Has Gleaning Lost its Glamour?


When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. Deuteronomy 24:19

Gleaners traditionally were peasants who gathered spare grain or fruit when farmers had followed biblical advice not to harvest all their crop, but to leave some for those who needed it most.

No surprise, then, that Rehoboth, with its biblical name and Methodist history, promotes gleaning. Actually, they don’t call it gleaning. They call it “bulk trash pick up.” But it’s the same thing. Everyone in Rehoboth knows that in early May you can put everything you don’t need anymore out on the curb and the town will haul it away for free. Unless the gleaners get it first.

Gleaning in Rehoboth used to be quite a scene. Starting late Sunday afternoon, cars and trucks would cruise the streets, slowing down to look over the piles of junk. It’s amazing what people are interested in. I was intrigued one year by a couple of tough looking lesbians who trolled through town picking up every old and rusted air conditioner, stove, grill, and refrigerator they could find. Once I put out a box of rusty nails, a couple of old gallons of paint, and a broken beach chair. Gone within an hour! Sometimes, late at night, I’d be awakened to the sound of an idling car and door slamming. Late night gleaners.

Now I’m not above gleaning myself. Michael and I like to fix a cocktail in a red plastic go-cup, hop in the Volvo station wagon, and go snooping. Once we picked up a big hydrangea bush. And we’ve plucked the occasional chair. One year, we found a couple of old fashioned, standing, rod iron lamps that we used on the front porch — all they needed was some paint, some re-wiring, and new lampshades. We probably could have purchased new ones for about the same price as what we spent to re-do them, but they wouldn’t have had that desirable old beach cottage look.

One Sunday evening, about 7 years ago, we were sitting on the front porch watching the gleaners. You know, you almost felt insulted when a gleaner slowed down to look over your stuff and thn took off without picking something. That’s why we always arranged our junk as nice as we could, to encourage the gleaners. One Sunday evening, a drag queen driving a yellow Volkswagon Rabbit comes roaring up to the house. The Rabbit was completely crammed full of stuff and she’d even strapped an old table to the roof. But somehow she’d spotted a treasure in our pile of junk and beelined for an old tennis racket. It wasn’t even a classic old wooden one, but an old green metal Yonex. After gracefully practicing a few backhand strokes in the middle of the street, the next thing I know, “Gigi Platinumski” is up on the porch sipping our wine and nibbling some crabcakes.

That kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe because the junk isn’t as good as it used to be? I remember when you’d drive around and see lots of rattan and wicker chairs that just needed some glue and some paint. Or some wooden windows and shutters, bookcases, old metal lawn chairs (that are quite trendy now), and push power lawnmowers. Classic old beach house junk. I swear, the gleaning back then had a Ralph Lauren aura about it.

Eight, nine, ten years ago, when alot of old houses were changing hands, they were sold furnished. The new owners didn’t want all the old stuff, so they put some of it out on the street. The difference today, I think, is that when the older houses change hands, they’re usually cleared out and bulldozed.

So, now, we often glean by snooping (trespassing?) through the houses slated to be knocked down. We went into one old cottage recently and all that was left were old medicine bottles and stacks of interesting old books. We “rescued” a few, including Isadora Duncan, Anna and the King of Siam, The Stan Musial Story, The Egg and I (life on a wilderness chicken ranch), and The Last Great Resorts, a wonderful account of the history of America’s most popular summer resorts, written in 1945.

However, we did hop into the Volvo today and drive around today, just to see what was out. Lots of old mattresses and pillows. A toilet. Some dusty bamboo window shades. Tree and shrub cuttings. Rusted propane tanks. Piles of leaves. I definitely feel I can declare that gleaning in Rehoboth has lost its glamour.