Backroads: Confessions of a Dumpster Queen

Rockfish Re-Use Shed

The old adage, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” was never wasted on me.  I’ve always had a strange compulsion to root through junk, salvaging cast-offs to put to good use. While others refer to it as scrounging, I like to think of it as the ultimate recycling effort.

It began as a child when accompanying my dad to the local dump. He’d let me poke around with a stick, uncovering all sorts of “good junk.” Sometimes Daddy would let me take an objet d’art home if I promised to keep it out of my mother’s sight. The habit continued through adulthood and to my delight, yard sales and flea markets took off, making my obsession somewhat more socially acceptable.

The ten years I lived in Chesterfield County before moving to the mountains were dry years as far as junk was concerned. The garbage man came twice weekly and hauled the trash to some unknown destination. But I soon discovered Caravati’s, a family-owned wrecking yard business containing acres of old claw foot bathtubs, stained glass church windows, brass door knobs and the like. I spent many a Saturday morning plundering the vintage salvage there.

The old Caravati salvage building

Moving to Love, I was introduced to the Sherando dumpster, social hub of the community. You saw nearly everyone you knew at the dumpster, especially on the weekends when people were getting rid of their week’s worth of trash. I found out early that the good stuff was stashed alongside the left side of the dumpster, making it easier to look through, for anyone clearly interested.

The first week I lived here I salvaged four years of National Geographic magazines and an album of old 78 vintage records. Thanks to dumpster shopping, my daughter and I spent the first winter reading quality material and listening to Patsy Cline, Gene Autry, and Hank Williams’ greatest hits.

My second foray to the dumpster was after dark. I heard a scuffling, scraping noise coming from the depths of the metal waste container. Peering over the side, a large blue tick hound was trying his best to climb up the side to freedom, without success. I leaned over, grabbed ahold of his collar and gave one mighty tug. Up he came, slightly soiled but triumphant with a huge ham bone clamped firmly in his jaw. He shook off and wagged his tail a few times before gathering his dignity and his bone and heading off into the night.

Probably the oddest object I carted home was someone’s amateur attempt at home-taxidermy. It was a pretty sad looking 8-point buck with its head cavity filled with plaster of Paris. I wanted the horns to make some bone buttons but had no way to cut them off so I took the entire deer head home and hung it on a tree by our barn. After I had cut the antlers off, I left the rest of the animal hanging on the tree and over a period of time the plaster in the head softened and the mount began a slow descent down the tree. The glass eyes popped out and it began to have a grim, sideways smile that bothered me the more I looked at it. Ultimately, I ended up taking the whole thing back to the dumpster but was richer in bone buttons for years to come.

The Montebello X-Change

Being a scrounger isn’t really what you’d like to entire free world to know as one of your character traits, especially if you are dating a nice, traditional man. Before we married, the first time Billy and I went to the dumpster, I stopped to throw a bag of household trash in the container. On my way back to his truck, a shiny object caught my eye. There on the left side of the dumpster was a decorative medicine cabinet, complete with beveled mirror. I pretended to look at it for a second or two, very nonchalant-like, but in my heart, I wanted that cabinet.

Dilemma time: did I want to take the chance of revealing to my beloved I had this garbage-picker flaw or simply forget the cabinet in the name of love? I looked back at Billy and a wide grin began to spread across his face as he said, “Why don’t you just get the thing and put it in the back of the pickup?” At that moment I knew I had found the right man to marry and scrounge happily ever after with. 


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