Down-and-Dirty Family Stories
OpinionChana's Corner

Down-and-Dirty Family Stories

Maybe something in the DNA makes us comfortable digging into garbage.

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Diving into garbage bins comes naturally for some. (Photo by Jim Fischer of Portland, Ore., via Wikimedia Commons)
Diving into garbage bins comes naturally for some. (Photo by Jim Fischer of Portland, Ore., via Wikimedia Commons)

My extended family members are not a prissy bunch, and my sister Nancy and three of her children have “down and dirty” experiences to prove it.

Charles, Nancy’s eldest, lives overseas and travels in the States. For convenience, his mail comes to his mother’s home, and Nancy is authorized to make deposits in his bank account.

Last month an important check for Charles arrived, but when my sister was ready to head to the bank, she couldn’t find it. She spent hours going through her car and painstakingly examining every inch of her house, squeezing under furniture and dissecting her “overstocked” office.

In desperation, Nancy trudged outside in the snow. She meticulously sorted through two overflowing cans of garbage, then lugged her paper recycling container into the garage and emptied it.

Finally, she found the check, worse for wear but intact. She spent that evening cleaning her fingernails, and in the morning, on her way to the bank, she brought her garbage-encrusted coat to the cleaners.

Charles never knew what his mother went through (figuratively and literally).

Another lost-object/trash-sorting anecdote involves Nancy’s teenage son, Joe. He drove some friends to Great Adventure, where he ran into a girl he liked. Joe persuaded her to share a seat on the park’s giant Ferris wheel.

Overcome with ardor, he nervously played with his car keys as the couple spun romantically over the park. Haplessly, during one of the rotations, Joe dropped the keys. Finally, back on the ground, Joe asked his seatmate to wait for him, but, after a few minutes of loyalty, she went her own way, leaving embarrassed Joe crawling all over the Ferris wheel area, which was liberally spotted with wads of gum and fetid remains of partially eaten food.

His friends found him with permanently stained jeans and scraped hands but no keys.

While his friends made jokes about the predicament he was in, Joe did what no teen wants to do: He called his mother.

Nancy was angry, but she had to rescue her son. She brought a spare set of keys to Great Adventure, forced his friends into her car to isolate Joe and force him to concentrate on the road, and followed her son home.

Joe is now a university professor who has dropped or misplaced many items. But his keys? Never again.

Still on the subject of garbage, Nancy’s daughter, Cindy, in middle school at the time, was with friends at Skate Land. They took a break from the ice to get a snack, but it wasn’t until everyone was ready to go home that Cindy realized she was no longer wearing her retainer. The orthodontist had fitted the expensive device that very week and had insisted that she keep it in her mouth whenever she wasn’t eating.

With the threat of facing both parents and orthodontist, she had to find that retainer.

Cindy ran back to the snack area, understanding that she had thrown the retainer away when she emptied her tray. Unassisted by her squeamish friends, she picked through every garbage can in the place.

Cindy claimed there were at least a dozen of them, and she methodically sifted through each and every one. More than an hour later, she found it.

Even in the retainer’s near-toxic state, she was able to sanitize it (and herself) when she got home. Upon hearing Cindy’s woeful tale, the orthodontist adjusted it free of charge. When you meet Cindy today, you can’t miss her perfectly aligned teeth.

Is our family genetically garbage-tolerant?

Recently, a Shabbat guest collected the dinnerware to help clear the table but inadvertently scraped pieces of our silverware into the garbage along with the waste from everyone’s plate. Was I concerned? No!

As our guilt-stricken guest watched, I plunged both hands into deep mounds of moistness. In less than a minute I accomplished a successful retrieval. As I lathered up (to the elbow), I thanked Hashem for my hardy DNA.

Immediately after Shabbat, I called my sister to add my own chapter to our kindred “down and dirty” series, and we each vowed to purchase a pack of disposable gloves, ready for the next installment.

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