Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Buried treasures or how far should I dig before I decide I need to seek help

As many of my facebook friends know (and let’s be honest, no one else reads this blog besides the occasional facebook friend because no one else has any idea this fabulous talent is on display out here in the blogosphere except for maybe that mysterious person from Germany that Blogger stats tells me is viewing my page from time to time, although that could be someone from facebook, too, I really don’t know), wait… Where was I? Oh yes, I had a little work done at my house last week. It involved a backhoe digging a deep trench in the middle of the front yard from the house to the curb and when you dig a big hole like that, turns out there’s a bunch of dirt to move. And since the dirt had to be deposited somewhere close by so that it could be put back into the hole later, the other half of my yard got a huge pile of dirt dumped on it. Long story short, the entire yard was trashed.

Now, I’m not tremendously fastidious about my landscaping, but I like a nice garden with some flowers, colorful and a little wild but I like a little order, too, just a touch of tidiness to the overall look. And neither a 9-foot deep trench, nor a 6-foot mountain of dirt qualifies as colorful or tidy. Mostly it just qualifies as big fucking mess in your front yard. Creating order from chaos is a favorite hobby of mine, so it’s always a tiny bit stressful for me to watch things go in the opposite direction.

However, once the digging got started, the project took a most unexpected turn. As I peered into the emerging pit in my yard, I spotted something in the grit: it was a bottle; an old, clear glass bottle. Admittedly, this doesn’t really sound all that exciting – to a normal person. But I’m not really normal, that should be clear by now. “Hey, it’s a bottle!” I exclaimed. Jerry, the helpful Gene’s Water and Sewer dude whose job it was (at that stage) to signal directions to the backhoe operator, held up a hand so that he could retrieve said bottle and hand it over to me. “This one’s worth something,” he told me, “it’s an old cork top.” Wow! Cool! An old bottle! I was thrilled.

Now, let’s ask ourselves, why is it so thrilling to find an old, glass bottle buried in my yard? It’s hard to say. There could be many reasons. It’s unexpected, it’s a piece of the past, it begs the question, what is an old bottle doing buried in my front yard? How did it get there? It’s a little mysterious and since the bottle must be at least 90 years old it’s a curious little relic from the past. While not under the impression that this bottle is my key to immeasurable wealth, it does seem remotely possible that it has some value to say, a collector of antique, glass bottles, although I have no intention of selling it or even taking it to Antiques Roadshow to see if one of the Keno brothers will knock my socks off with an eye-popping valuation. To me, the previously listed reasons to be thrilled are worth more than any attached dollar amount (within reason).

Well, this little piece of 1923 garbage that just appeared in the dirt put a whole new face on the sewer-line-replacement project. Shane, the backhoe operator and my soon-to-be-other-best-friend-in-addition-to-Jerry, kept scooping and Jerry kept obliging me whenever a little glass bottle would roll down the piles of dirt in and out of the big hole. A few times I was pretty sure I spotted something they missed but I felt too embarrassed (and pathetic) to keep shouting “wait! I see some junk!” I was waiting for the two men to roll their eyes and tell me “listen lady, we got a job to do and it doesn’t really involve fishing stuff out of your dirt for you just because your life is kind of boring and you don’t appear to have anything better to do than stand here like a vulture despite the fact that it is painfully obvious you have not showered or washed your hair yet today and you are looking a wee bit scary if we do say so ourselves.” (Truth is, I may have even forgotten to brush my teeth that day, but mercifully, my new pals did not mention it.) In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that maybe after they left I could sift through the pile of dirt and find those treasures that went undiscovered.

And maybe since I actually did attempt just such a task it may possibly mean that it wasn’t so much in the back of my mind as it was in the very forefront of my mind. As simple as it sounded, however, it actually turned out to be way more trouble than it was worth. Mostly I just ended up scooping loads of dirt into my tennis shoes which promptly adhered to my sockless, sweaty feet, adding to the air of filth and disgustingness that I was already sporting. I failed to uncover anything interesting after about 20 minutes so I made up my mind to just sit tight and wait for the part where they scooped the dirt back into the hole and then I could take up my post again, scrutinizing the dirt for any fascinating tidbits.

Which is exactly what I did. Before the refill started, though, I did (sheepishly) ask my new friend Shane if he pretty please wouldn’t mind just hopping into that ditch and digging something out for me that I had been staring at for the last 12 hours. It turned out to be not another bottle but an unbroken light bulb. When he noticed the metal rim of something sticking out from the side of the trench and dug that out, too, we discovered an old, dented, rusty bushel barrel; not necessarily that cool but the pieces of newspapers stuck to the bottom of it were pretty interesting. One was dated January 1922, which would be about right if you assume that Jacob Jarnig, the initial owner of my house, finished up construction in 1923. Maybe when he, too, was faced with a big hole in his yard that needed filling in, as well as a lot of garbage, old ashes and broken china and empty bottles (who the hell needs an empty bottle anyway?) and old newspapers he simply put the two together and killed the proverbial two birds with one stone. Very efficient, Mr. Jarnig!

When all was said and done and dug up and refilled, I acquired 15 bottles, 2 small jars, 2 large Horlick’s Malted Milk jars, 3 remnants of decomposing corks, one small drinking glass, one light bulb, one bushel barrel (dented and rusted), a few pieces of broken china and tons of shards of broken glass. I obsessively scrubbed the bottles and jars and poked tiny pieces of rag into them with an old coat hanger to scour off rust and dirt and the remains of some roots or something growing inside them. And now, obviously, I have quite a nice little collection.

The problem now is, if you are me (and I am), you are left with a large section of the yard as yet unexplored and possibly containing many more treasures like the ones you have recently found. It’s hard not to wonder what else might be buried down there. Again, I’m not under the illusion that there’s anything more valuable down there than what I already have. But I am drawn to it all, and drawn to spot in my yard where I know more garbage might be lying there waiting to be unearthed. I could find out. I could start digging. I mean, how hard is that? All I need is a shovel and a place to throw the dirt and since my front yard is already an eyesore, what’s the harm in digging some more holes? On the other hand, it would, realistically, take quite a long time to dig up the rest of the underground trash pit and is that what I really want to do with my time? An amateur archeological dig is a far cry from flowers and tidiness.

I ask myself, what do I hope to find? I don’t know. I could find history, little pieces of what life used to be like right here in this exact same spot where I live my life every day in 2011. Is it worth it to become the crazy lady who climbs into a hole in her front yard every day, furiously digging in the remnants of a 90-year old trash pile, clinging to the hope that another little glass bottle will appear? I don’t know. Should I just be content with the treasures I already have and the possibility that similar artifacts might be buried in my front yard, awaiting rediscovery? I mean, there is something to be said for order and tidiness and clean feet.

I don’t have the answer just yet. What I do have is a wasteland of a front yard with a smallish hole in the middle that I started digging on my own the other day. And I found an old toothbrush. Is that something?
'A clean tooth never decays'


  1. Too funny!! I've had some similar discoveries in my yard whenever I install a new planting bed. My theory is that they didn't have garbage removal or a garbage dump back in 1930-ish when my house was built so it was buried in the yard. My finds have spanned the generations from old mini brown bottles to spark plugs.

  2. Several years ago I dug up an old engine block in my backyard. I guess whoever buried that figured it was cheaper to bury it than dispose of it properly & they were right! It cost me $200 to have it removed after I dug it up... That ought to make me think twice about digging for treasures.