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Tribute to the Garbage Men

Every year, my thoughtful mother remembers to give Christmas gifts to people others overlook. She never fails to make a batch of pralines for the mailman or the newspaper delivery boy and to wait in the cold early morning hours for the arrival of the trash collectors. “As I hand them their Christmas cheer (a nice bottle of wine for each), they blow me kisses,” Mama relates with a twinkle in her eye.

Her example has inspired me, and this year I have added the names of these often neglected public servants to my own Christmas list. But, I’m not just giving them a present. I want to include them in my prayers as well—especially the garbage men. Of all people, I think they have the most thankless job on the planet. Not only do they often do their work under the cover of dark when nobody is even around to notice, but daily they have to handle the stuff that everyone is eager to get rid of—the soiled and the smelly, the broken and the beat up things, the eyesores and nose offenders of society. On bitterly cold mornings when their hands grow numb from hanging onto the backs of trucks, these poor souls clear the clutter that, left unattended, would suffocate us beneath its weight and stench. Yet, when do people ever thank them? Oh, they probably get some feedback—negative and nasty—when a trash can lid gets misplaced or a container gets dented, but, other than that, they most likely go about their jobs without so much as a nod from a passerby.
In his poem* about Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, Shel Silverstein writes about a stubborn girl who refused to take the garbage out. Silverstein describes the resulting heap that piles up, giving us a graphic look at what the inside of a trash can might contain: “Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel, Globby glumps of cold oatmeal . . . Cellophane from green baloney, Rubbery, blubbery macaroni . . .” The horrid mess piled up and up as Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout blatantly refused to take the garbage out. Finally, the poet laments, “The garbage reached across the state, From New York to the Golden Gate.” We get a kick out of Silverstein’s poem, but it’s a reminder of the real mess we’d face if we didn’t have trash collectors, those dependable guys who come and go, taking with them all our rejected, dejected stuff.
This year, thanks to Mama, I’m remembering that and letting them know that I’m deeply grateful for the cleaner, fresher conditions I enjoy because they make it happen.
May God bless garbage men everywhere, this Christmas, and always, and may they have comfort in knowing that we don’t take for granted the important function they serve in our lives.

*“Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” a poem by Shel Silverstein, can be found in the collection entitled Where the Sidewalk Ends, Harper and Row, 1974.

Tribute to the Garbage Men

Bonnie T.  Barry

Sunset, United States

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