I’ve mentioned before that we have all of my wife’s old books from when she was a kid, and the great thing about that is that we already have so many of the classics. The other side of that coin, however, is that every once in a while I stumble across an ‘amazing’ book that I’ve never heard of before. I say ‘amazing’ in the sense of saying to myself, “that was a children’s book?” when I find it.
A few nights ago this happened when I picked out Dear Garbage Man by Gene Zion. The copyright date on this book was 1957, with a reprint in 1988. Now, I know that in 1957 the world had a different understanding of landfills and recycling, but I really wasn’t prepared for the message of this book.
It starts out great. You have Stan, the new garbage man, in his first day on the job. At the first stop on his truck’s route, he finds a horseshoe made of roses that he can’t bear to throw away, so he puts it on the front of the garbage truck. Of course, since it’s 1957, people go nuts for this and name the truck “Emily.” As the truck goes to stop after stop, he keeps seeing stuff that he wants to save…a bicycle, a couch, a mirror, a baby carriage…
So then what does Stan the garbage man do? He offers all of this stuff up to the people in the neighborhood! Recycling! Hooray!
At this point I am thinking this is a great book with a great message. All of the stuff is taken! People love Stan!
All of the garbage men are amazed! They take their truck to the loading dock where all of the trash goes onto barges. The people there are AMAZED that they don’t have any trash. It’s never happened before!
Now here is where it gets strange. There is a whole page that talks about how the trash is going down the river to fill in swampland. Yes, you heard that right. And it turns out, that once that swampland I filled in—wait for it—parks and playgrounds will be built on top of it.
That’s right, apparently in the 50s people were filling in swamps with garbage and building playgrounds over them.
Of course, Stan isn’t thinking about any of this. Stan is perfectly happy, and dreaming about the great stuff he’ll find the next day.
But now the propaganda goes into full swing, because as they start their rounds, all of the stuff from the day before is out at the curb. Stan is shocked!
On an old bed frame, someone has written Stan a note. The note says that the bed was in worse shape than they realized, and that they had “better give it to Emily.” Stan is close to tears over this.
Then, this is the last page:
So the answer to the question, “that was a children’s book?”
Yes. That was a children’s book.