Last Monday, I was stuck for a writing topic about our neighborhood until we sat down to dinner. My husband held up a magazine, saying, “Here, pick a word and write about it.” The first word that sprang off the page was “miracle”.

“Perfect,” I exclaimed. “I’ll write about all the stuff I’ve found along the side of the road. Some of it was miraculous.”

“You mean road kill?” he looked puzzled.

“No, all the stuff I find on trash day.”

“I don’t think you should write about that. Some people might not like it.”

“Not like what?” I asked.

“The idea of people picking up other people’s trash.”

“Oh, really?” my mind was already savoring all the great finds I’d carted home.

“Picking up other people’s trash is against the law in some areas,” he warned. “You could get arrested.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No!” he said.

This is incredible, I thought, as the possibilities for an attention-grabbing article unreeled in my mind: mystery, stealth, illegal activity. Ecstatic, I jumped up from the table and rushed to my office to hammer out my story.

Our windy little street is only about a mile in length, but a lot of good stuff has showed up along its rural shoulders. I don’t set my alarm to get up early enough to beat the trash truck it but on days that I happen to be out before pick-up time, I do drive more slowly. You would not believe the perfectly usable items that people throw out. Though actually motivated more by what I might find to take home, I like to think of myself as “the neighborhood pre-recycler.”

One day about five years ago, in anticipation of our first grandchild, we purchased a baby crib from a garage sale. It was missing the mattress, but we figured we could pick one up for cheap. Soon we learned that not all crib mattresses fit all cribs. Even though we needed the shorter variety, the least expensive was $50, which was more than we paid for the crib itself. Since the baby wasn’t due for a few months we decided to table further action for a while. Amazingly, about two weeks later a perfectly good baby crib mattress showed up right along side our street. It was immaculate, no stains, no signs of wear. It was even the right size. As I struggled it into my car I thought about how it could easily have been the larger size. But it wasn’t; it was clearly meant for me.

Another time, when I was considering designing clothing, what showed up in the neighbor’s trash, but three dressmaker’s manikins. Yes, the entire family: a male, female and adolescent. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“This is the virtual answer to a prayer,” I said, smiling, as I popped the trunk for loading. Talk about “manifest destiny”. Although the headless trio still stands in my workroom, patiently waiting to be dressed, they also serve as a reminder that miracles are all around us.

Other street-side acquisitions have been less valuable, but just as rewarding, like the worn out beaded seat pad I picked off the top of a neighbor’s trashcan. Those nice wooden beads, cut loose, would be worth $30 alone. Last January a little girl’s pink plastic play sink, perfect for our granddaughter, appeared along the roadside. Hubby wasn’t too happy to see it stashed in the garage, but I assured him that come her birthday in July, he’d be glad we “shopped” ahead. Another find was a blanket rack with cute little heart cutouts on either end. Even though we store our blankets in a closet, the thought of that rack thrown into a landfill was just too much. After getting it home, we discovered that its main rung kept falling out. It took only a few minutes to repair it with a spot of glue for later donation it to a rummage sale. Why our neighbor didn’t think of doing this, I do not know.

This brings me to confidentiality. Luckily most of the people who live along our road don’t know me. Their houses are set pretty well back off the street, so privacy for trash deposit and pick up remains comfortably anonymous for all concerned parties. And I do make it a point to be sure that no one is behind me when I pull over. (If a car is following I have been known to go around the block and come back for a coveted item.)

It has been six years since we attained the crib mattress. The grandchildren have grown in number and are now sandbox age. My sister is in the same position. About a year ago at a thrift store she found a plastic sandbox in the shape of a turtle, just the size for little ones. The shell part served as a removable cover to prevent cats from pooping in the box. I would have liked to have one but no way was I going to buy one new. Just the other day I was rounding the curve near our home when the top of a large mud-covered manhole-cover-looking-thing on side of the road caught my eye. After coming to a screeching halt, I backed up to get a better look. You guessed it—-it was a turtle sandbox. I rushed home to get my husband’s car, which has a bigger trunk, to haul it home.

So far my only limit has been the size of our cars. Lucky for my husband, we don’t have a truck or by now I’d have gone into the resale business. In a way it does seem that whoever is in charge of this universe is pointing his/her finger at me to help save the earth in this way. At the very least, illegal or not, it should be a crime to throw out good trash.

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