Back in the days before land fills, there were garbage dumps . . . true garbage dumps. The garbage was simply dumped out and heaped up - sometimes it was burned. Garbage dumps reeked and the "aroma" attracted scavenger birds and vermin.
"The girls" often went out to dinner with Mom, Dad and me on Saturday nights. Our favorite restaurant was Mike's Place, across the channel from Juneau, on Douglas Island. In those days, people didn't wear jeans and a pullover to Mike's Place. We dressed up - the men in a shirt, tie and, maybe, a sports coat; the women in dresses or skirts, nylons and heels. So you might be surprised when I tell you that, after our fine dinner, we often ended our evening with a drive to the garbage dump, just south of town. You see, the garbage dump in Juneau not only attracted vermin, but also bears. And watching the bears root around in the garbage and occasionally spar with one another, from the safety of our car, was one of our favorite forms of Saturday night entertainment.
I was probably 10 or 11 years old when we took what turned out to be our final Saturday night sight-seeing trip to the dump. As usual, we were all dressed up in our nice Mike's-Place-clothes. It was dark and the rain was coming down in sheets. My dad drove the car up into the dump and turned off the engine. We always left the headlights on, though, so we could see the bears. Usually they scattered when we first arrived, but after we sat there awhile their hunger would overcome their timidity, and they would return to rummage through the trash for tasty morsels. And that's just how it happened that particular night. There were several of those hungry bruins putting on a show, just for us. Their eyes would catch the light from our car and reflect an eerie blue-green glow.
After a half-hour or so of the "show," it was time to call it a night and go home. Dad turned the key in the ignition, and . . . nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. And with each turn of the key, the headlights grew dimmer. That's when I started getting scared, and a big lump formed in my throat. Would we have to spend the night in the dump with the bears? Being the practical-minded child that I was, I wondered what we'd do if we had to go to the bathroom? I knew I wasn't going outside with those bears! It was already quite late - probably about 10:00 - so it was unlikely that anyone else would have a reason to come to the dump. There were hardly any cars passing by on Thane Road, the road that went past the dump; but whenever one did, we tried to get their attention. By then the headlights wouldn't come on at all, but we were able to make the interior lights flash, ever so dimly, by opening and closing our car doors, and, at the same time, hollering for help. But no one would stop.
I remember saying, rather pitifully, "They'll miss us at church tomorrow, and maybe they'll send someone to look for us."
And then, an angel - in the form of a guy in work clothes, driving an old, battered pick-up truck - drove off the road and into the dump. The bears scattered again, but we knew they were nearby. The man stopped his truck and got out into the dark, rainy night; then hopped up into the bed of his pick-up and began tossing trash out onto the ground! I just knew a bear was going to eat him up, right before our very eyes!
My dad opened his car door and called out, "Be careful! There are bears out here. And, by the way, could you give us a push back into town? Our battery is dead." I remember how the sound of the word, "dead," sent chills down my spine that particular night.
The guy kept tossing out his trash, didn't say a word, and appeared to be ignoring my dad. But when he was done he got back inside his truck, started up the engine, drove up behind us and began pushing our car, with the help of my dad's steering, out of the dump and down the road toward town. He must have wondered what kind of crazy people we were - all dressed up with nowhere to go but a garbage dump! Once he got us into town he just drove off, leaving us alongside a curb near Jerry Godkins' Garage. He apparently didn't want to have anything more to do with us, so we never even had a chance to learn his name or tell him how very grateful we were for his mission of mercy.