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One Man’s Trash

This is a true story…

 Regie Carpenter Viemo video
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Sunday is a day of rest for everyone in the Carpenter family except my mother. She calls Sunday “the day of the rest of it.” My Mom runs Carpenter’s Grocery, our family grocery store Monday through Saturday from 8 in the morning until 9 at night while my father spends the week as a traveling salesman. When two o’clock Sunday afternoon rolls around and the obligatory mass with Monseignor and pot roast dinner is finally over, my mother wants a little time to herself.

Clucking like a chicken from the kitchen she shouts to my father, “Carl?!”

Grimacing and sucking air through his teeth he replies, “Yuh?”

“May I speak to you for a moment?”

“Ah jeez.” Dropping the Sunday paper he slowly slinks into the kitchen.

My diminutive mother stands there, hands on hips and daggers in eyes, “Carl, don’t you want to do something with your five children today?”

“I am doing something, Jo. I’m reading the paper in the same room they’re fightin’ in.”

“Charming. No Carl, I mean, do something outside of the house. Just you and them; all five of them for the entire afternoon. Hmm? ”

“ Aww, jeesh Jo, keep yer shirt on. Looking down, he hitches his britches and hollers, “C’mon kids, let’s go for a walk!”

We whoop and scramble out the front door of Carpenter’s Grocery. Huddling on the corner of James and Mary St., Dad’s lanky frame casts a long shadow.

“Kids, if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Never forget that. So, while we’re out walkin’ around town, keep your eyes peeled to the ground. Any half smoked butts or bucks you find, you give ‘em to yer old man.”

We morph into human Geiger counters clicking and scanning the ground for Camels and quarters until my father’s pockets bulge. That isn’t all we do. Sometimes we stand on the Municipal dock and watch people fish . If we’re lucky, somebody steps on a nail. Other times we go to Mercier’s Beach where all the Catholic kids learn to flail, swim or drown. Pop stands on the beach and pretends to be a whale, flapping his flipper arms. We’re barnacles attached to his neck. Swimming to the buoy and back to shore, he plants his tail fin in the sand, shakes us off and blows water out his pie hole. Some Sunday’s we walk around town, looking in our neighbors windows. Hours later, with the sun setting on the St. Lawrence River, we return home to my mother’s tender embrace and Jello in a bowl cooling on the counter.

“Isn’t Jello suppose to be cold, Mom? And jiggle?” my sister Mary asks timidly.

“This is Jello juice. Be grateful for that kids, because if you think I have time to put that Jello into the refrigerator so it can jiggle, you can just jiggle yourself right out of here!”

Our Mom is so high strung….

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that it was all sweet smelling roses around my house. There are certain Sunday’s when my mother has a twitch in her eye and 2:00 comes at 1:30.

“Carl?” is the call from the kitchen


“May I speak to you for a moment?”

Dad sucks air in through his teeth. “Aww, jeesh.” He slumps into the kitchen.

“Don’t you want to do something with your children today?”

“Not really, Jo, no.”

“Óh, I think you do Carl, I think you do.

“Well whaddya expect me to do with them?”

“I don’t know Carl but if you don’t get those children out of here I’m afraid I, I…”, and here she clutches at her heart and sobs, “I’m afraid I might put them in a sack with a rock and drown them in the river! Now please Carl! Do it! I’m desperate!”

“Jeez Jo, don’t get your britches twisted.”

Dad looks down, rubs his neck, hitches his britches and says, “C’mon kids, let’s go have some fun!”

My father, Carl Henry Carpenter, spells fun, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.”

We’re standing on the corner of James and Mary St.. Dad’s lanky body casts a long shadow and his eyes glow. The paw he calls his hand reaches deep into his pocket, pulls out the car keys and jingles them. Leaning in he whispers, “Hey kids, wanna go for a drive?”

Our pupils dilate as we run to the red rusted Bonneville station wagon with the wood paneling duct taped to the side. Scraping open the back door we pile into the back seat that’s always down and covered with ratty quilts just in case we go by a good drive-in movie. Clawing over one another we resemble a ball of worms on a cold morning.

My father saunters to the driver’s side, pulls open the door and slides behind the wheel. Lighting a half smoked Camel he blows smoke rings, “bwah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. He turns the key. The car spits, lunges, coughs, and backfires. Dad’s hand is on the dash cajoling it to life. Papa coos to the car. “Come on baby, be good to Daddy. Come on baby. Come on baby. Be good, be good.” The engine purrs. “That’s my girl. Good girl, baby. Who loves ya’ baby? Daddy loves ya’.”

