The Dumping Ground

By Walter R. Milton




I remember the wooded marsh better than I remember last night’s dinner. I guess that’s the way life is. Those things near and dear to us, recollections of our childhood, are indelible in our minds because they’ve formed so much of what we have become. The foundation, I guess it’s safe to say. It wasn’t so much what we were doing in the wooded marsh that I recall the most, simply the fact that we – my dad and I, and sometimes my mom and I – did it together as a family. That’s what I remember most.

What we did was not necessarily illegal, considering that the sanitation services of the day were either hit or miss with the latter being more prevalent. We had to do something with the refuse we generated, so we, like most other families in the area at the time, dumped it in the wooded marsh. Whatever waste we generated went into the marsh.

Today, such things would be frowned upon. Even in those days, we weren’t doing it because we wanted to. It took time and effort to collect the refuse, load it into the car, drive it to the wooded marsh, carry it into the wooded marsh where it would be out of sight, then throw it in. But there really was not much choice in the matter. We either did that or we let the trash clutter our garages or front lawns in anticipation of an uncertain trash pick up, and let it attract pests and vermin into our homes where, more often than not, children and infants played and slept. It had to be done.

I could tell that no one enjoyed doing it. In fact, they regretted it, I remember. How many times had my father sworn at the damned sanitation department for putting everybody through that? How many times had he said that this was gonna be hell to clean up one of these days?

And it was.

But eventually it was deemed clean enough for houses to be built there. The marshes were drained, fill was added to stabilize the ground, and small town houses were erected, making the area into a ritzy, upper-middle class neighborhood in easy reach of the nearby interstates. Parks and children followed and soon only we old-timers – and I was but a teen – recalled that the new neighborhood lay atop a dumping ground.

Not soon enough, people were reminded of the history of the neighborhood. For those residents, it was a rude awakening. For we old-timers – I was now a college grad and environmental specialist of ten years – we recalled. Environmental regulations changed. Analytical techniques improved and allowed the levels of the toxins to be known. Environmental awareness became synonymous with political viability and the ugly truth is always prone to rising to the surface – just like long-hidden, long-forgotten poisons.

Thus, the once-proud little neighborhood was reduced to a moonscape of abandoned buildings as white-suited, face-masked janitors cleaned up the mess left behind so long ago. I watched with curiosity as the poison was swept away and as new life was restored to the area. But the stigma remained and those homes never knew such opulence again, as the property value never rose to the former level and low-income blight struck what was already so devastated by the lingering odor of ill-repute.

Now, years later, the festering sore having burst into the neighboring areas as poison and putrefaction are wont to do, others, like we did so long ago, arrive bearing refuse to disgorge into places that no one really cares about. In our time, it harked back to a failed system of refuse collection. In this time, it harks back to a failed system of personal responsibility, of failed morality, of failed humanity. Now, as I watch the exhumation of the new refuse, I can only be appalled. When, I have to wonder, did life itself become so disposable that young girls should unload their unwanted burdens in the backs of burned out, vermin infested slums? Did it begin with us and we are now forced to bear witness to the fruits of our own misdeeds returned to us a thousand-fold? Or is the abandonment of innocence, acts as ageless as time itself, that has led us to this madness, this creation of dumping grounds for our own abandoned humanity?



© 2000 by Walter R. Milton