It was the perfect day for dumpster diving if you’re into that kind of thing, which I’m not, although I was with an experienced diver at the time.
(That would be my husband who had been initiated about 20 years ago when he lost his wallet at a convenience mart while buying gas for the car and snacks for himself and our daughter – who should have been watching him in my absence – while I was out-of-town. I should add that he had not done any dumpster diving since. At least, not until this episode.)
The winter rain/snow/sleet had paused just long enough for us to take the things we had saved to our recycling center, a long row of dumpsters placed in the parking lot of a local community center. Our goal was to put things into it, not get things out. Really. “Retrieving” is not what comes to mind whenever I think of the 3 R’s in the phrase used to remind us to live green.
As my husband opened the trunk of our car I surveyed the nearest dumpster. It isn’t unusual to make our way down the row before finding one that isn’t filled to capacity. This one was not quite full.
I was surprised, though, at what I encountered. The topmost layer contained papers and books many years past their prime. While moving aside a Britannica volume to make way for our cardboard I spied the tell-tale spine of a photo album! I couldn’t reach it so my husband obtained it for me.
(He did not physically climb into the dumpster although he would have done so if necessary because I was not leaving that album in there!)
An inspection revealed gorgeous full-size portraits from long ago. The lovely bride and the handsome groom as well as their attendants and families smiled back at us from glossy black and white photographs. This had to be a mistake! Who throws away heirloom portraits?
Well, someone might but I don’t. I’m the person who grieves while seated beneath the portraits hanging beside me whenever I eat at a Cracker Barrel because there are families who have forgotten the identities of their forebears and what were once-beloved portraits find themselves being sold at flea markets. And anyone who enters our home knows that there is more than the usual reason why our family room is called that. It literally is adorned with framed pictures of our ancestors upon its shelves and walls. Okay, so I am a sentimental fool when it comes to heirloom portraits. This was what convinced me to make an effort to locate a living relative of the nuptial couple.
This sounds like a simple decision made without debate, but it wasn’t. We weighed our options carefully before putting other people’s castoffs into our car. Are there laws against pulling stuff out of recycling dumpsters? Did the person who discarded this no longer want it? If so, would they be angry at me for tracking them down? What if we found ourselves in the middle of a family feud because this album was a casualty of a probate war? Also, there were no names or dates in the album so how could we find relatives if we couldn’t even identify the people in it?
That last problem was soon remedied. With us still standing on the outside of the dumpster, further diving revealed a manila folder containing more photographs, the proofs from the wedding album, and a notation giving the date of the wedding which occurred while World War 2 was still in progress! A couple of names were written on one side of the folder so now there was enough information for thorough research.
I began researching these names and dates just like I would if I had suddenly discovered information for my own family tree. What I uncovered was a two-person obituary for both individuals whose names were listed on the folder. It contained the names of several children and grandchildren, the name of the funeral home, and the date of death. I searched for the children’s contact information and discovered that most of them were not locals. I decided to call the funeral home that had handled the arrangements to see if they could advise me. Even though several months had passed since the deaths they remembered the family.
The funeral director gave my contact information to one of the surviving children who then called me. We arranged to meet to transfer these beloved heirlooms. These children lost both their father and mother and had arranged to meet in the spring to deal with their parents’ home and its contents. The wedding album had accidentally been taken to the dumpster. After months of grief followed by the emotionally and physically draining work of clearing their parents’ possessions, it made my sentimental heart happy that at least they had their parents’ wedding album back as a keepsake once again.
Although I have no plans to make dumpster diving a regular activity, I am very happy to relate that this past endeavor was a successful one, as was the one almost 20 years ago when my husband found his wallet among the various oil cans and candy wrappers next to the gas station/convenience store.