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Small Wonders: A mournful goodbye to the trash

Last summer we had a death in our house. Two, actually.

First a goldfish. Then my garage refrigerator. Both were mourned with much wailing and weeping. But I still miss the latter to this day.

That loyal fridge graciously held my frozen steaks, extra gallons of milk and all the leftover beer and sodas from every backyard gathering. She was like my own personal Handy Market, which may be why I had such a hard time letting her go.

Unlike the goldfish, I never gave the fridge a proper burial. I simply let her sit in the garage in the place her motor ceased to operate. The embalming consisted of cleaning out her rotting contents; then I merely unplugged her and buried her behind stacks of boxes and toys.


But she was still there in the deep recesses of my garage, and I knew it.

So, in a recent rare fit of housecleaning, I decided it was time to say goodbye. I made arrangements for the city to pick up the bulky-item carcass the next scheduled trash day.

On trash day’s eve, I exhumed the body and wheeled her down the driveway to a peaceful patch of grass between sidewalk and curb and paid my last respects. In that twilight hour, doorless and exposed, all I saw was an empty shell. A vessel. A jar not of clay but metal, Styrofoam and plastic. And memories. Memories of things gone by that I can no longer taste or control.

As I walked away, I tried not to think about it because, well, that’s what we do when we don’t know how to handle something we’re feeling. Besides, the kids needed dinner.


Not 20 minutes later, a truck pulled up and stopped in front of my fridge. No city truck, but one of those tumbledown wagons that blend into the world largely unnoticed. Dented with chipped paint; piled high with lamps, chairs and mismatched cushions; a microwave precariously perched atop bald tires; bristle-less brooms and bent rakes pointing heavenward; and an unused weight bench that may have been mine long ago.

All of it was lashed down under a ripped and fluttering tarp, held in by aching bungee cords and retired jump ropes.

And duct tape. Always duct tape holding one headlight in place so the driver can see where he’s going as he navigates the fringe of our lives scavenging what we cast off. Anything we’re willing to kick to the curb.

I watched as this stranger began loading my fridge into his heavily laden truck. Incredulous, I almost yelled, “Hey! That’s my trash!” I wanted to rebuke him, tell him that the proper authorities were scheduled to take it away tomorrow.

I wondered what value he saw in my trash, making me want it back all the more.

It’s like that with a lot of waste in our lives. We cling to things we know aren’t good for us — that have served their purpose and need to be released.

Battling myself over what to do, what to say, I finally did what comes least naturally.

I let go of my trash.


I let him take that which I no longer needed, which was no longer making my life better; that which served its purpose for a day or a season; unhealthy, life-diverting, life-sucking things I unknowingly hold on to.

I let him take Arnold and Lindsay, Charlie and Casey. The McRib sandwich, Olive Garden and “All-You-Can-Eat” anything.

Every pair of pants I’ve kept because I know they’ll fit someday. Every plastic grocery bag in the county. Frank McCourt.

I thought about letting him take my iPhone, my HDTV and Facebook, but I’m not that strong.

What I really wanted to give him, though, was every mistake I ever made.

Every harsh word. Every apology I never gave, hoping it might finally get delivered. And everything I ever said in anger or jealousy or vanity about another person behind their back.

Every unintentional harm; every time I made a loved one or stranger feel less than the worthy, life-giving person they are.

Every ounce of complacency, laziness, arrogance and selfish blindness that prevents me from truly connecting with another human being.


Every time I spoke up too soon, and every time I spoke not at all. Every intended good deed that backfired miserably.

Every fear, limitation, anxiety and struggle I keep too close.

I’d like to push all that to the grass between sidewalk and curb.

Because, if you’re willing to give up your junk, crazy as it sounds, there’s always someone who’ll take it. I just hope he comes around again soon. Because every day brings a new load that needs to be taken away.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse.” He may be reached on Facebook, at and