childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

Bloomington Minnesota, the city that I call home took over managing the coordination of residential trash and recycling collection last year. For some in the community there was passion over who got to take away their empty yogurt containers and used tissues. There were the folks who hated to give any more power to their government and those who were concerned over the wear and tear on our roads caused by multiple providers covering the same routes and the inherent risk that goes with increased traffic. I was in a third group. I’m the fiscal conservative who had used three different services during our fifteen years in the community. I had most recently selected the newest and most affordable option, that allowed me to downsize my trash container after my kids had moved out and was the first service that could accommodate my desire to have recycling picked up on a weekly basis (my previous providers were on a biweekly cycle).

As a household that entertains often, we frequently called upon our guests to take a bag of recycling when they departed or utilized our neighbor’s bin when possible. I also had arranged with my last two providers to drop off waste and recycling bins for our annual block party and pick them up the following morning, free of charge. I enjoyed negotiating the deals and knew that the hauler’s incentive to provide good service resulted from the very real possibility that I could change services to a competitor were their performance not satisfactory. When local politicians insisted that “nothing would change” and offered reassurances that the price would be what I’d been paying and the service available equal as well, it sounded like an empty promise that someone makes when trying to sell you on something inferior.

As with most political offerings, some were pleased with the decision to standardize collection, while others were frustrated and angry that their service provider was being dictated to them. I took more of a “wait and see” approach, hopeful that the plan would work, yet skeptical that the promises made would be promises kept.

As a little kid I remember loving to see the Garbage Man come. At that time Minneapolis permitted residents to contract with haulers of their own choosing. My family had the Wellers. You knew a Weller truck because they could hardly stand to watch a stuffed animal go to a landfill, they were prominently displayed on their trucks, my earliest exposure to animal rescue. Their trucks looked like the cross between a gypsy caravan and a carnival game-of-chance booth. The Wellers were our haulers because at least one of the Weller men was a veteran my father knew through his membership at James Ballantine VFW post 246. A man fit to serve our country was certainly worthy of collecting our refuse.

My childhood was an era where  garbage haulers typically had a driver and two collectors who appeared choreographed like circus performers, swinging onto and off of the stuck, swooping up cans and gracefully dumping their contents into the rear of the truck. There were no automated arms that lifted and dumped the bins under the direction of a driver in a climate-controlled cab. These men worked. It was a physical labor. Cans were not uniform, though most were  galvanized steel, with lids kids often used as a shield during snowball fights or play military maneuvers. Those cans were noisy and easily dented. Ours were plain, my best friend’s family had cans that had been painted with various Peanuts cartoon characters by one of her sisters. Sometime during the 1970’s plastic cans became the vogue. The plastic barrels were much larger, not as heavy, more durable and less noisy, though lacking in charm.

Garbage was different back in the day. My brothers were in elementary school when they took charge of the “burner”. Most homes had a can that was allocated as a burn barrel, perforated to allow air in, often perched on a pair of cinder blocks. The burner was where cereal boxes, paper plates and Dixie cups were disposed of. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel had to be disposed of and the Wellers would pull off a work glove and let the ashes fall through their fingers, feeling for any embers before dumping it into the truck. Their thick-skinned, nearly leather hands being somewhat immune to the heat, occasionally you’d see a Weller truck or one of their competitors with the back end smoldering. I don’t recall exactly when burn barrels went away or when giving kids matches was deemed a bad idea but perhaps it coincided with when trash cans grew larger.

Recycling for me as a child was carrying an 8-pack of soda bottles back to the store or returning a milk jug to get a deposit back. Newspapers were bundled and tied with twine and saved for youth events called “paper drives” or “paper sales” that schools or organizations sponsored to raise money. I was in college before I heard of people saving aluminum cans and recycling them for money. That whole process changed to a system where we now are required to collect the newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Then we pay a service to take it from us, so they may be compensated for what we bought, collected, stored and wheeled out to the curb. It’s sort of like if we paid Goodwill, ARC or DAV to take our donations of clothing and household goods which they later sell. Difficult to determine which is more environmentally friendly; having trucks roll up and down the streets and transport the goods to facilities that had to be built and process the waste or letting a kid take it out back and incinerate it.

Our new trash collection for the city of Bloomington began on October 3rd. As predicted, the rate that I currently pay is substantially more than the rate I had negotiated with my last provider. I am sad to acknowledge that my service is in fact not the same quality that I previously had. My recycling is full on a weekly basis and in theory they pick it up biweekly, just like the plan I had dropped last go-round. I say “in theory” because in addition to paying more, I also do more work with our new provider. Today I had to call them (yet again) to tell them they had not picked up my recycling yesterday morning and they assured me it would be picked up by the end of the day tomorrow (they did manage to get it this afternoon). I have no real recourse, as they know they have my business whether they do a good job or not. My leverage and freedom to choose has been eliminated, as apparently so has their incentive to take pride in their work.

While I’m all in favor of measures that improve the environment, increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, there are times I grow a little nostalgic. I miss workers in a family business who don’t take my business for granted. I long for the simplicity of reuse efforts like attaching a giant purple bear to the grill of a garbage truck. Finally, there is a little piece of me that admired the bravery of men hanging onto the back of a slightly smoldering truck.

