Jonnie Dee - The Trash Picker
When I was growing up, I remember thinking how I wanted to be just like my sister-in-law, Jonnie. Not only was/is she beautiful on the outside, she was/is just as beautiful on the inside. Looking back, I see now that I idolized her in many ways. She was such a positive role model for me. And as far as having a good strong female role model in my life went, she was the only one. She’s the kind of woman who could say the “F” word and still sound like a lady, so indeed, I wanted to be a lot like her when I grew up.
Jonnie, being an old country girl, taught me a lot about life, reality, acceptance, and most importantly, how to find a good deal. She showed me how to find bargains and sales. She introduced me to yard sales and garage sales. Also very important, Jonnie taught me that old cliché, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
She and my brother, Keith, had their own cars. Keith drove a gray Skylark that had a sunroof on top. She drove an orange family car (Volkswagen) that had a sort of hatchback to it, not a bug.
Once a month, residents were allowed to set furniture on the curb and alleys for trash pick-up. So many people throw away good repairable things because they don’t have time to fix them, or maybe, it’s just too old and not worth it to them. For Jonnie, it was a good way to find things she needed and couldn’t afford. She’s always been handy with a glue gun and a stapler. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was something she looked forward to doing when she was able.
One warm summer night, Jonnie and I were out and about. She was quietly driving down Euclid Street in this Sunkist Orange colored car, trying to be inconspicuous. As she was driving, she was scanning the curbs to see what was on the stoop. I was twelve at the time and had no idea what she was up to as I’d never gone “trash picking” before in my life.
Imagine my surprise when she said to me, “See that chair? Go get it and put it in the back of the car.”
I looked out the window at the chair she was pointing to. “No, if you want it, you get it. I’m not going through someone else’s garbage.”
After a few minutes of debating this issue, I got out of the car to get the chair. “Be quiet, too,” she whispered to me, “And shut the door.”
“No, I’m not shutting the door.” This idea was so far-fetched to me, even while I was getting out of the car I thought surely that she was kidding. “Don’t you dare drive off either,” I whispered back, not entirely trusting her.
“I’m not going to drive off.”
“You promise?” I asked, making her swear she wasn’t going to leave me behind and take off.
“I promise I will not leave you! Now, open the back of the car and go get the chair.”
I opened the back hatch and go to said chair. There’s a box of bottles sitting on it. I return to the back of the car and whisper, “There’s a box of bottles sitting on the chair.”
“Well move the box,” Jonnie instructs. “And be quiet about it, too. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.”
Still not completely trusting her, I ask again, “You’re not going to leave me, are you?”
“No! Will you please just quietly get the chair and put it in the back of the car?”
I go to the chair again and this time, as gently and quietly as possible, I lift the box of bottles to move it. I didn’t realize the bottom of the box was missing so when I picked up the box all of the bottles fell through crashing and clanking together, making so much noise.
I stop, like a deer caught in the headlights, and look towards the car. Jonnie, who is still in the car, is slowly driving away and leaving me behind.
I throw the, now empty, bottomless box to the side and chase after the car which still has the passenger door opened and the hatchback. I’ve run about ten feet toward the car when I hear Jonnie yell to me, “Don’t forget the chair!”
Stupid me, stops, turns back to get the chair. As I am removing the last few remaining bottles off the seat, I see the homeowner’s porch light come on and I quickly just tilt the chair to empty it the rest of the way. As the owner’s door opens and he comes out onto the porch, I take off running after the car, carrying the chair, and looking like a complete idiot. I am supposed to be quiet and discreet. Instead, I’m running down the middle of Euclid Street screaming, “Jonnie, wait for me! Wait!”
Well, let me tell you; I’m no dummy. I learned quickly that when things got tough, Jonnie will leave you behind. That’s why the next time we went trash picking, we agreed (before leaving the house) that we would take Keith’s car. I would scan for the things, via the sunroof, and she would get out and get them. After all, as I pointed out to her, she had much more experience at being quiet and retrieving things from the trash than I did. I figured this way, I was safely inside the car, and she couldn’t drive off and leave me again.
We’d gone out cruising the streets and alleys, mostly alleys. There were lots of things out; I could see them very well from the sunroof. We’d gone down many alleyways only to leave empty handed.
Finally, after about thirty minutes of driving around, Jonnie tugs on my pants leg to get my attention. I duck down from the sunroof and ask what she wants.
“What are the dogs barking at?” She asks
I shrug and say, “I dunno.”
“They’re barking an awful lot tonight. They don’t usually act like this.” Figuring she’s talking mostly to herself, I pop my head back up through the window and we continue on.
A couple more alleys later, I feel a yank on my pants leg. Not a tug, a definite yank. I duck down again, “What is it?”
“Get in the car,” Jonnie demands.
“What’s wrong?” I’m totally confused. Something serious has happened and I completely missed it. “Did something happen?”
“The dogs! The barking is drawing attention to us,” she explains.
“Why are you mad at me?” I asked taking note of the direction her irritation is aimed at. As I said, I’m no dummy. I could tell Jonnie was irked and it was obvious she was irked at me about the dogs.
No answer. She’s fuming. Let her work through it. When we get back to the house, Keith asks, “So how did it go? Did you find anything?”
“I saw a few things but I couldn’t get them,” she answers.
Keith, also noting the irritation in her voice, as he’s no dummy either, looks from me and back to his wife. “Why not?”
“Well, I noticed going down the alleys the dogs were barking quite a bit tonight - more so than usual. I couldn’t figure it out. Then I hear your sister up there, ‘bark, bark, bark, and wolf, wolf,’ and realized she was barking at them and getting them riled up. I just turned around and came back home.”
In my defense, those dogs were barking at me first!