The radio clicks on. It’s always the same music, all Sunday drive long. A spy song, saxophone like a siren and a slap shot on the drums. “Doo, doot, doo doot, doo doo doot doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot. Doo, doo, doot, doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot, doo, doot, doot dooooo, doo, doooo, doo dooooo, doo dooo, doo deet doodle ee, doot doo

Magically, a chocolate brown fedora hat appears on the passenger side of the front seat. Dad picks it up and covers the Carpenter hair that’s always black, wavy and pomaded until it’s flammable. His hand goes to the wand on the steering column. Turning to us he says, “Now kids, when you’re out for a Sunday drive it’s important to observe all the traffic rules and regulations. All the traffic rules and regulations kids, never forget that.”

We reverse into Mary St. Once in drive, the car points itself to the stop sign on the corner of Mary and James.

The turn signal sings, “Blink, blink. Blink, blink. Blink, blink. link, blink.” The radio pumps, “Doo, doot, doo doot, doo doo doot doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot. Doo, doo, doot, doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot, doo, doot, doot dooooo, doo, doooo, doo dooooo, doo dooo, doo deet doodle ee, doot doo. ” The adventure begins.

We hang a right up James Street driving past St. Mary’s Catholic Church, past the rectory, past Mrs. Fitzgerald’s chestnut tree until we get to the one traffic light in town with the arching neon sign that reads, ”Thank you for visiting the beautiful 1000 Islands region.” While we wait at the light my father reminds us, “Always observe the traffic rules and regulations kids, rules and regulations. Never forget that.” Smoke rings circle the globe of his head ,“Bwah, wah, wah, wah.

The light turns green and the car slides through the intersection. James Street becomes Rt. 12. We move away from town and drive by Clayton Central School and Mr. Frick’s ice cream store with the 20’ plaster of paris vanilla and chocolate twist ice cream cone out front. We hold our breath passing the cemetery until we see the white house on the other side. Dad’s blowing smoke rings, his fingers tapping the wheel to the beat. We peek over the front seat. Holding our breath. Wishing on a star. Hoping to hear the …blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink.

“Doo, doot, doo doot, doo doo doot doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot. Doo, doo, doot, doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot, doo, doot, doot dooooo, doo, doooo, doo dooooo, doo dooo, doo deet doodle ee, doot doo. ”

We turn right onto Roller Coaster Road and start picking up speed. Twenty miles an hour. Thirty miles an hour. Seventy, eighty two miles an hour, then 200 miles an hour! The car soars into the air and slams down. Again and again, we soar and slam, soar and slam. In the backseat, our fingers are up each others noses, feet in faces, arms and legs flying out of the windows. We’re spaghetti twirling around in a little kid’s mouth. Then, the wood paneling duct taped to the side flies straight out and becomes wings! The car is Pegasus and like Icarus, we soar to the sun only to drop down to the paved sea. Dad slams on the breaks at the stop sign. Our heads hit the back of the front seat, we uncross our eyes, lift our heads and you know what we cry out, “DO IT AGAIN!!!”

“Rules and regulations, kids. Rules and regulations. Never forget that.” Bwah, wah, wah, wah.”

Blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, blink.

“Doo, doot, doo doot, doo doo doot doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot. Doo, doo, doot, doot. Doo, doot, doo, doot, doo, doot, doot dooooo, doo, doooo, doo dooooo, doo dooo, doo deet doodle ee, doot doo. ”

We turn left onto a hitherto unseen and unknown road. The car passes an invisible line. The sky blackens. A green ooze bubbles up from the earth. Nowthe flies are as big as hummingbirds. An acrid stench fills the air. Our nostrils flare. Our eyes tear. A metallic taste sits on our tongues and our skin begins to slough off. We’re as quiet as altar boys in the back seat. Could it hope it? Dare it? Could it possibly be? Yes! We are going to the dump! A mile down the road the car pulls over and kills its own engine.

My father gets out, throws his cigarette to the ground, stubs it out with his shoe, hitches his pants and cries, “Kid’s, let’s go shoppin’! ”We pile out and stand on the precipice of a putrid paradise.

Dante’s inferno has NOTHING on the Clayton town dump! There are all kinds of good stuff down there! Cars nobody wants anymore, furniture nobody wants anymore, appliances nobody wants anymore, relatives nobody wants anymore. There are rats as big as schnauzers and female dogs with so many litters their teats could double for frosting decorating funnels. Smoke spews and billows from burning piles of rubber. My father extends his arms, inhales deeply, throws back his head and burbles, “Ah, life! Now kids, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

My father has furnished our entire household form the Clayton town dump.

We pick our way down the path. My brother’s leave to shoot rocks at cans. My sisters and I stick with the old man. My father finds a doll with one eye hanging off and one arm hanging down! We start fighting over the doll.

