Alison – shooting in the backyard

Alison  - shooting in the backyard

time to begin introducing my family! This does not happen to be a frequent past time for my daughter, but it made for a great photo opportunity.. a second photo was taken from the same vantage point a second after she pulled the trigger.. she was not in it! I guess that she was not prepared for the kick 🙂

that is, by the way, a replica 1863 Springfield. It is awfully heavy – a wonder that some of those guys during the civil war were able to keep it steady for any length of time during a battle!

But, once again, the main point of this post is not related to the pic 🙂 In fact, an article that I wrote happened to be published in an on-line newsletter called Duckworks. This is a newsletter for amateur boat builders. Here is the link to the article.

Mike John , the fellow who edits the news letter did a great job of embedding interesting information.. jt


A Mouse Memoir

The background on this story is that my daughter was living with her grandmother  and aunt in Greensburg PA while attending the university of Pittsburgh for a semester.   Half way through the semester, while on break, she found a mouse and decided to keep it as a pet.  She bought a cage for it  and supplied the mouse’s new home with everything that one would think a mouse would like and then she headed back to grandma’s with mouse in tow..

All went well for the first few days..  till the mouse escaped..   this is the story.. from the perspective of  of the resident house mouse at grandma’s house…


A Mouse Memoir



This house used to be full of activity.  A mother, a father, and five children all packed into a tiny space, people running here and there, arguing, laughing, all gathered around a little table for dinner.  It was just what a mouse needed to feel right at home.  Life was exciting back then, and so was my dinner.  One can imagine the amount of treats that were left behind at night time!


But most of that has faded into a dim memory.  One by one the children moved out of the house, and the father left as well.  A house that used to be filled with  noise from sun up till sun down and beyond was now filled with silence punctuated by the clatter of a spoon in the sink or the hushed sound of the mother turning yet another page in her magazine as she sat on the couch sipping her coffee.  Life took on a quiet routine.  A less sophisticated mouse might consider it to be boring, but I took comfort in the warmth and safety of which every mouse dreams.  


I often wondered if she knew I was there.  They called her Edith, and while we never spoke.. how could we..,I felt a certain kinship.  I had observed her life over the years and came to know her as a kind and gentle woman, and I fantasized that she must enjoy my companionship just as much as I had come to appreciate knowing that she was there.


It appeared that the course of my life had been set, that the two of us would grow old together, but then, one day,  one of the children returned, and she brought a dog with her.  Immediately, my guard was up.  The carefree days were over!  That dog saw me the instant that he entered the kitchen, and, for the next few years, it was back to minding my own business, the business of survival!


One night,  I watched from my hiding place as the dog fell asleep.  It was the last time that he would close  his eyes.  The daughter was distraught when she could not awaken the dog.  I, too, felt a little sad.  After all, there was a certain thrill associated with living with a dog.  Catching his eye and then racing under the closed closet door, and waiting to see his paw grope underneath the door.. I couldn’t help but tease the old guy once in a while. 


The quiet routine once again settled upon the house.  The daughter went to work.  Edith fixed her coffee and made her way into the living room, picking up a magazine from the basket as she passed by.  After she made herself comfortable on the couch, I would sneak up next to her feet, not close enough to touch her, mind you, but just behind the dust ruffle of the couch, close enough to feel the warmth and to settle into a short mouse nap as she paged through the magazine.


Then, one day a grand daughter showed up with her things.  “What is this” I wondered.  A new roommate, a new adjustment in my life, but a very pleasant one.  Out of nowhere, the house was filled with a different kind of energy.  It reminded me of the old days, laughter in the kitchen, hurried activity as she raced around the house gathering her things for classes, the light on late at night as she wrote and listened to music.  There was something different about this one.  It took a while before could put my claw on it, but then it dawned on me.  Her hair!  I had never seen hair like this on a human.  What a beautiful nest it would make if it would only stay still!  What does the word “dreadlocks” mean, anyway?


I was getting fairly used to the new routine when I watched her pack her backpack and say good bye to Edith.  She was off.  Little did I know that she would return in a week with a surprise of all surprises..


