Seeking Trash

He never found an unbreakable speed limit but, braking was the exciting part of riding with Dad.  The blur of speeding was predictable.  If we were in the car and dad was driving, and he always drove, we were speeding. 

Braking hard was always a surprise.  Some of our cars didn’t even have safety restraints.  When the cars did have seat belts, they were buried in the seats because Dad hated them, reasoning, “If we are in a wreck and the car catches on fire, we might not be able to get the belts loose and we’d burn up.”   He also comforted my seven year-old self with, “When we get in a wreck and get knocked out, the cops may not be able to get us loose before the car explodes.”

My safety restraints were the dashboard and the back of the front seat.

Almost everyone in our neighborhood had two metal garbage cans.  We did too. It was important to keep up appearances.  What would people think if we only had enough garbage for one can?  So, from the time I was able to tote garbage cans, and that was pretty early because I was a precocious grower, I was hauling two cans to the curb. If there was a lot of garbage in one can and none in the other, I was instructed to even out the load between the two cans and always take both to the street.

Dad hit the brakes in the car for one of two reasons.

First, some blankety-blank in the car in front of him was driving too slow, probably the speed limit, so Dad saved all of our lives by crushing the brakes, throwing us against the back of the front seat or the dashboard and avoiding the necessity of escaping a car that was about to explode.

Second, he abused the brakes when he wanted to pick up something by the side of the road.  It might be a box, some paper or any other “clean garbage” that littered the right of way. This practice continued until we moved to the country when I was in seventh grade and we had no neighbors to care about how many garbage cans we were putting out by the road.

To Dad’s credit, he never once asked me to jump out of the car to pick up the wayward trash he noticed as we barreled along.  I always thought it was that I was incapable of grasping his vision of the right piece of garbage. I did not want to learn that secret.

When we got home, it was my job to carry the fresh pickings directly to the garbage can that didn’t have anything in it.  It was a simple ritual, “Don’t run off, son. Follow me.”  He’d turn the key to the trunk, open it and hand me the trash he held like treasure, telling me, “Put it in the empty can.”

I never asked him why.  This issue was just not worth it.  One time a cop did.  “May I see your license?  I am stopping you because you just came to a sudden stop back there, picked up something from the side of the road, threw it in your trunk and took off at a high rate of speed.  I am not going to give you a speeding ticket.  Watch your speed.  By the way, would you mind showing me what is in your trunk?”

Dad walked around to the trunk, opened it and the cop peered in.  The cop said, “It looks like a bunch of wadded up newspaper.”

Dad replied, “Yep,” and the cop just looked at Dad.  Dad said nothing.  The cop had a chance to ask the question I wanted answered, “Why?”   The policeman just shook his head and said, “Watch your speed buddy.”

That day, after we got back to the house, when I was shuffling off to the garbage can with wadded up newspaper, I heard Dad say softly, so the neighbors couldn’t hear, “I don’t want people knowing we are so poor we don’t need two garbage cans.”

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