Queens cleanout garbage man relives grade school memories — but not his own
Five years ago, I found a random person’s yearbook from 1939. In those last five years, I have looked at it more times than I have ever looked at my own.
When I am hired to do estate cleanouts in New York, I sometimes come across buildings that make you think extreme hoarders had once lived there, as every inch of the space is packed with garbage. But at this particular apartment, where a woman named Edith had lived, there were quite a few treasures, including her 1939 grade school yearbook from Public School 5 in New York City.
It was 2006, and Edith’s family had hired me to do an apartment cleanout job in upper Manhattan. I came in to remove all of her leftover junk; although, as usual, the items she had left behind were hardly junk. Her home was one with great character and signs that Edith had truly lived.
This yearbook, which says “World’s Fair Edition/Autograph Album” on the cover, is from 1939, which means that Edith was probably born in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and therefore in her late 70s when she died. Obviously, her years at P.S. 5 had been very important to her, as she cared enough to keep track of the friends she had made there.
Edith had saved this booked her entire life, and more than 40 years after she had left the school, she continued to relive memories at her friends’ funerals. Inside the book, I found items such as a funeral program, a receipt for a wreath she had sent to a funeral, death notes, burial dates and even a dried flower that she had probably taken from a funeral service. These items were sandwiched in between the pages, lying next to the signature or photograph of the person who had died.
When I look at this book, I am reminded of the estate clutter removal job I was on in upper Manhattan — those are my memories. But what’s inside the book were Edith’s memories. In a sense, I feel like I saved them for her.