Despite the many changes in the industry over the years since my own childhood, there seems to be one thing that remains the same. Kids are fascinated and enamored with the big trucks that take our trash away and the men (and women too) who work on them.


Memories of a Distracted Child

I have been told by many throughout my life that I have a fabulous memory. Though it’s not particularly common, I have vivid recollections from about 13 months of age on. Many years ago I read an article claiming that memory is triggered by a specific event.  Based upon my earliest memories, I am convinced that my families move from the rented double bungalow on Pleasant to the house my parents bought on Vincent Avenue South was the catalyst for those first memories. While most do not recall life in diapers, in my earliest memory that’s all I was wearing.


Mine was more aqua blue than this.

Though there are photographs (and slides) of me from just weeks earlier, celebrating my first birthday at our home on Pleasant, try as I might, I recall nothing of that house. I just remember the things from the photo’s that made the trip to the “new” (built in 1905) house, like the yellow high chair I was seated in. My first memory was in a different metal contraption and I was in the large yard behind the house when the next door neighbor lady came through a gate in the hedges that divided their yard from ours. My mother was in the yard with me, the two women spoke. I  would later refer to the woman as Grandma McGovern. I sat in the little metal walker, it was August in Minnesota and it was sticky. Hot rusty metal, a near naked baby in direct sunlight. My mother was likely smoking a cigarette (as she had through all three pregnancies) and to further embellish the story why don’t we pretend this little vehicle was coated in lead paint. In retrospect it is ironic that over 90% of the women in my neighborhood were stay-at-home-mothers and yet by today’s standards, daily life was the sort of thing that currently warrants calls to protective services.

high chair

You might wonder what got me thinking about childhood memories, unless of course you know me, then you know it doesn’t take much. Personality tests define me as the type of person who makes connections between disparate ideas, items, topics. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to recognize the triggers. Yesterday the trigger was a school teacher. I’m working part time for a few weeks at a neighborhood garden center. Yesterday it was rainy and there were few customers. In the afternoon a school teacher stopped in to pick up some starter plants donated by our greenhouse. They are to be used for a family Earth Night tomorrow. The woman also grabbed some colorful rubber tubs and potting soil and commented “the kids should have fun digging in the dirt with these!” and I could not have agreed more. Once the transaction was completed I was mentally back at Lake Harriet Elementary School (the original one, not the one that assumed the name years after the destruction of the stately Linden Hills structure that I and my grandmother had attended) and recalling planting Johnny Jump Ups in Styrofoam cups. The school was located on a block that ended in a point where Upton Avenue and Sheridan Ave met. At the point of the block was a grassy area with a flag pole. In the spring when our flowers were strong enough and the weather was appropriately warm, we made a procession in a single file line along the curb (there was no sidewalk) and planted our flowers at the base of the flag pole. We could see them all summer long from the business district at the intersection. It was science, community beautification and patriotism all wrapped up in one activity that got wiggly kids outside on a nice spring day.

purple tub.jpg

Johnny Jump Ups

My father was an easily distracted child as well. Rather than trying to quell it in me, he encouraged it. Every spring he let me select a Punch & Grow for my classroom. It was a container with soil that had been seeded, with a clear lid that you punched holes in and watered. I spent a great deal of time when I should have been learning my multiplication tables keeping an eye on the little plot of outdoors that I had gifted to my classroom. Another spring tradition was him giving me a bird seed bell for my class. Annually a custodian would come up to hang it outside a classroom window. I enjoyed giving my dad updates at the dinner table regarding visitors to the bell that day. I’ll never know what lessens I missed while witnessing the migration of my feathered friends.


I feel like my vivid memories from my childhood are what prepared me to parent the children I had. Just as my father’s distractions had prepared him to be my dad. When my son was being tested and it was discovered he was dyslexic it was also noted that he applied Chapstick several times in a brief period of time. It was suggested that further testing might be required to understand his distractions. I asked if his behavior was impacting his classmates and was told that it was not, just that he might not be focused. So, I had a talk with him. I explained that when the teacher was at the board and talking, that most of his classmates focused on what she was writing and the content of what she was saying. That was how they learned. I told him that I suspected that while he was looking at the teacher he was noticing that the pattern in her skirt had the same colors as our couch at home and then perhaps he noticed a bird outside the classroom window. He nodded in understanding and said “yesterday it was a cardinal”.



Day 16: A Stroll Down the Even Side of Memory Lane (Vincent Avenue South)


I will begin on the corner. Despite not sharing a Vincent Avenue South address because the front door faced West 43rd Street, the Linden Hills library was definitely part of my block. The stately Carnegie library era brick building served as a second home to me and was among the most influential of my neighbors. From the lower level children’s room (with colorful storybook tiles at the hearth of the fireplace) to the left of the base of the stairs to the French doors to the right that led to Story Hour which I consider to be my first formal education. I spent many childhood days imagining the grand manse as my house. I learned a lot at that library.