It was late in the evening when I heard her voice.  “Hi gram”  she said.  “Look what I brought home.”  I scurried to a vantage point that I had used so many years and looked in amazement as she produced a small box.  Inside the box was … a mouse!  It was a beautiful young creature.  I was beside myself with joy, a companion just for me!  How could she have known that I longed all these years for a friend.  Now, the years separating us were many, and although I could not help but admire her curves, it was immediately obvious to me that ours would not be a romantic relationship.  No, those days were long gone.  Instead, it just might take the form of a father /  daughter relationship that I had never had.  “His name is Phillipe”, she said.  “Phillepe?” I cried.  Of course, no one could hear me.  “Can’t you see that it is a girl?” I continued.   Oh well, there were definitely instances when I came to expect too much of these humans, and , perhaps, this was one of those times!


After much discussion, the occupants of the house settled in for the night.  I waited till the coast was clear and then headed over to introduce myself to our new guest.  As I approached her  home, I heard her crying.  “What is wrong”? I asked.  She startled, and then turned to me and said “hello”.   “Can you come out”  I asked?  She then went on to explain that she had yet to find a way out of her house.  It really was not a house at all.  It was a prison.  I explained that she just needed to find a rough spot on the wall.  There she could begin to nibble away at the wall, and, in no time, she would be free.  I cautioned her to work only at night time when the humans were asleep. 


She made a lot of progress that night, as I stood by to offer any encouragement that might help.  Over the next few nights, the persistent nibbling paid off.  We exchanged some pleasantries.  I learned that her name was Elizabeth.  She couldn’t understand why the human insisted on calling her Phillipe, but I thought it best to save that explanation till after her escape.  One night, the girl moved Elizabeth’s cage to the living room.  It was the perfect scenario.  This would be the night for the final breakout!  I watched with growing excitement as Elizabeth broke through.  After that, it was just a matter of enlarging the hole so that she could fit through.   “Follow me”  I cried as her tail emerged from the cage. 


The rest of the night was spent on a tour of her new home.  I showed her my next and all of the pathways leading in and out of rooms.  She was very complimentary of the work that I had done.  She told me that she was from New Hampshire.  When I asked her where that was, she did not know.  I told her that she was now in Pennsylvania, but when she asked where that was, I had to think.  “ I guess I can’t say”, I replied.  “It is just here, where I have always lived.”  Elizabeth described her journey… hours and hours of sitting in her jail, looking out the window but being able to see only the tops of the trees whizzing by and listening to load music often accompanied by the girl singing.  And then she described the night of horror.  Along their way, they stopped to stay with some folks overnight.  As soon as the girl set the cage down on the table, Elizabeth described a feeling of being watched.  She turned to see the face of a cat, up close, sniffing her cage! The evil glint in the cat’s eye’s are a sight that she will never forget.  She raced to the other end of her cage to be confronted by yet another cat, and when she turned to the right.. a third cat,  all watching her intently.  She could see their tails flicking back and forth and saliva dripping from there sharp teeth, as one after the other licked his chops..  It was a blessing that she did not die of fright  right then there!  Needless to say, she did not sleep a wink that night, even when the girl put her in a small room and shut the door.  How could she be sure that the cat couldn’t open the door?  She could hear them pawing at it hour after hour.  Elizabeth was not unhappy to leave that place!


In a matter of no time, I had grown quite fond of Elizabeth.  I offered advice, as any good father would and explained the routine of my life.  I imagined that she would love to stay here with me, in the warmth and safety of this house.  But that was not to be.  Elizabeth had been born and raised outdoors.  She longed to be back outside where she could enjoy her freedom.  We talked about the possibility of escape, but my discussion was only half-hearted.  How could I help her leave when I had hoped for a companion all these years?


A few nights after her escape,  Elizabeth went to check to see that all the humans had bedded down for the night.  I went to the kitchen to scope out the dinner possibilities.  It was when I reached the end of the counter that I saw it.  A trap!  It didn’t look like any trap that I had seen before, but that didn’t matter.  It was clear that it was a trap. That guy who showed up earlier in the evening must have brought it. Cheese and peanut butter.. couldn’t these humans be a little more imaginative?  How about chocolate cake with cream cheese icing for once?  At least then the challenge would be worth it!


