Municipalities tend to call it "large item pick-up day." To some, it's also known as "big trash day." But to the likes of us (and there are legions), it is a free-for-all treasure hunt. This year we happened to be visiting our newly restored cottage on the Wabash during New Harmony's annual spring cleaning extravaganza.
Piles of true trash would await the next day's special collection, but we knew there also would be items we could use to furnish our second home. The kind of items that won't fit into barrels.
By late Thursday, every curb in town shouldered possibilities. Pick-ups already had begun cruising the streets, windows open. Drivers and passengers were on high alert.
I had struck gold while biking earlier in the day to an out-of-the-way neighborhood tucked behind the peony fields. There, under a tree by the gravel road, reposed a beautiful little dressing table with four drawers. It was a pretty piece in itself, but the burnished gold art-deco handles "made it."
I pumped home, returned with our pickup, and scooped it up. Over the course of the day - on foot, by bike, and behind the wheel - we found the dehumidifier we needed to keep mold off the book collection, a bamboo curtain for the west-facing porch, lumber, and a teak porch swing. The latter got away from us when we decided to finish our stroll before heading home for the truck. When we described the near miss to a neighbor, he pointed quietly to the swing - in his own garage.
From my bike I spied a box with an oil lamp. Peering in, I saw it came with two spare glass chimneys. Balancing all that fragile cargo in my diminutive handlebar basket (it came with the bike, a bargain in itself) was a feat of rare cycling skill, summoned for just such a day.
All this was just the buildup to the main event, and I was determined not to get swept up in the evening madness, when the streets filled to the max and things became competitive.
I lingered over dinner, then remembered the stacked cardboard boxes under the lamp that I hadn't been able to carry on the bike. Maybe I'd just go back for those in the truck. Surely there would be useful booty in such a well-packed array.
Finding them gone, I swung around a few extra blocks just to take one last look. A sturdy burgundy rocker caught my eye and I pulled over to hoist it up.
"Need help?" called a woman from the pickup behind me.
"I've got it, thanks!" I answered, every muscle straining.
"Do you want the table, too?" she asked wistfully.
"It's yours!" I sang out in the deepening dusk. After all, there was a certain delicate etiquette to be observed. Greed takes all the fun away from big trash eve.
I passed Jim, the winner of the teak swing, hefting a fine wood door into the back of his pickup.
"Drop it, it's mine!" I said as I greeted him.
"Oh yeah? Try and lift it!" he answered, finally pushing it in.
In past years, I have furnished an entire rental apartment with items from the curbside. Bloomington, Ind., our primary home, is a college town, and every August as a new set of graduates leaves, the streets take on the look of fully furnished parlors. Here in New Harmony, everything happens on a smaller scale - that is, until big trash day rolls around.