When I was 12 and lived in the small Tennessee town of Ashland City, Dad and I fished all the time. When we weren’t fishing, we had another hobby that kept us busy and outdoors. We would scour the nearby landfill that was just on the outskirts of town. Before you got to the city limits there was a hill that seemed to go straight up. Officially this road was called River Road, but everyone in town knew it as Dump Hill because at the top of this hill was where all dumped their garbage, even the professional garbage men.
Dad always thought we might find something there to sell, and the only way we would know would be to look. So on Saturdays we’d haul our trash up there like everyone else in town, only we would stay. And on Saturdays a bulldozer was always there pushing the new piles of garbage to the back, over the hill, so that fresh mounds of trash were always tumbling to the bottom of the ravine. Always, all over Dump Hill, little fires nibbled away at the garbage here and there, stinking of burnt rubber and bad food. Sometimes I’d take my BB gun and shoot at the rats. The most the gun ever did was to flip them over and send them scurrying off.
Since Mom was usually working every Saturday, if Dad wanted to go to the dump and scrounge around for “finds,” then he would have to take us kids with him. At first none of liked going there, because of the smell probably. So while Dad kicked around in the new garbage, we’d sit in the truck and listen to the radio, or I’d shoot at rats.
We’d watch Dad walk around with a big stick, one like Moses carried in The Ten Commandments. Then at some time he’d stop and begin to prod in a promising spot, shortening his grip on the stick until, before long, he’d drop the stick and then grab hold of boxes and papers and old clothes with both hands. That’s when John and I would leave Debbie in the truck and go see what Dad had found. Sometimes we’d find the best stuff: big plastic toys that must have cost a lot of money at one time, old pieces of machinery that we could take apart later, sometimes clothes that would fit me better than the clothes we’d paid for. On a good Saturday we’d fill up the back of the truck with these finds. And Saturdays were always the best days for going to Dump Hill and poking around, because that’s when people cleaned out their garages and attics and threw away old fishing poles and bowling balls and stuff we weren’t always sure what it was, but we were sure we could probably sell it—or use it at home.
I kept my eyes open for Avon bottles because Dad said they were valuable and I could sell them and make a lot of money. I used to find them all the time, bottles shaped like cars and birds and flowers. And he was right: I did sell a lot of them, usually for a dollar a piece. I’d set them up in rows, the best ones up front, on the roof of the spring house and sell them to people who saw a deal as they drove by.
We made the biggest find ever at the end of one long day of digging through box after box of what looked like attic junk—old moth-eaten clothes, old newspapers and magazines, old bottles of medicine, boots and shoes. In the bottom of one of these boxes Dad found a woman’s broach made of pearls that were clasped in golden leaves. He held it up to the sky, for better light, and called me over to take a look. “See how there are no holes in the pearls?” Dad said. Even Debbie had come out of the truck by now and we all crowded in around him there in the middle of the landfill. “They’re held in place only by these gold leaves.” And he traced a grimy finger along the intricate gold work. Then he announced that this was a very valuable broach, and he tucked it away in his shirt pocket with a big grin.
If we hadn’t come today, I thought. If we hadn’t poked around in the trash, if Dad hadn’t dug to the bottom of that box, then that valuable piece would never have been salvaged. That’s what I wanted to say to those who came and tossed their trash and then looked at us funny, just before brushing off their hands and driving away.