Frank Robertson column photo

Frank Robertson

Been to the Guerneville transfer station lately? It’s a busy place.

We used to call it the dump, and it’s still “the dump” in my mind, even though it’s now called a transfer station. You can still take your junk there as usual, but I’m not sure what happens to it after that.

They used to just bury it on the hill in Pocket Canyon. Now I think they truck it to Petaluma and recycle it into things you can buy and throw away again.

Years ago you could just drive up and unload with little or no wait. Last month when I went to the dump (I mean transfer station), there was a line of people in cars and trucks full of their unwanted household furnishings — sad tables and chairs, carpeting, stereo speakers — all waiting on the road winding up from Highway 116.

“Are you always this busy?” I asked the guy at the pay window.

“Not always,” he said.

I used to go to the dump all the time when my father was still alive, and I was taking care of him. When his trash cans filled up and piles of unread newspapers had reached precarious heights on his dining chairs, we’d pile it all into the back of my old Volvo station wagon and drive to the dump.

My father, who had dementia, enjoyed our dump runs and always perked up when I announced it was time for another one. I liked the dump trips too. What is it about a jaunt to the dump that’s so fundamentally enjoyable?

Maybe it’s simply the cathartic relief of throwing away unwanted stuff. It’s a virtuous feeling mixed with a twinge of guilt over having so much junk you don’t need and don’t know what to do with.

Recycling has its rewards, but I’m afraid they’re nothing compared with the simple joy of stuffing your trash into your car and taking it out to the dump in Pocket Canyon.

One day I discovered that my father, in the course of helping me throw his junk out of the back of my Volvo, had also thrown away my cellphone, microcassette recorder and a reporter’s notebook full of notes — my tools of the trade. They were in a brown paper bag he’d chucked out with the trash.

I didn’t discover the loss until I left my father’s place to drive home on a Sunday afternoon. It was 3:30 p.m., and the dump closed at 4.

I raced through Forestville back to Pocket Canyon. The notebook contained six months’ worth of notes about my mother’s recent illness and death. It was full of accounts of conversations with social workers, doctors, hospice people, friends and the Social Security Administration. It was a notebook I could not lose, and I had lost it.

Would they even let me rummage through the trash at the dump after closing time? And wouldn’t it be futile — like hunting for a needle in a haystack?

“No salvaging,” says a sign at the dump. I didn’t bother to ask permission to search for my stuff. I thought about finding someone to call my cellphone so I could listen for it ringing in the garbage.

When I drove up the only one there was a guy standing in the back of a pickup truck thoughtfully tossing his load overboard in the hypnotic reverie that seems to come over people throwing away familiar possessions they no longer need.

A few feet away I saw remnants of my father’s trash: newspapers, plastic bags, juice cartons and Burger King wrappers. I recognized the handwriting on a page of my notebook that had somehow fallen out of the little brown bag. The cellphone and tape recorder were in the bag too, undamaged, not even dirty.

It was incredibly lucky, a miracle. It was my blue notebook, lying there open, its pages intact, saying to me, “Here I am. Save me. Let’s get out of here.”

Frank Robertson is a member of the Sonoma West Publishers staff.

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