Hmmm …
What did we use to do with our household trash?

My first memory of disposing of trash was up at the cottage in Cape Vincent NY with Grandpa and Grandma when I was a child. What could be burned was taken “up the hill” to a burning barrel back on the Radley’s farm. What couldn’t be burned – like actual garbage from the kitchen and tin cans and such – was put in the red and white motorboat on its next outing and dumped in the river.

That’s right. Dumped in the river!
I went with Grandpa several times and eventually with Dad, Mom and Tom to dump the trash that way.

We drove the boat straight out to the middle of the St. Lawrence River, slowed down to a crawl near one of the buoy markers with gulls eagerly awaiting, and scattered the garbage from the paper bag across the top of the water. Heavier things sunk quickly to the bottom, but lots of stuff remained on the surface long enough for the gulls to get their pickings.

Any qualms I may have had were assuaged by being told that we were far enough out that there was little chance the garbage would show up back on shore.

Imagine it! We were only one family! How many others did the same thing? Is it any wonder that Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River were polluted in those days?

You know, it wasn’t until the turn of the century (2000) that we began to see Ospreys and Great Blue Herons along the river? I had never seen them there before, but learned that their return meant that the river was finally being restored.

We also used to throw burning sparklers into the river from shore on the 4th of July, marveling at the brilliant arcs they made before sizzling out in the black water. No … I don’t think we even gave a thought to all those rusting wires along the bottom, waiting to pierce out tender bare feet during daytime water play.

Back at home, we also separated our trash into what could and couldn’t be burned. Things like cardboard, newspapers, school papers, junk mail, and packaging went into the 55-gallon burning barrel that the previous family had left for us in the back yard when we bought our house from them in 1957.
Other things such as kitchen waste, jars, cans, and plain old junk went into the two trash cans that our taxes paid the Town of Parma trash removal service to empty and cart away each week.

Of course, with Dad working for the city Fire Prevention Department, he made sure that my brother and I were taught safe procedures for lighting the burning barrel fire. Stand back. Light the wooden match. Toss it gently into the barrel. Wait, wait, wait. Wait for the whoosh!

And we almost always did, except for one time when I was about 16. I decided the only humane thing to do was cremate Gretchen, my beloved life-size baby doll. Her rubber “skin” had deteriorated so badly over the years that the stuffing was bulging out of her arms and legs. Not repairable.

So in tears, I hugged and kissed her one last time before consecrating her body to the flames. But wait! Leaning over the burning barrel for a final glimpse, I felt that startling whoosh Dad had warned us about! Such intense heat! Fortunately, I jumped back with nothing worse than singed eyelashes, eyebrows, and bangs. Even now, I remember the shock, the acrid smell, the heartbreak … and the subsequent mortification. I don’t think I ever did tell Dad about my close call.

Eventually, laws were passed prohibiting the burning of trash and yard waste – even in the country, and we learned move about protecting our natural resourses.

Despite our dad’s physical limitations, he was at the forefront of environmental stewardship. He used to drive along Curtis Road on his way to and from work in Rochester, stopping along the way to pick up beer and soda bottles and cans people had carelessly discarded out of their car windows. He would open his driver’s side door, hold onto the steering wheel, lean out, and pick up the item without ever leaving the car! I often cleaned out the foot well behind Dad’s seat where he stashed the empties, many of which offered a $0.05 refund each.

With a nationwide anti-litter campaign that began in the 1950s and Dad’s can-do influence, our family helped usher in a new era of a cleaner, greener environment that, along with recycling, my grandchildren now take for granted.

And that’s how I began my journey of awareness of the climate and the environment.

Submitted by Joanne