I was born in 1932, which by definition made me a depression baby. This episode in the life of Urb the emerging nerd, demonstrates that people were totally capable of doing economically irrational things during the height of the depression. They would throw things away needing only simple repairs.
How it all began…
At the time my trash picking started I was in 7th grade and I was the only student living far enough away from school that I couldn’t make it home for lunch, and back, in the allotted hour. I was a brown bagger.
On an early beautiful spring day I was walking leisurely to school and there in front of me was a beautiful floor lamp. I realized that if I waited until school let out the lamp would have been long deposited in a landfill (we call them junk yards back then.) I picked it up and started walking toward school. About two blocks from school was an empty wooded lot. I put my lamp in the lot and camouflaged it with a few branches and continued to school. I agonized all day worrying that someone would abscond with my lamp.
After school, there is was. I took it home and showed my father and he determined that the lamp had a switch that was not functioning, we went to a local hardware store and purchased a new one. (Home Depots didn’t appear for many decades into the future.) Lamps similar to my trash pick find were selling for about five dollars of 1940s money.
A new switch cost about 20 cents. Although my knowledge of the consequence of the depression was very limited I still found it strange that people would throw away a five dollar lamp because it needed a 20 cent switch. The lamp, with a new shade, occupied a place of honor in the LeJeune household for years to come. My mother, God rest her soul, was very excited about anything I did not requiring a trip to see the principal of my school.
After the experience with the lamp, I started leaving for school about a half hour earlier that I usually did on trash day. One day someone threw away a pair of roller skates (the type you attached to your shoes and tightened with a key.) I fashioned a wagon with a milk box and the skates. I was now ready for the big time of trash collecting. I made a camouflaged den in the lot close to school and was in the trash picking business.
Turning Trash into an Art Form…
Even I was amazed at the quality and variety of things thrown away despite the economic conditions . When a discarded item contained gears I was in Trash-Land heaven. If a discarded item contained a motor, functioning or not, I was in paradise. Thrown away items with gears were especially prized, I used gears mounted on a piece of plywood to make Christmas presents. My relatives told me how creative I was but my artwork typically wound up on their basements wall.
At Christmas time I loaded some of my artwork into wagon and traversed my neighborhood selling my wall hangings. When people asked how much? I replied, “whatever you think it’s worth.” I made enough money to get nice presents for my mother and father.
Growing up my family lived in half of a farmhouse. I had a corner of the basement all to myself. My little den served as workshop, storage area, and a laboratory for perform experiments. My attempt at making artificial diamonds was a barn-burner but an article for the future.
An event viewed through the key-hole of currency frequently takes on a greater meaning when viewed through the rear-view mirror of realism. As an example, the fact that I lived at a greater distance from school than any other student probably lead me to trash pick. If I walked to school with other students I doubt I would not have trash picked.
I went through a period between jobs, a nice euphemism for being unemployed, and money was tight so I put my trash picking days to good use. On the bulletin boards of local super markets I posted notices, “Small appliances repaired , no fix no pay.” The results were a God-send when satisfied customers recommended me to neighbors and friends.
When times are tough we frequently receive the emotional help to give us the strength to get through these period, if we are alert to them.