As a kid growing up in Chester, one of the rituals of my youth was going to the dump on Saturday morning. In those days the town dump was located pretty much on the town line with Rockingham on the east bank of the Williams River on Green Mountain Turnpike Road. The term "landfill" did not exist, and anything you wanted to discard was fair game. There wasn’t much for organization, either. Whatever you could offload from your vehicle was OK anywhere. My fuzzy memory can only recall some operator there who would get on a bulldozer every so often and push the junk closer to the river. We can only imagine what kind of toxic soup was leaching into the ground and into the river in those days.
There was frequently one or two people at the dump shooting rats. The weapon of choice was a .22 rifle and it was considered a recreational exercise. I doubt that a rat infestation was on anyone’s mind because dumps and rats just lived together. This pastime always made my father a little nervous. As a former World War II military policeman and a former Vermont State Trooper, the old man was very big on gun safety and was a stickler for safe gun handling practices. I think he viewed the guys shooting rats at the dump as being a tad reckless and not to be trusted. Of course, I thought shooting rats was cool and always wanted to join in. It was never meant to be. Even if I had been allowed to do it my eyesight has always been so poor that I rarely saw rats at the dump anyway.
The other activity at the dump was picking. One man’s junk being another’s treasure and all, had I been allowed, I would have brought back more than we took. That was all fine and good until one of my 7th-grade classmates came to school on a Monday morning claiming to have picked up my toes-to-upper-thigh plaster cast from a bad skiing accident. I had been living in that nasty plaster prison for months and I certainly had no attachment to it. Just about everyone at the junior high had signed it, so maybe he wanted it for that reason, I don’t know. I do know that I began viewing dump picking in a different light after that.
Sometime in the late 1970s a whole new breed of people took over the dumps. Being the smart mouth I’ve always been I started calling them dump Nazis, ala Jerry Seinfeld’s soup Nazi. (I apologize to anyone who is offended by the use of that word.) There was one guy at an area landfill that I once frequented that was so rabid in his quest to insure that things were put in their proper place that arguments began to break out. Last I heard the guy was banned from that dump and was no longer welcome to volunteer. I recall rejoicing that the guy was finally gone, but as these things usually go, he was soon replaced by another one who was just as annoying.
The years before landfills and recycling were an innocent time in our refuse disposal history, and looking back it makes you wonder what folks were thinking. Well ... they weren’t thinking. They simply figured that all the junk was tucked into a forgotten corner at the furthest point downstream on the Williams River and that was the end of it. Out of sight, out of mind. The operative word being "downstream." We’ve come a long way in this arena, and all for the better. One thing has not really changed -- the landfill is just as much a social venue as the dumps of old, and remains a Saturday tradition.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.