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Alley Lover

No, I’m not a bowler. I’m talking about that long-gone path at the back of my house and many others during the ‘50’s. THAT alley. It accessed the dumping ground for anything we didn’t want, but it was also the site of many scrounging adventures.

Before I continue, I’ll set the stage. There were two kinds of trash. First there was the garbage, dumped unwrapped into a big bucket. It was home to countless maggots and smelled accordingly. (Remember; this was before any of us in Southern Indiana had garbage disposals, although they WERE advertised during the commercial breaks of The Ozzie and Harriet Show.) The really “good stuff” was in neighborhood ash pits.

Ours was the Cadillac of the species which I watched my dad build. Waist high, it was made of cinder blocks and opened to the alley on one side. It was the funeral pyre for fall leaves and discards throughout the year: 1 beat-up saddle oxford, a pair of work pants with a crater-sized hole in the seat, a Prince Albert tobacco can or an empty Teaberry gum package. The smell of burning leaves was heavenly and has never been duplicated, but some of the others decidedly were not.

Since two streets worth of houses backed to each alley, the garbagemen could whiz through the center of the block, dumping the garbage cans and collecting whatever wasn’t burned. The path they used was two strips of dirt, worn by years’ worth of tire tracks with struggling grass in the middle—a lawn wannabee.

I loved scouring the ash pits to hunt for that “good stuff.” But first I needed the proper accessories: shoes with sturdy soles in case of broken glass, a pair of gloves to prevent finger cuts from the cans and my wagon to carry my “finds” home. And “finds” there were: a yellowed roll of wallpaper perfect for coloring, a couple of dog-eared comic books, a dented lamp shade which used upside down made a pretty flowerpot cover, and an old aquarium for the hamster I never got. But my friends were much smarter. They scouted for and found old pop bottles, redeeming them for two cents each. Remember when a few cents bought a whole bag of penny candy?

Call it the Old School version of “repurposing.” I call it an adventure in creative snooping and a lot of fun.


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