It occurred to me that I had better warn Elizabeth, but she could be anywhere in the house.  Racing back to the nest, I called her name as loudly as I dared, but she was not to be found.  As I pondered my next move, I heard the unmistakable sound of steel clashing against steel.  I was sure that the racket must have awakened the entire household, but a quick check indicated that the humans were sleeping peacefully.  I scampered to the kitchen to have my worst fear confirmed.  There, inside the trap, sat Elizabeth, imprisoned once again.  I frantically circled the trap, looking for a way out, but, alas, there was no escape to be found.  The best that I could do was to sit just outside and try to console Elizabeth as best I could.  I listened as she told me stories about life outside and how she still longed to escape to the wilds beyond the walls of the house.  My spirits were lifted when she paused to thank me for all that I had done and to explain that, under other circumstances, she might be content to make this place her home.  I assured her that she was fortunate that the humans had not set an old style trap, but chose not to disclose the gory details of what she would have experienced had she been snared by one of them. 


Daylight began to filter into the kitchen, and I thought it best to say goodbye.  With a sad heart, I wished Elizabeth well.  I reached inside the cage and took her paw in mine for a second.  I could not tell her how I had wished that she would be content to remain a companion and friend.  I did not wish to burden her with those thoughts.  Instead, I assured her that she would end up in a field not too far away and that she would enjoy the life of adventure that she desired. Inwardly, I hoped that this was true.  It was not possible to keep a tear from running down my nose as I turned to leave.  Before entering the hole to the kitchen cabinet, I turned and waved goodbye, realizing that I would never see Elizabeth again.  “Farewell”, I whispered…


At the breakfast table, the girl and her friend discussed where they might set Elizabeth free.  My heart lightened when I overheard their plans.   They really did intend to set her free.  I watched as the girl picked up the cage and the pair headed out the door.  In a matter of no time, they were back, the cage was empty.  I knew that it would be, but I still felt a sense of loss.  I would never forget the sunshine that Elizabeth brought to my life those few short days.


Spring was here.  I could tell by the sounds of the birds filtering in from outside.  After a number of days filled with a flurry of  work and excitement, I watched as the young girl packed her things and loaded them into the little red car across the street.  She said a tearful goodbye to the women in the house.  As the door closed behind her, I sensed  that we were about to return to the old routine.  It was sad to see her go.


The next morning, the daughter packed a bag as well and hugged her mother goodbye.  She promised that she would be home in a week.  As she shut the door behind her, I noticed Edith fixing her coffee.  This was my signal to move to my position under the couch.  I heard her shuffle in and stop to pick up her magazine.  The sound of her setting her coffee cup on the table, followed by the soft “hmm”  that accompanied her settling into the couch.  I had just crawled up to my usual position when I heard her say “Well, I guess that it is just you and me now, Mr. Mouse.”  Was she talking to me?  My curiosity got the best of me.. a poked my nose out form under the dust ruffle and looked upward to see her looking down at me.  She was smiling, and she reached down with her finger to scratch my head, right between my ears!.  I crawled over to her slipper and snuggled next it.  As she returned to her magazine, I thought about the girl with the funny hair who had been sharing my room the past few months.  I knew that I would miss her.  I thought of Elizabeth, and hoped that she was doing well.  And then, I thought about how nice the scratch between my ears felt and hoped that there would be many more to come as I drifted off to sleep.


Do I still get to keep the cookies?

Do I still get to keep the cookies?

It has been a challenging week, but then the end of the school year is always a bit overwhelming. To add to the pressure this year, we are moving. When the Dean asked when we would be vacating our apartment on campus, I responded “Two hours after graduation.” And I have stuck to that answer, although, secretly, I am hoping that we will be out even sooner..

The picture posted is a shot taken about 2 years ago. This is the kitchen in the house that we are about to occupy. Of course, we have done a considerable amount of work since this picture, but it isn’t finished… and I am not quite sure when it will be – but it is cozy and comfortable, and we can’t wait to call it home.

However, even the house has taken a back seat in my mind this week.. because this is the week of the school’s dance production. For the third year I have been tapped to call the show from the booth. My comfort zone is in the shop.. building sets, painting.. all pre-production kinds of things.. when the curtain goes up on the first night, I am typically done. Sure, I chip in and run the box office, but the pressure is off. The dance show is the exception…

The dance instructor at our school is a friend, and she is a bundle of energy.. working late into the night, hemming costumes and tweaking the show, even on the night before opening. And, with all that she has on her mind, she still takes time to bake cookies to bring in for the crew on the second night of the production.

On Friday evening, one of the dancers hurt her ankle. She could not complete the show, and she was a no go for last night’s performance as well. Our instructor worked with dancers yesterday afternoon to fill the gaps. And still, with all of the last minute changes, she showed up in the booth last night with a tray of cookies for the crew and a box of brownies for me.. What a thoughtful human being as well as a wonderful colleague..

