A Year of Morning Thanks
Once the sun rose high enough to sweep the bronze from the early morning light, I walked through the icy parking lot and up the hill where I’d left the car earlier. The park staff had blocked off the lower lot—beach level—because melting snow had turned the whole place into a mess.
I thought I’d done wonderfully with my cameras, and I was still smiling, I’m sure, because it had been such a gorgeous dawn. When I stepped over the lines erected to keep people out, my eyes, quite randomly, caught a garbage can full of sand standing just off the road. Someone, sometime, had riveted a piece of sheet metal onto its ribbed side announcing that can’s particular use: “Road Sand” stenciled on the sheet.
But the sheet had half-peeled away to reveal three black initials, including three periods, underneath—“W. C. D.” –not stenciled, but free-handed in long thin letters I recognized immediately because I printed those letters on that can when I was a park employee 41 years ago. The minute I saw them, I remembered. They were in my hand—I knew it.
The realization was stunning, exhilarating. Serendipitously, I’d run smack dab into what amounted to a museum piece I myself had contributed to Terry Andrae-John Michael Kohler State Park when I worked there during the long-ago summer of 1967. I could have broken into song, honestly. I took the picture, above—shot the dumb garbage can again and again, as if it were about to take off like some 12-point buck.
And this morning I’m trying to determine just exactly what it was that gave me such a snoot-full of joy. Nostalgia? Not really—I’ve never wished I hadn’t left the park. It was a great summer job, but not a profession. Besides, in those summers I cleaned more toilets than any human should and still get away healthy.
Was it the reawakening of some great memory? Nah. Painting letters on garbage cans would have been a rainy day thing. Most of the time, the glory of the job was being outside. There was no triumph in painting “W. C. D.” (Wisconsin Conservation Department) on a couple dozen galvanized garbage cans.
A stay against confusion maybe? Getting warmer, I think. I’ve heard a dozen times about writers subconsciously believing they’re making themselves immortal by writing poems or novels or whatever. Is that idea plain poppycock? I doubt it. If there’d be no truth in the assertion, it wouldn’t stick in my memory like it does.
Maybe the discovery of those tall letters made me feel young again. Maybe that’s the whole thing. This week it will be a month since my 60th birthday. Poof!—I’m a college kid.
Nope. My knees are too sore for me to entertain such silliness.
All I know is that garbage can was really something, proof at least of some earlier dispensation in my own life. Just finding it generated enough heat to melt away the snow and ice all around. No need for sand.
I honestly don’t know why those three letters—and the square periods (I used a flat brush, a half-inch wide or so)—were such a joy. I honestly don’t.
What I do know is this: I visited a state park where I spent three great summers long, long ago, when I was a college kid, so much of life ahead of me, so much that’s now behind. Beneath a shard of steel on some rusty, pock-marked old garbage can, three long, tall letters—with periods—spell out the initials of the government agency that then ran the place, and mine's the hand that wrote them in.
Okay, so it’s not The Brothers Karamazov. It’s just three dumb initials of a state organization that long ago changed its name.
But it’s something.
When I got to the car, I looked back one more time to be sure I hadn’t just seen a vision. And I got a picture to prove the whole story, in all it’s heroic human silliness.
I don’t care. This morning, just a couple of days later, I’m still thankful for a state park garbage can that’s remains initialized, to this day, “W. C. D,” in my hand.