Trash talk

My friend watches a YouTube channel, Northern Mudlarks, with a Scottish mother-daughter team who hunt for (dubious) treasure along riverbanks and other shores. They find mud, reliably, and tiny pieces of the past that they analyze for value and meaning. Could that pot shard be from a moonshine jug? Could that pipe have traveled across the ocean? What kind of bone is that, sepia-toned, carved, and polished into a button? Was it from a greatcoat, or did it grace the small of a woman’s back, rendering her helpless in her own toilette?

Speaking of toilets, January’s Our State Magazine, a monthly publication devoted to all things North Carolinan, includes an excellent article by T. Edward Nickens titled “Talking Trash.” Mr. Nickens seems to crank out good articles as easily some people (me) make excuses as to why they can’t write good articles. In “Talking Trash,” he considers the humble derelict trash pit, a remnant of country homes before trash service, landfills, and familiarity with the horrors of chemical leaching.

He describes walking the woods, looking casually for these treasure troves and the invaluable pieces he finds there – a tin pan, a holy pail, a motionless motor. Also, sometimes, toilets. It’s like mudlarking, he says, and he can’t help but imagine the stories behind the objects he finds and what the previous owners would say if they knew of his interest.

My grandparents had a trash pit. It came with a house and land they bought near Winston Salem. I loved that house. I loved that trash pit. I poked around in it, bringing home an Old Spice aftershave bottle I found – the white kind with red writing (is there any other kind?). It looked so interesting, so old.

At school on show and tell day, I was carrying my “antique bottle” when one of the maintenance men saw me and made clear that my treasure was not a historical artifact, but rather, the kind of aftershave he used daily. His laugh was crushing.

But he was right; that wasn’t a treasure. Or, was it?

What item might you stumble upon in the woods or an old trash pit? What story could lie behind it? Whose life would be changed by your discovery? What story could that aftershave bottle tell? There’s treasure there, of the best kind.

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