The house next door had an entrance off the driveway to a basement beauty salon. Cleaning combs there and dusting an impressive collection of Avon bottles (housed in a lit cabinet with glass shelves) was among my first jobs. After my father passed away, I do not believe my mother ever paid for another haircut while living on that street. The house next to that was situated at the highest point on either side of the street and had an impressive set of stairs and a steep driveway. My best friend grew up in that house along with her five sisters. We played in the yard, the front porch and the basement. The living room was where we would lay for hours in December and play I-Spy with the Christmas tree which did not have a square inch that was not covered in beads, garlands, ornaments or actual toys. The kitchen is where some of the best food I have ever eaten was prepared.

Next to my best friend’s home is the home where my parent’s best friends raised their children. The sold sign is in the yard as I write this. They are a family who I have been fortunate to have known members from five generations of. Beside them lived a family with two sons who were older than my own brothers. Currently there is a young family with red-headed children residing there. The next home was directly across the street from the one I grew up in. When I was little it was owned by the Loveland family. The Lovelands had six children; Lisa, Patty, Roger Jr. the twins Betty and Bruce and the baby Shelly when they lived on Vincent. I recall that one of the twins fell out of the tree house in their backyard. Despite having a house filled with children, the mother volunteered for church and Scouting and was the woman who hosted rummage sales most frequently. The neighborhood had a big potluck send-off when they moved “Up North” in the early seventies. They bought a resort (Loveland’s resort on Moonlight Bay) and had two more daughters. Later a Minneapolis police K-9 officer, his wife and two children lived there and I would babysit for them. Several families lived in that house after the Lovelands, I have retained none of their names, despite the fact the Lovelands moved away nearly forty-five years ago.

The next home was meticulously cared for. The father was a fire fighter who modeled for a local department store’s catalogs. They had two sons and two daughters who were older than my brothers. I loved seeing their teenage daughters dressed for formals when I was little. The charming little house next door belonged to the Richard’s. They had one son, Chucky, who fell in age between my two brothers. My brother Steve recalls that is where he went for lunch in elementary school while my mother and brother Robert went to England to visit my grandparents. He loved the home-cooked lunches she made. As I recall, Betty Richards became the first widow on the block. When my mother was widowed, the two of them grew close, even working part-time at a little diner on the next block. When another neighbor could not get Betty to answer the door for their regularly scheduled Scrabble game she came and got my mother who is the one that found Betty, who had gone to be with Ralph.

The next house seemed to be the largest on the block or perhaps that is because it was nestled between two more petite domiciles. Jeff, Margaret, Liz, Tricia, Martha, Kris and Catherine were the seven children, in that order. Most were athletic and their mother still resides there. A couple of summers ago while walking down the street with my daughter we noticed a cat and I said “That probably belongs to the Longs.” The first time I ever saw kittens was in a box in their entryway closet, so little their eyes had not yet opened.

Last summer I took my son to a moving sale at the next home. I wanted him to see the size of the kitchen that my friend’s mother created meals in three times daily for years. I own rugs bigger than the dimensions and there were two doorways that took up wall space as well; the entry and a corner door leading to the basement. When I went by this past week the house was gone and the foundation for a new home had been laid. My friend Laura was the youngest and only girl of the five children raised there. I spent many afternoons watching programs with her and her mother such as Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin and summer evenings watching Mary Hartman and Fernwood Tonight. I smoked my first cigarette on a school bus in their backyard, the bus had been painted green and converted for hunting and fishing trips. I’m pleased to have some table linens that Mrs. Berquist had done handiwork on. She passed away recently after a short bout with cancer.

As a child the house beyond Laura’s is where the Hill family lived, three girls and their little brother. Laura and the youngest daughter Bonnie have always remained friends and I saw her and her mother for the first time in decades while attending Mrs. Berquist’s funeral. When the Hills moved out, the Bones moved in. Mrs. Bone and Mrs. Berquist became good friends over the next forty-three years and Mrs. Bone gave a lovely tribute to her dear friend at her funeral. The Bone home is now on the market.

Three houses remain at the end of the block. One I believe was a rental and looked more like a cabin one might see at a summer camp. Unlike the rest of the block where many neighbors remained consistent for fifty years, I never knew any of the occupants there. The next home was the dwelling place of three boys that were all within a year of me and my siblings, the parents had another entire family of children who were already adults and no longer lived at home. I remember the mother as being worn, her three youngest each a bit of a handful.

Finally we have arrived at the house on the corner. I always believed a grown brother and sister lived there. Their garage was accessed from behind the house, around the corner and as a result I never recall seeing the woman. The brother used the bus and always walked down his side of the street briskly, often carrying what appeared to be a gym bag. He was neither friendly or unfriendly, just consistent in his quick pace and focused on his destination. For years he had a small black and white bulldog that resembled him and he walked it with the same sense of purpose.

It was a great place to grow up. At one point during my youth, there were over forty children living across the street from me, some went on to be business owners, served in the military, one became a politician. Many had children of their own but in smaller numbers than the heyday of the 1960’s when they were children, growing up on a kid-filled street where we were all free to roam.