The first act went off without a hitch – I was even able to fix a minor issue that we had experienced the night before with one of the songs.. The second act was a different story.. We had made the decision to run the music from a cd player through our system… In fact, it was a last minute thought to transfer the music to my computer and that was only so that I could burn a cd at a later date! The first number of the second act went fine.. the second number skipped.. i did not catch the first skip, as I was concentrating on looking ahead for the next cue, but there was no missing the second skip.. or the third one.. or the huge one that followed that! The dancers looked to us in the booth.. the teacher came running into the booth, along with her husband, and we stopped the song..

I must admit that it took a couple of seconds for the gravity of the situation to sink in. I thought that we would back up and start over.. but what if it skipped again.. which it most certainly would! ” why are we playing the whole show from the cd?” she said.. ” because we had an issue getting both channels to play from our computer” I replied.. “well, we need to switch back to the computer.. where is your computer?” she asked. my heart sank.. “at home” … ” I will be right back” and with that i sprinted out the door and across the street.. so thankful that i was still living on campus!! Within minutes i was back in the booth. we plugged the computer into the board.. hit play and pushed the slider for the volume.. nothing.. this was the second time that my gut started to churn.. I looked at her husband, who just happens to be a sound guy.. and asked him to look over the connections with me.. everything was in place.. and then, all of a sudden, there was sound.. we could finish the show, using the tracks from my computer.. I would like to say that it was smooth sailing from that point on, but that is not quite the case.. a few mis cues and one instance where my finger was hovering over the mouse, and I ended up stopping the song, but i quickly recovered.

The dancers showed a lot of poise considering the situation. and our instructor? well, she walked off and calmed down.. and then thanked me afterward.. I was quiet for a second or two. and then I asked ” do i get to keep the cookies?” she smiled and gave me a hug… They were great! jt

Approaching the Seaside Heights Bridge

Approaching the Seaside Heights Bridge

This is actually not about the bridge at all, or even sailing for that matter.. But I just could not enter another post without a pic! However, for the record, this is a pic taken as i was about to go under my first draw bridge.. I asked the operator what the current clearance was.. he said 28 feet. My mast is at 30 feet, so I told him I would wait for him to raise it on the half hour.. 10 minutes later the bridge began to rise.. as i was passing through the operator got on the radio and told me that it was not necessary for him to raise the bridge for me next time.. ok.. let me think about that for a minute.. clearance = 28 feet.. i need 30 feet.. maybe i was at the bottom of a swell when he happened to look out of his window??

well. on to the story.. the opening scene from this story actually took place.. the rest is the product of my imagination 🙂

The meeting never would have occurred if Ralph had not allowed technology into his life. He was somewhat philosophically opposed to owning a cell phone, and he had long resisted the daily advertising pressure ,which suggested that he was the only living being on the planet who did not posses one. But, in the end, he broke down and purchased the simplest phone that he could find, the one with no frills. He simply could not imagine ever needing to take a picture with a phone. And, what was so great about texting – a word that had yet to be included in his personal dictionary.
That evening, Ralph had barely made it through the front doors of Barnes and Noble when the obnoxious tone of his phone sounded, accompanied by the harsh vibrating action which he had yet to figure out how to eliminate. A glance at the screen indicated that the person on the other end of the line was his son. He answered the call saying, “Hi Erik, hold on a minute.” Quickly he turned to exit the store, still feeling self-conscious about talking on a phone in such a public space. As the door swung closed behind him, he pondered the appropriateness of the phrase “ other end of the line” it just did not seem applicable when the call was, in fact, wireless!
Ralph leaned against the ledge beneath a window on the far end of the building as he raised the phone to his ear. “How are you doing?” he asked. Even Ralph had to admit that the cell phone enhanced his ability to keep in touch with family, and it was always a pleasure to catch up with his son who lived in a distant state. Soon, the father and son became engrossed in conversation so he was only vaguely aware the first time that she passed in front of him. Perhaps it was the slow pace that caught his attention, but she continued on her way, and he quickly returned his attention to the conversation.
She walked in front of him a second time. Again her pace caught his attention. It suggested that she was in no hurry, that she had no destination. But this time he also felt her gaze. He did not lift his head, but he sensed that she was studying him as she slowly passed by.
Ralph turned to watch her after she had passed. Slim, wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes and a crisp button down blouse, she could have stepped from the page of an L L Bean catalog. “Where are you going?” he sought clarification as his son described plans for a hike through the White Mountains the next day.
A few moments later, he was aware of her a third time. He looked up to find her, not more than 5 feet away, staring at him. “hold on a minute, Erik” he spoke into the phone. Lowering the phone from his ear, he asked. “ Can I help you?” “Forgive me for interrupting, “ she said “ My name is Suzie. Are you Dave?” He smiled slightly and responded “ no, I am sorry, I am not Dave” She headed back toward the doors leading into the store, taking time to glance at her watch and then she stopped to observe a man getting out of a small Toyota that had just pulled into a spot across the parking lot. He looked up and headed towards her. He was dressed casually, wearing jeans, sneakers and a polo underneath a jacket which left no doubt that his loyalty was owed to the Wilkes Barre – Scranton Penguins, the local minor league hockey team. As he stepped up on the curb he reached out and shook the woman’s hand. She shifted her purse to her shoulder and stepped aside as he held the door for her and then the couple disappeared inside. “Ok Erik, I have to tell you what just happened.” Ralph said into the phone. …

