What’s Become of Maine’s Town Dumps?
Saturday, my husband come back from the Transfer Station, chuckling.
“What is it, Charlie?”
“It was classic, Ida. Just classic.”
There’s something about that place that gives Charlie a thrill. He always looks so happy loading up the truck with trash and recycling, and heading off into the morning mist. The allure is lost on me, but Charlie’s love affair with the Transfer Station gives me some time alone to putter around before I head off for my weekly appointment with Patsy down to Hair Affair. So, I guess, in a roundabout way, I’m fond of the Transfer Station, too!
Remember when the Transfer Station was “the dump”? Back in the days before cable TV, satellite dishes, and all that, when a big night out in Mahoosuc Mills was going down to the dump to watch the bear cubs frolic around in the trash? (Every summer, a family of brown bear would take up residence there.)
Unlike today’s Transfer Station, with its gates and restricted hours, the dump was pretty much open all the time. A place where teenage boys would hang out, looking for trouble. Drinkin’ beers and shootin’ rats with BB guns.
Like most kids in town, I learned to drive on the dump road. Good place for it. Not much traffic. I started out sitting on my Dad’s lap, just steering the truck. When I was tall enough to reach the pedals, he’d let me practice driving for real.
One time, my Dad was driving down the dump road, and at the curve by Crosby’s farm, I fell out of the truck. The passenger door hadn’t latched quite right, and neither of us was wearing a seatbelt. Nobody did back then. We rounded the corner, and I turned to look at the ponies, pressing against the window to get a better view. Suddenly, the door opened, and I fell out. I must have been five or six at the time. My Dad slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the truck, his face white as a sheet when he found me, just inches in front of the truck’s rear wheel.
The dump itself was a smelly, chaotic place. You had to watch where you stepped, because who knows what might be lurking underfoot.
Not so with the Transfer Station. It’s all cleaned up, with high-falutin’ rules and regulations. Only them clear plastic trash bags are acceptable, now. You have to put all your newspapers into one bin, mixed paper in another. Cardboard here (flattened), glass there, aluminum and tin cans in the red barrel. And plastic, well, that’s very complicated. They take 1’s and 2’s, but the 5’s? One week they take them, the next they don’t. Keep the plastic caps on the bottles. No, now you’re supposed to take them off and put ‘em over there. It’s always changing! And I secretly wonder if late at night, they don’t have a good laugh at our expense, as they mix all the recycling together and toss it into the compactor. Pretty cynical, I know, but the thought has crossed my mind.
Oh, it’s just too much rigmarole for me. But Charlie, thank God, loves the Transfer Station. He takes a certain satisfaction in putting things in the right bin. Running into folks and shooting the breeze. He likes catching up with Whitey Hebert who, spring through fall, is pretty much camped out down to the Swap Shop there, waiting to score stuff people didn’t sell at their yard sales. Charlie’s been known to poke around in the Swap Shop himself, occasionally bringing home a “treasure.”
But, here’s the thing about the Transfer Station: if you’re sticking with the program, you’re golden. If you mess up, there’s no mercy. That’s because the Transfer Station is ruled with an iron fist by the Queen of the Dump herself, Roberta Pierce (who Charlie and them call “Sarge,” behind her back). Ernie Lambert, Mahoosuc Mills’ Sanitation Coordinator, may be the boss, but Roberta Pierce is in charge. And believe me, nobody is more willing to kick butt than Roberta. So, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay attention to what goes where.
“You have a run in with Roberta?” I ask Charlie.
“Not me, But Gladys Anderson sure did.”
Apparently Gladys, five-foot-nothing, white hair, former president of the Mahoosuc Mills Historical Society and avid cat lover, was just about to toss her garbage bag into the hopper, when Roberta, who can move swiftly for a woman her size, suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
“Gladys,” she yells, “Do you have kitty litter in there?”
Like a deer caught in the headlights, Gladys squeaks, “Yes.”
“Haven’t I told you before? No kitty litter in the compactor! And don’t think I didn’t see you sneaking those number six plastic cups into the mixed plastic. You know we don’t recycle those! They go in the garbage bag. Kitty litter does not! Never has, never will!”
At this point, Gladys was on the verge of tears. “Why are you always picking on me? Why?”
“I pick on everyone! What makes you think you’re so special?”
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here.)