and I assume we’re required to have garbage service, too. (I’ve never asked). Our trash is picked up on Monday morning and so we put our cans out on the curb every Sunday evening. Often while I’m inside reading the Sunday New York Times, I hear people outside, rifling through our recycling bin in search of cans, bottles or anything that can be redeemed for money, and I think of my dad.

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2 Responses to “Take Out the Papers and the Trash”

  1. cryitout! Says:

    This was funny and sweet and touching and oddly disturbing, even though I myself am not opposed to eating things out of the trash. But serving others? Your dad rocks. We call them garbage fairies.

  2. Klara Says:

    Phaedra, you are a very talented writer. Since I know your dad I can verify that you got him in words and character. I liked the part where he says Aunt Suzanne’s trash can is ‘Huge!’ I need to tell him to bring his garbage on over here – I hate that my trash can is never filled up, yet I pay the same as everyone else.

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