We’re thrilled that Ripley got into the annex of our catchment school – just K to 3, and in its own building, closer to us than the main school. Since he came from an annex, this works well – he’s not coping with “change of school size” at the same time as “change of school”.

So far, so good. He likes his teacher, as do I. He has met a child or two, although he’s suddenly very focused on the “Bully Busters” portion of his agenda, and told me “I’m not a social kid, am I mom? I’m a kid who is all about the reading.”

And indeed, he has always been about the reading, but he’s always made friends, too. I let him know I thought he was a good friend to people, and that it will just take a little time to settle in. Fortunately, he’s not the only New Kid: that’s calming him, a bit.

One of the things I didn’t notice until the wind changed for fall – you can really smell the perfum du dump on the playground. The school is just a few blocks away from the Transfer Station. Other than obviously being garbage, it’s not actually too bad: not uncomfortable, or anything. Like skunk from a few blocks away, it’s just really obvious. It fades about half way between school and home.

I was considering this dumpy scent, considering if it’s a wrong side of the tracks phenom, and realized that I’ve internalized some sort of Pro-Working-Class Dump Acceptance via kid oriented entertainment. Like Francine Franski’s Dad in the series “Arthur”, a sanitation engineer. He sets up a playground comprised of stuff thrown away and becomes the hero of career day, overcoming Francine’s working-class rental-apartment and shared-bedroom embarrassment.

Then there was Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear, which I found somewhere in a waiting room or library.  Less working class oriented, it’s about the treasure to be found in that which is thrown away. And of course there was the Velveteen Rabbit. Didn’t seem fair that he was made real upon being thrown out – Pinocchio at least had a chance at transformation at home.

(Actually, there’s an interesting little essay in that, isn’t there: becoming real, either by being well loved and discarded, or by behaving to an external standard. Or maybe sometimes a children’s story is just a children’s story.)

And there was a book I really liked, middle grade, called something like “Muh, muh, Fish, and me the Dump Queen”…. wait. Google! I’ve been half remembering that book for years. It appears to be “Mrs. Fish, Ape, and Me the Dump Queen“. Right. She lives with her uncle who manages the dump, and becomes friends with the school custodian. Also seemed to speak to my odd-family-structure and used everythings condition. Probably made my first prole/dump connection, right there.

This is picked up by real life for me. One of my father’s partners ran a daycare in the Main St. corridor, and the guys on the garbage route used to clean and restore and bring by toys they’d found. They drove a big orange truck, those days, and the kids would anticipate garbage day. In a moment of community and kindness, my dad’s partner made a sign for the guys at Christmas saying “Merry Christmas, Big Orange Truck!”  – and I believe brought them cookies and coffee.

This was a money where your mouth was demonstration for me. The hippie side of my family had more money but talked more about poverty causes, and it always struck me as an uncomfortable marriage.  There’d be discussion of the liberation of the proletariat, in whatever form, and in the same conversation disparagement of things like Molson Canadian (beer), Players (smokes), country or hip-hop or the Stones. Or football, KD and hot dogs, carnivals, and rabbit fur. Or, ahem, the lottery. Then I’d go home to my more working class neighbourhood.

Oh, hey, they’re describing us! Wait, what?

So, anyway: the garbage truck was also the real world intersection for me between poverty activist culture and the blue collar job. AND NO ONE THREW ANY PUNCHES. Tho’, if you think about it, those blue collar jobs were better money than retail…

So. To sum up. My son can smell the dump from his new school, and it makes me realize I have a thematic DUMP MOTIF.

This maybe entirely appropriate, if the course of human history has been determined by our waste. As some historian whose name I’ve forgetton has suggested.

 I should probably google that, too.


  1. There is somewhere an image of the poor as noble and strong – the power of the prolitariat. But anyone who has lived with poverty knows darn well that it ain’t so. Poverty is just hard. It grinds you down. When every day is just an effort to survive, there is no redeeming virtue in it. One needs the luxury of time and space and freedom from the nagging worries that the poor live with every day, to think and dream and plan in order to rise above it even a little.
    Sure, the working class, steps away from homelessness and hunger, are the foundation of society. But they are too busy getting by and making do to look up and realize that they have the strength of numbers.
    When we were at our poorest I had one thing that most of those folks didn’t. I knew that we had a way out, a way up. I knew my lot in life wasn’t a forever thing. I don’t know how I would have made it without that vision to work toward. I think of the people who were our neighbours who had no escape and I am so sad for them.
    holy cow, and my captcha is $10,236,132. I’ve never seen a dollar value before. spooky!

  2. Okay, I keep coming back to this. There’s a lot here, and part of me says I don’t have the right to comment, coming from my middle-class background. But lately I have been thinking about my working-class-roots mom, who married into the middle class, and how that informed my upbringing.

    But wait, first, yay for Rip settling in well. I have had several conversations with kids going to new schools this fall, and have only sympathy for their nerves.

    Now. I love the idea of the refurbishment of toys for the daycare, but recognize that you have to have at least some money to worry that that’s not exactly, well, Done. And what is the Done thing depends on how much money you have.

    For my mom, secondhand was for Halloween costumes. For me, secondhand is for wearing every day. I know that baffled her, but I also knew at the time, that two outfits costing fifty bucks apiece and worn interchangeably would make me more of a target than a skirt, two pairs of jeans, and eight shirts from Value Village bought for a hundred bucks altogether.

    Also, the idea that the poor are somehow noble (“If there is hope, it lies in the Proles.”)but somehow need to be saved is a really familiar concept to me: Go to Port Hardy to earn your tuition, but don’t get friendly with the dirty, uneducated locals! And when I came home every September with dirty fingernails and stories about my friends, I know my mother worried that I was slipping back to working class. Well, I was. I really knew the value of my work. THAT is working class.

    Myself, I have never been really poor. I’ve scraped deodorant out of the container and smeared it on my armpits because I lacked the cash for more, but I have never been truly hungry, like, haven’t eaten for a day and a half kind of hungry. I’m grateful for that.

    Ahem. Sorry for the sermon.

  3. @Liz – I think the majority of the working class I grew up around had some access to food within a day and a half, even if it was in banks and lines; that’s a different thing than buying what you’d like to buy, of course. AND WHAT IS UP WITH CANNED WAX BEANS? Ahem. Making a buck stretch doesn’t necessarily provide the prime nutrition, though.

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