When the call was over Ralph slipped the phone into his pocket and headed inside. Stopping by the magazine rack on his way to the café, he selected two history magazines. He was fond of history, but he was too frugal to order magazines. A trip to Barnes and Noble every other week satisfied his desire to read about the Civil War and World War II . Sitting down with a hot cup of tea and his favorite history magazines was an evening well spent in his opinion. He settled onto a bench at one end of the café and opened the first magazine. Glancing up, he was surprised to see Suzie and Dave making their way along the row of tables to his right. They took seats across from him. She was facing away and could not see Ralph. Dave was looking right at him, but, of course, he had no reason to suspect that his identity was known to anyone but the woman who shared his table.
“I wonder if his name is really Dave?” he thought to himself. He focused his gaze on the page in front of him, but he failed to see any words. Their conversation was audible, and fairly predictable. It was a first date, a blind date, blind because their only interaction previous to this was in a chat room on the internet. It all made sense now. She did not know what Dave looked like, and he happened to be taking a call right in the middle of their pre-determined meeting spot!
Their conversation was stilted. Perhaps the words flowed more easily on the keyboard without the pressure of face-to-face conversation. The date was not going well. It became obvious to Ralph that Dave was looking for an out. Apparently, Suzie was not all that Dave had envisioned, although she seemed pleasant enough, and her conversation indicated that she was intelligent and thoughtful. The frequent glances at his watch betrayed the words that Dave was speaking. “ it was really wonderful getting to meet you. I am sorry that I have to run, but something unexpected came up. I will look for you in the chat room later on…” The Penquins had a game that night which would be starting in 20 minutes. Ralph wondered if the unexpected event happened to be a friend who called to tell Dave that he had scored two tickets to the game.. He watched as Dave gulped down the last of his coffee and then shook Suzie’s hand. Another glance at his watch and he headed for the door. He was in a hurry. With luck, he might even make the opening face-off.
Suzie sat there with her hand on her half empty cup of tea. Ralph wondered what was going through her mind. Was this the first time that she met a computer correspondent for real? It appeared that she was ready to leave. Without thinking and weighing each of the possible outcomes of his actions, Ralph jumped from his seat. He caught her as she was turning to get up from her table. “ Excuse me, Are you Suzie?” he asked, unable to contain a grin.
She relaxed and sat back in her chair, recognizing him as the man that she had approached earlier in the evening. “yes” she replied. “For real?” he persisted. “yes, for real, she said.” He just needed to know because he had read that most of the population uses aliases when visiting chatrooms. “ I am Ralph, for real” he responded. The grin had turned into a broad smile. “May I sit down?” “Sure” she said. “So how did it turn out with Dave?” he asked. “Somehow, I think that you already know the answer to that question” Suzie said. She was smiling too. Ralph looked at his watch and said “ My guess is that he is taking his seat at the hockey game right about now. They must have been good seats. I can’t imagine that he would leave you sitting here for a balcony ticket”.. she laughed out loud. He was relieved that she had a sense of humor. Another woman might have taken his attempt at a joke the wrong way.
The conversation seemed to flow easily. His original estimation of her as a thoughtful, intelligent woman was dead on. She had a sweet smile and deep blue eyes to boot. “Attention Barnes and Nobles shoppers. The store will be closing in 15 minutes……” he knew the drill. He had heard the announcement frequently before, but how could the time have passed so quickly? “Do you have an email account?” she asked? “no, I never had a reason to have one till now” he smiled. “I do have a cell phone, however, and I would be glad to share my number. (wait, did I just brag about having a cell phone? He asked himself) Better yet, I would love to meet you here on Monday evening if you happen to be free. “ “ I would like that” she replied.
Ralph asked Suzie if he could escort her to her car, and she readily accepted. He held the door for her as they exited the store. Suzie thanked him for a salvaging what seemed to be a doomed evening. “Good night” Ralph said as she got into her car. “thanks again” she responded just before closing the door. After starting the engine, Suzie rolled down her window and said “ where shall I meet you” Ralph said” over there seems like just the right spot” as he pointed to the ledge where he sat when she first walked by. They exchanged smiles once again and then Ralph watched as Suzie’s car disappeared in traffic.

