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Going to the Dump With My Grandfather
Happy memories at a smelly place.
If you have a Town of Hampton, New Hampshire registration sticker on your car, you get access to easy beach parking. Plaice Cove, North Beach — if your vehicle has the proper adhesive affixed, you are welcome at these hallowed grounds. If it doesn't, get the hell out.
I love the beach, so you would think that losing that sticker when I moved a couple towns over to Stratham would've been a major disappointment. But I have other beaches I like.
For me, the true tragedy of trading my Hampton sticker for a Stratham one was losing access to Hampton's dump (excuse me, transfer station.)
Supposedly, Stratham has a dump of its own, though I've never seen it. From what I understand, it's only open for about 15 minutes on Saturdays, there's a line of cars a mile long to get in, and they don't accept trash, all of which are gross exaggerations or lies. It's just not the dump for me.
Up until about a year ago, I had always driven a truck — a 2001 Toyota Tacoma. As a truck owner, I felt this natural impulse to move things and haul things and get rid of things. My friends and family had the same impulse, but for my truck and their stuff. So I'd find myself at the Hampton transfer station pretty regularly.
While I don't have that old Tacoma anymore, nor the coveted Town of Hampton sticker, I still go to the dump every now and then, borrowing my Dad's Hampton-registered truck to gain entry. Each time I make the trip, I'm reminded of my grandfather — my mom's dad. How can I describe him as succinctly as possible? Let me try: He was not a person who ever went to the dump.
We called him "Bup Bup" — the result of his oldest grandchild, David, doing his best to say "grandpa" as a baby, which led to decades of all 14 of us grandchildren calling him the same name. (When you're the first, you get to name things. A good lesson.)
Bup Bup passed away on August 15, 2018, and in the few years leading up to that point, he and I went to the dump half a dozen times, getting rid of old things from his basement and garage. I would've been fine to take the items five minutes down the road by myself, but fortunately for me, he always joined.
These weren't merely errands, but visits with both he and my grandmother, always including a lively conversation, maybe a Gatorade and a snack, and the telling of a story or two, sparked by the artifacts he was reviewing in the basement as he decided on their fate. We didn't have to catch up too much because I saw him frequently, outside of these little trips. Conversation flowed easily.
"Please don't let grandpa [a name we never, ever called our grandfather] lift anything heavy," my grandmother would plead, as if I was tightening the straps of a piano on his back. I'd assure her that I wouldn't, and she would shove $20 into my hand. I'd try to refuse it once, sometimes twice for good measure¹, and then begrudgingly accept the cash before happily sliding the bill into my wallet.
After loading the items, Bup Bup and I would climb into my truck. There was something very personal about that vehicle for me, and any time an unfamiliar passenger (to the car) would join me in that space, it felt like someone was entering the inner sanctum. When it was Bup Bup, I would ensure that there was either a.) no music playing, b.) music playing that he already knew and liked, or c.) new music playing that I thought he would like. He wasn't fussy, but it somehow felt like the right thing to do. I believe he once said that the Vampire Weekend album that I had on was "pretty good."
At the corner of the long entrance to the transfer station is the town's skate park, which my cousin (the aforementioned Bup Bup namer) helped start years ago while he was still in high school. "You know, David had a significant role in the founding of this park," Bup Bup would say proudly each time we passed it. "He went before the town, got all the relevant approvals, and helped raise the money." He'd turn his head to keep looking at it as we drove by. "Look at all those kids having fun. What a great thing." I don't think he ever mentioned that he wrote a check to contribute to the project, but I knew that he did.
We’d turn into the facility, pulling onto the weighing station so that someone could wave us through. That vantage point provided a pretty good view of the whole place. Every time, without exception, my grandfather would rave about the transfer station’s efficiency and scale. "Wow, what an operation. Look at all this," he'd remark, like he was walking the floor of a SpaceX factory.
We would drive on to the trash and recycling compactors, housed in a tall covered garage sort of building. He'd heed my grandmother's instructions and stay in my truck while I unloaded things and put them in the right places. When I was done, he'd comment on something he noticed someone else unloading, or a sign, or an object sitting on the floor, like a pair of crutches or computer monitor, not yet thrown away. He'd compliment the workers. "I bet it's a good job²," he'd often say, building imaginary lives for these guys in his head.
Our job finished, we'd sometimes stop at McDonald's on the way back. I always got a kick out of how much he enjoyed the food — it conjured folksy images of Warren Buffett and his affection for Coca Cola and the golden arches. Bup Bup would tell me about his friend who owned dozens of McDonald's up and down the east coast, and I'd wonder to myself if he may be willing to give one or two to a young guy who occasionally takes his grandfather to the dump.
We'd make the drive back to the beach to his and my grandmother's house and pull into that familiar driveway. If I was lucky, he'd mention a computer problem (though he'd always plant the seed earlier, never springing it on me at the last minute) and I'd go inside, up to his space — it had a reading chair, a couch, a TV, a computer, a bookshelf, and a big floor-to-ceiling "bubble" window, is that a den? — and figure it out. Usually, the issue had to do with installing Flash.
Soon, it was time to leave, and I'd pull out of the driveway, wondering how many times I had left to visit this address and see my grandparents.
The last time I went to the dump was a few weeks ago. Now, it's just another item on the to-do list. I don't know if the takeaway here is that I need to add more wonder, ritual, and interest to the errands that make up my everyday life, or just that I miss him. Maybe both.
¹The whole decline-a-nice-offering-by-someone-else-in-hopes-that-they-think-you're-gracious-but-still-end-up-giving-you-the-thing play backfired on me once in Los Angeles. I was 20. Isabelle and I had just landed at LAX to visit my uncles. One of them was supposed to pick us up at the airport, but last minute, told us to get a taxi instead. It was late, but we found a cab (this was jusssst pre-Uber) and made it to their house in Hollywood. He came out to greet us and help us with our luggage, and offered to pay the nearly $100 cab fare. I declined, expecting him to overrule me, especially considering that he was supposed to give us a lift. He just said "OK" and let me pay the cabby. Dang.
²Speaking of professions that my grandfather appreciated: He would never miss the opportunity to praise veterinarians, favorably comparing them to doctors. "They have to deal with different species of creatures and their patients can't even tell them what's bothering them," he'd say, before taking things further and suggesting that he'd almost rather see a veterinarian for his own care, rather than a doctor. Probably not his best idea.
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