I whine, “I want it! I want it! I’m the baby! I should get it!”

Mary says, “You always get everything. I’m the middle girl. All I ever get is the blame!”

Cindi chimes in, “I’m the oldest. It’s mine by birthright!”

Dad takes control. “Now girls, no fighting. Look around. There’s plenty of good stuff down here for everyone. “

At the end of the afternoon, we all have some treasure to take home. My father has a television! This is a time when televisions are still full of mystery! It’s got bubble glass, real wood console, knobs that control the horizontal and vertical hold, and tubes that hum and glow when turned on. We all help carry it up the path and load it into the red rusted Bonneville station wagon. All the way home, Dad observes the traffic rules and regulations .

The car stops in our driveway. We sneak the television out of the car and in through the front door and then drag it into the living room. My mother sees us coming in and her face implodes. Before she can say anything my father says “Jo, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” She sputters, “No Carl, one man’s trash is this woman’s junk.” We see the Jello juice on the counter so we know everything is going to be okay

We lift the tv onto the left t.v. stack where it joins the other television sets garnered from the Clayton town dump! Now we have six television sets! Two towers of t.v.’s! The three on the right have sound that works but no picture. The three on the left have the picture that works but no sound.

Dad tunes into the same thing every Sunday, a football game, Minnesota Fats, the billiards player, and a John Wayne movie. Depending on his interest, the corresponding sound goes up or down. “Reg, turn down the game and turn up the movie cause I think John Wayne’s gonna kiss Maureen O’Hara. I don’t wanna miss that.”

We are the original remote.

At six o’clock the show begins when we all gather to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. At seven we crow with Walt Disney’s Magical Kingdom the Bonanza, Ed Sullivan, and we sing with Carol Burnett. “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song.” Mom makes a big bowl of popcorn. When she comes back into the living room my father pats the couch, winks and says, “Who loves ya’ baby? Daddy loves ya’?” Dad’s arm slides around Mom and her head finds his shoulder. The room fills with the sound of crunching popcorn and slurps of Jello juice.

We finish with a thriller. “Doot, doot, do,do doot doot do do doot, do do, duhduh, duh… duh, duh, duh, duh, dut.” Mission Impossible. Jim always accepts his mission.

The day ends as it began, with prayers.

Kneeling next to the bed we got from the Clayton town dump with the headboard that reads, “Bobby slept here.” I climb in clutching the one armed, one legged doll and pray that next week 2 o’clock comes at 1:30 and my mother has a twitch in her eye.

By Regi Carpenter

Regi Carpenter is a solo performance artist, short story writer, and performance coach who grew up in Clayton, NY.  She holds a BFA from Ithaca College where she currently teaches storytelling. she has toured her solo shows and workshops in theatre, festivals and schools and her writings and blogs have been published in several print and online publications. Regi is the recipient of several awards including the JJ Reneaux Emerging Artist Award, a Leonard Bernstein Teaching Fellowship Award, the Parent's Choice Gold Award, the Parents' Guide to Children's Media Award and the Storytelling World Award. Her performance piece Snap! won the 2012 Boston StorySlam. Snap! is a featured Listen story on The Moth website.  She lives in Ithaca, New York.


Posted in: History
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Bob Purcell
Comment by: Bob Purcell
Left at: 11:51 AM Monday, February 16, 2015
I especially enjoyed your vivid portrayal of the journey to the Town dump. The roller coaster of a road along the creek had been long lost in memory until you brought it back with the play of a child.
As you attest, the dump was other worldly. Situated in one of the most beautiful spots in the Township, with a quiet pine forest covering a flat-topped granite outcropping offering a spectacular vista above a cliff. And also a charred, littered terrain constantly smoldering and emitting black, poisonous plumes, with an occasional flame spontaneously erupting, seemingly from nothing. The scene was a dichotomy of tranquility and rest, incineration and cremation.
It was always fascinating to behold the newest entries of what others designated for death in that cemetery. And like your father, I too often thought why someone would not want this perfectly good ....

Tom Hunt
Comment by: Tom Hunt
Left at: 1:33 PM Monday, February 16, 2015
Excellent read Regi, The imagery is outstanding. Congrats on all your achievments. You have a great tallant.
Regi Carpenter
Comment by: Regi Carpenter
Left at: 8:53 AM Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Dear Bob,
Thanks for the comment "incineration and cremation" beautiful language. Ain't it the truth? Could we have been any luckier than to grow up there?
Cathy Perry
Comment by: Cathy Perry
Left at: 12:45 PM Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Great story Regi..The memories of growing up in Clayton are wonderful.You lived behind us on Riverside Drive for a time. I have fond memories of your family.Keep up the story telling, you have a great talent..