Thank you!

I suppose that I tend to be long winded at times, so I will keep this brief!   Thanks for taking the time to visit and to view what I have written so far.   It is neat to see the creativity that is evident in so many of the blogs on line, and it is fun to record my thoughts, hoping that somewhere in the world, there will be others who will identify with the experiences that I have shared on this blog..   please feel free to comment!   jt

The Town Dump – Revisited

Today was a dress down day at my school, provided that one wore a shirt bearing the logo of the college attended ( faculty) or the college intended ( seniors)    I was asked why I did not have a shirt on from my college.  My response was that I have not owned a shirt bearing the name Duquesne for over 25 years!    But, even with all of the years that have passed, some memories still seem fresh.  Such is the case with my freshman comp class.   I was blessed to have been placed in a section taught by Dr. Provost,  a classy, well mannered, intellectual southern gentleman.   As is often the case, it has taken many years for me to develop an  appreciation for  all that he had to offer.  A year or so ago, I wrote this piece and sent it to him.   I understand that he was in ill health, and I never got a response, but I would like to believe that he saw it and that it brought him some satisfaction.

The Town Dump – Revisited


Upon moving  back to Pennsylvania a number of years ago, my questions regarding directions to the town dump and where one might go to get a dump sticker, were met with blank stares.  It seemed that no one knew anything about the town dump.  They had never visited it  and could not imagine why one would be curious about its location.  In fact, the average citizen had no idea where the dump might even be.  It was just another reminder that moving from rural New Hampshire to Northeast Pennsylvania would require some major adjustments in our way of life.


But then, the town dump was not always a part of the culture that I knew.  Growing up in Bucks County. PA in what was then the relatively small town of Quakertown, I had never had the occasion to visit the dump myself.  Why would I?  All I knew about trash was that once a week,  the garbage truck would travel up the alley behind our house, kicking up a cloud of dust.  In our ignorance, we would race to get on our bikes and follow the truck, trying to keep pace and then braking to a stop to  watch with amazement as the operator would pause to activate the mechanism which caused the large pistons to engage the compactor, slowly compressing all of our trash into the bowels of the truck body.  We did not seem to mind breathing in the stench or the dust as we attempted to maintain contact with the truck as far as the end of the alley.


As I grew up and took on responsibilities around the house the chore of taking out the trash fell on my shoulders.  The Sunday evening routine of circulating throughout the house, consolidating the trash in a large plastic bag and then depositing that bag in the metal trash cans that were located in the shed and, finally, carrying the cans out to the front curb, making sure that the lids fit tightly so as not to blow away over night.  The job would be completed the next day on the way into the house after school.  Often the trash man did not take the same care regarding the lids.  If it happened to be a windy day, I would have to scout around to find the wayward lids, then carry the cans back to their spots in the shed.  This job remained mine until I left for college.  It also represented the extent of my experience with trash until half way through the fall semester of my freshman year.


 On a warm October Monday after lunch, I found myself sitting in Canevin Hall, wondering what would be the topic of the weekly essay, when Professor Provost asked us to open our books to an essay entitled “The Town Dump”  by Wallace Stegner.  He seemed to relish the story.   His introduction was underscored with a passion that suggested that along with Stegner, as a young boy, he too held the wonders of the town dump in awe – that the dump represented the ultimate playground, full of unending adventure.  I couldn’t relate, and, as I looked around, I figured that there were very few, if any, students in the room who had ever visited a town dump. 


