Pet rocks, handmade leather headbands, patchwork bell bottoms and lava lights: do those memories stir fondness in you? Musical playlists made by setting a cassette recorder as close to the radio as possible in hopes of catching your favorite songs that included Donny Osmond, Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy. Riding your super cool banana seat bike everywhere, congregating at Murray Pool and roller skating to Tony Orlando’s Knock 3 Times.
It’s 1975. There are no video games, we have to use a neighbor’s phone to call home, and during our girly girl backyard sleepovers we are known to sneak away, wandering the neighborhood at night, toilet papering our boyfriends’ houses, and our only fear is of being caught.
While I would not say we were poor, like most families, my parents saved and scrimped pennies out of necessity. Cheap was good, free was better and expensive was out of the question. Coupons did not have bar codes, and you could save up milk bottle caps for the entire year and use them to ride the rides at Lagoon for free.
Dumpster diving was our weekend activity. I’m not really sure if it was legal or not to harvest their treasures, but they were out in the open, ready to give whatever one might be on the hunt for. Unsellable items from craft, auto and home improvement stores beckoned anyone willing to take the plunge.
The treasure chest we sought lay tucked behind the old Shag-Rug-La carpet store in West Valley. It seemed the short 10-minute drive took hours as a kid. My job was to pick up the scraps as they were tossed over the edge, and, if I was lucky, we got to go to Baskin Robbins for ice cream afterwards. Kicking the gravel up with my toe as I waited, I was slightly embarrassed as Mom’s head peeked out from inside the dumpster, eyes delighted, shouting joyously that she had found a big piece that was just the right color.
Now, Dad is a bit of an artist. In fact, some of his paintings are adorning the walls of my home today. Looking back on it, I imagine that the floor of our basement was, to him, a giant blank canvas. Dad would crawl around on the floor, painstakingly piecing together our ill-gotten scraps in blocks of color and depth. Like colors on the color wheel, blending texture and color from one to the next. Finally, after months of work he stretched out his wall-to-wall masterpiece and tacked it down, with a borrowed knee kicker, as secure and neat as any professional carpet layer would have.
This crazy, pieced together concoction taught me so many lessons about money, art, creativity and love. In my mind, it’s still the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen in a home. I remember hours of play on that carpet and using the sections as a divider for various rooms for Barbie.
In my adult life, I do not carry this dumpster diving fetish with me, not even for a coupon. The thought, however, makes me crave a pralines n’ cream waffle cone.