Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 21, 2003

Roadside treasures

I don't think most people pay much attention to what's lying along the roadway unless it happens to be something they want to avoid - a large box, a strip of tire tread or the remains of some unfortunate creature. If they notice the flotsam and jetsam at all, it's to chide some unknown person for throwing litter in the ditches or to wonder how a single boot could end up standing upright in the middle of a busy highway.

My husband not only notices things, he has a habit of actively looking for treasures - whether it's during his short ride to work from our house or on the 12-hour drive to Wisconsin. This habit has yielded numerous pens, baseball caps, bottles of pop, wrenches, screwdrivers, drill bits, a soccer ball, a basketball, a couple of T-shirts and a beautiful blue and green beach towel - the list seems endless.

Some discoveries have even resulted in suppers - and I'm not talking about ones based on roadkill. On summer vacations in Wisconsin, we have found enough ears of corn dropped from cannery trucks to make several meals out of them. Art has picked up heads of cabbage that have been so large we've made several portions of cole slaw and all variety of cooked cabbage dishes. He says the food never tastes so good as it does when it is free.

Hubcaps are something else we frequently see along street curbs or on highway shoulders. Every time Art sees an orphaned hubcap, he wonders aloud whether it might fit our oldest daughter's car, which was missing one when she got it. He's picked up several, but so far none have fit.

At first, Art's habit bothered me. I kept telling him that he was going to end up getting hit by a truck - all for a cheap pen he found in the road. Now I look for treasures myself - or at least entertain myself by seeing how many weird objects I can spot as the miles zip by on our longer trips.

Art's penchant for finding treasures seems to have rubbed off on the kids too. Recently Katie spotted a run-over cell phone. Art immediately opened the car door, scooped it up and proceeded to instruct the girls on the finer points of how miniature electrical items are constructed.

When we were in Europe, Katie kept scouring the streets of Paris, looking for Euro coins. A few years ago when we were in Wisconsin, Mariya found a $20 bill on the ground.

One day when I was with Katie and her cousin, I stopped to mail a letter. I approached the mailbox so that Katie could reach out her window to mail it when she noticed a pair of black women's flip-flops on the ground in front of the box.

"I know what happened, Mom," Katie surmised. "When they pulled up here, they weren't close enough to the box so they had to open their door and the shoes fell out."

"Could be," I thought. I left them there in case the owner came back to retrieve them.

A couple of times we've been able to identify the owners of lost roadway items and returned them. More often than not, though, there is nothing on the items to indicate ownership.

While the girls and I are new to "roadside shopping" and draw the line at picking up certain items, Art's an old hand at it. His son Matt tells about the summer years ago when he was staying with his dad while working in Manhattan. On the way into town, Art spotted a brown bag in the road. He pulled over, looked inside and spotted two pastries. Matt said he told his dad that he'd never eat one of those unless Art did first and then enough time passed to see if he died.

But that night when Art made supper, there were the pastries. Matt waited as he had said he would, but when Art cut into his, it was revealed to be a fresh apple turnover. Matt ate his and later proclaimed it to be the best meal Art made that summer!

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