This essay was originally published on August 11, 2016 by The Good Men Project.
By Jay Bouchard
The dump is where our old toys went to die, and I knew exactly where our yellow peddle-operated plastic tractor was heading that morning. It would have been enough to stay at home and wave goodbye to the source of my fondest childhood memories. I didn’t need to escort my most beloved toy to its grave.
Maybe I was trying to savor a few final minutes with the yellow tractor. Maybe I thought I’d have the courage to convince my dad it didn’t need to go, that if we brought it back home with us, we could fix it, and I’d play with it again. So for whatever reason, I joined my dad on his yearly pilgrimage to the dump.
I stood idly by when he took the yellow tractor out of the minivan. He wheeled it over to the edge of the cement wall, hoisted it above his head, and threw it into the abyss—a giant dumpster ten feet below. There it joined a collage of broken appliances, lamp shades, busted chairs, and various plastic scrap.
I should have kept standing idly by, but instead, I walked over to the cement wall and peered over the edge. I thought I might have some closure; maybe it would be peaceful, like looking into an open casket. Instead, my old yellow tractor wasn’t embalmed, pretty, or peaceful. Just dead, it was lying in a raw mass grave of callously discarded, broken, worn out junk.
Sometimes I can still feel my lips tremble, the painful lump in my throat, the water pooling beneath my eyelids trying desperately to escape. I had to summon every ounce of my eight-year-old strength, but I fought off the tears that day as I looked on my yellow tractor for the final time.
My dad told me recently what my face looked like when I bid the tractor goodbye. He said I looked like he had just thrown my puppy into the dumpster, or worse, my entire childhood.
He said that it was painful for him, too, not because he was particularly attached to that toy, but because he knew better than me that our trip to the dump that morning marked the end of an era. My brother and I had replaced our plastic tractor with bicycles, baseball gloves, and motor scooters. We were still boys, but we’d outgrown the early stages of our childhood.
What I remember best about that morning is what my dad told me as we were driving away from the dump. Though my cheeks weren’t wet, I guess I was still visibly traumatized. He told me it was okay that I have a hard time letting go of things. He explained the concept of nostalgia—a Greek word meaning “sweet ache”—and he told me it might mean that I’m supposed to be a writer.
Whether or not I’m destined to be a writer, nostalgia continues to preserve my memories. And thanks to the “sweet ache” that keeps me awake some nights thinking about my childhood, I’ll never forget the way that when I was small, my brother used to place me in that yellow tractor’s plastic bucket, pick me up, and pedal me around our yard.
I’ll never forget the many times that my parents walked around our block pushing my brother and me in that yellow tractor. And I’ll certainly never forget the day my brother tied a rope from the seat post of his bicycle to the front axle of the tractor and dragged me around our neighborhood until I skidded, flipped, and rolled into our neighbor’s yard. It was one of the many events that fractured and wore its mortal parts and made it dump-worthy.
Though at times I wish I could forget the image of our worn-out yellow tractor lying in a dumpster amidst a collection of other people’s forgotten debris. It is that image which is indelible. An image etched in yellow that helps me appreciate the inevitable aches that eventually come from all of life’s cherished sweetness.