Sunday, October 25, 2009

A trashy melmoir

Writing about garbage in my last post—yet again (since I also wrote about it here)—reminded me of garbage at my old family home.

We lived in the country, or what most people (other than genuine hill people or mountain-dwellers) would call the country. Yes, there was a busy road running in front of the house, but the yard was large and rolling, with an extensive garden patch, surrounded by too many trees to number and lots of steep hills behind. Acres hovered around us on pretty much all sides, and when I was small, those acres were empty. The neighbors' homes were visible, but just barely; you never heard a conversation at regular volume from either of their places; they were just too far away.

Which meant we were not in a neighborhood. And therefore, no garbage truck rolled up to our place on a weekly basis. When there began to be a regular "garbage day," I was well into my childhood, and the makeshift garbage person was a private contractor of some sort. A rather dilapidated pick-up would arrive the same morning each week, I think... it's all fuzzy now. I believe that's still the current arrangement for my parents, who happily continue to dwell in that childhood home of mine.

The important part of this story, however, is that in those early, pre-contractor days, my family had a burn barrel.

Ever heard of those? Perhaps you're one of the other kids who had one at home? Or, it's possible that you still have one, out of the way, in the back corner of the yard. They're increasingly rare—unless you count the sudden popularity of chimineas: could they be a pretty, covert burn barrel for the modern age? Hmmmmm. The burn barrel wasn't pretty, but it wasn't about form: it was pure function, baby. At one time it had probably held fuel, oil, some toxic liquid; periodically it needed to be replaced because its sides became quite thin and flaky after lots of use. It sat on a level stone surface some distance from our back door.

I don't recall ever having the pleasure of starting a fire in the burn barrel. Being the youngest, I suppose it was out of vogue by the time I could be trusted with flammable materials and a rusty barrel full of combustibles. When I grew old enough to earn burn-worthiness (say that a few times quickly), the little contractor guy had started showing up and most of our garbage was taken away without incident.

We knew, as kids, that certain items were forbidden in the burn barrel. Occasionally, being irresponsible and goofy as youngsters are wont to be, we forgot. Some items were forbidden because they did not burn, others because they created hideous smells and/or smokes. But some were forbidden because they were explosive.

Like I said--we forgot sometimes.

I remember one such memorable occasion, when one of us—who knows which?— had thoughtlessly tossed an empty aerosol can into the trash. There it lay, a time bomb hidden among Sunday papers and junk mail and empty breakfast cereal boxes. The fire was lit by one of my older sisters, and we all watched the barrel begin to glow. (It was usually a fun-filled time, the burning of the barrel—I seem to recall that for this event, the weather was autumnal... again, it's all quite fuzzy now.) And we stood around the barrel, probably pushing each other or engaging in name-calling or just being silly because when you're a kid standing near an open fire you must be silly, and then


Yes, I am fully aware that it's grammatically incorrect to use that many exclamation points in a row, but I feel it necessary to express the shock of that moment, when a fiery hot, semi-destroyed aerosol can was suddenly airborne over our heads flying to God knows where and landing, thankfully, away from us in a harmless spot unoccupied by any human form.

My father was not happy. Of course the noise brought him with much speed, and I recall that he was wearing a grim face that was replaced by anger and frustration once he'd ascertained that we were all physically unscathed. No wonder. Poor man. All those girls in the house—even most of the pets were girls. And one restroom. And then, an exploding burn barrel.

I wish I could say that it never happened again. I feel certain that it did, at least once or twice more, but I do think that incident burned into our little brains why it was important to monitor what one placed in the garbage can. I am hoping so very much, but truly cannot recall, whether it was one of my hideous cans of AquaNet hair spray that caused the problem. I think not, since I did not begin to proudly sport that putrid, unnatural product until at least middle school; I pray that by then, incineration had been replaced by other means of disposal. But I'm just not sure. My family may read this and set me straight.

I apologize if that flying can happened to be my responsibility. But each time I remember, I shake my head and stifle a giggle at the same time. Now that I know we all survived, I wish I could travel back and see our faces when it happened; the expressions had to be priceless.

Ah, childhood.


Anonymous said...

I was just telling the kids about this recently!! Not the exploding can, but about the burn barrel. Unlike you, I was allowed to start the fire, and it was a Very Big Deal to me. LOL The added bonus was even in winter you were warm. I dont recall the exploding aerosal can at all. hmmmmm

Athelas63 said...

I remember exploding cans. They were always a thrill! I also remember the way plastic would melt and ooze out of the holes in the bottom, and the sudden whoosh of large cardboard boxes. I seem to remember it was ALWAYS me doing the burning, although I'm sure I'm mistaken...

Mel said...

Just spoke to my father this morning, who proudly informed me that the burn barrel made a reappearance this week to eliminate some pesky paper- work and records that had been accumulating since, oh, the late 70s... Yup, the barrel is still gettin' it done. Just no aerosol cans, please. ; )