I naively credited myself with a fair amount of imagination at that point in my educational career.  After all, as a kid, I had spent countless hours after school with my dog as my companion and with a stick that could serve as a gun or a sword, fighting “bad guys”.  But I lacked the life experience that would enable me to write an essay on a place that I had never visited or to finish with a conclusion that might include an original thought or appropriate insight.  Furthermore, I doubted that I would   ever have occasion to include a trip to the dump as an experience in my adult life. 


A move to New England would change all of that.  After graduation from college, marriage, and a short stint living in Pittsburgh, my wife and I set off to a new life on a boarding school campus in a small, town in rural New Hampshire.  We were still settling into our home, becoming acquainted with our new colleagues when a reference to the town dump arose in conversation.  We were visiting with our neighbors, when a piece of furniture that was “rescued” from the dump became the topic of conversation.  “Dump picking” was a new phrase to add to our vocabulary.   Recalling the essay that I had read in college that offered the fun and excitement of the town dump from the perspective of a young boy, I was now listening to an adult tell of the joys of picking through other’s discarded trash, finding treasures that would be given a new life with a fresh coat of paint.   Trips to the dump became common occurrences.  However, it took the renovation of a farmhouse in Maine to experience the next level of interaction that one might find at the dump.


 What began as a project to fix a hole in the wall in the dining room turned into the decision to totally gut the interior of the structure.  The refuse, every nail, every piece of splintered wood, every pound of plaster made its way to the local dump in the back of my pick up truck.  Faces became familiar, and, after a while, I paused to join in with some of the chatter that would accompany the unloading of trash.  It became apparent that the dump served as the center of a social network in town.  Everything was discussed, from politics to the school budgets to obituaries and beyond.  For an outsider like me, the town dump became the primary source of scuttlebutt.  On one particular Sunday morning, my neighbor from up the road pulled into the spot next to me at the dump.  I recognized his truck and introduced myself.  Our conversation led to an invitation to dessert at his house.  As I pulled from my spot, it dawned on me that I could never have imagined an experience such as this as I prepared an essay in my college years!


The decision to return to Pennsylvania was not an easy one.  There would be all kinds of adjustments for my family.  Little did I know at the time that one of them would be the loss of the opportunity to visit the town dump.  In preparation for the move, however, it was not uncommon for me to take at least one trip, and very often two trips to the dump each day as we consolidated our possessions.  One particular trip is memorable.  After loading up the back of my station wagon with bags of trash from the basement I began the journey to the dump which was located at the far edge of town.  The sky was grey, threatening a storm of significant magnitude.  After arriving at the dump, I backed up the to window through which I could toss household trash and spent the next few moments unloading and then throwing bag after bag through the window.  As I turned to close the tailgate, the skies opened up, and along with the others who were there, I waited under the awning for the rain to ease before walking back to the front of the car which was unprotected.  After a time, I  noticed the man next to me reaching through the window  into the pile of trash, pulling out Beanie Babies.  One might not recognize these stuffed animals today, but at that time they were all the rage, and the soft cuddly animals that he was collecting happened to belong to my son!  In my haste, I had mixed the plastic bag containing his Beanie Baby collection with the bags of trash.  In a panic, I quickly intervened, explaining to the fellow that I had made a grave mistake and that I needed to have those Beanie Babies back!  I can still envision the cloud of disappointment slowly replacing joy on his face.  He had found a treasure that, in his mind, belonged to him.  To this day, I am convinced that I left the dump with fewer Beanie Babies than I had when I arrived.  But the ones that were rescued are now packed away in plastic boxes waiting to be discovered by future grandchildren.


Within days after this episode, which still remains my ultimate dump story, we loaded the last few items into the truck and locked the doors of the house as we parted for Pennsylvania.  Little did I know that my days of visiting the dump were over.  Instead, a dumpster was conveniently located in the parking lot just outside of the building that would serve as our new residence.  To be sure, the time saved by not having to make a weekly dump run would be considered by many to be an improvement in lifestyle.  But I have fond memories of arriving at the dump, curious about what treasures I might find or whom I might encounter. And I often wonder if, like so many other advancements in life style , the well-organized trash collection in our town results in one less opportunity to interact with our neighbor.