Age 6 – Junking In Germany

My mom spent a lot of time making sure my hair was perfect and I was told not to touch it until after pictures were taken. A lot of good that did -- my bow is off kilter and I don’t look too happy

Being an Army Brat means having to put up with much change.  We were on the move again in September 1972.  This time we were leaving the States to live in Germany and would remain there for 2 years.  I remember the plane ride over because I threw up all over the fur coat of the woman sitting next to me.   I recall the stewardess cleaning up my mess with coffee grinds.  Those smells take me back every time.

I should be embarrassed to share this next story, but it is too good a memory to leave behind.  While living abroad, we soon came to learn about “Junking.”  Junking is a pleasant term for garbage picking, although in actuality it wasn’t garbage at all.  In those days, German’s did not give their items away.  They did not hand down to family or friends who may have needed them, and they did not believe in consignment or thrift shops.  For some reason, they thought it was embarrassing, so they threw these no longer wanted items to the curb instead.  It didn’t matter what the condition.  My mom had a pregnant friend who acquired an entire baby’s room this way, practically brand new!  What was one person’s junk, was another’s treasure, literally.  My family, along with our friends, would choose the ritzy parts of town and go “shopping.”

Not actual bus, but very similar

Our Junking friends were another family that we had known for a long time. This Army family moved around with us.  I recently asked my dad why that was and he said that he and “Uncle Rick” were in a specialized field with so few others, that they were able to pretty much determine where they did and did not want to be transferred.

This family owned a two-toned blue & white VW bus and once a month we would all crowd into it to see what commodities we could obtain.  My parents practically furnished their apartment in this fashion.  Some of the gems we picked up were a dresser, child’s desk, kitchen table and an entire set of China, among many other things.  The locals thought we were nuts.  It was the best time ever; I can still remember the feeling of giddiness and that pure unadulterated thrill I got before every trip.  We didn’t have much money, so it was entertainment in the purest sense of the word.

There were also these rummage sales that the Army would conduct periodically.  My mother was a classically trained pianist, but didn’t own a piano because we couldn’t afford one.  An Army NCO club had closed down and they were selling all of the contents.  My father had attended and purchased an upright piano for my mother.  The problem was that someone was stabbed to death on that piano and it was covered from top to bottom, inside and out, with dried up blood and alcohol.  The keys were stuck together and everything; you can just imagine what horrific shape it was in.  My dad took it apart and painstakingly cleaned every piece of that upright.  It was a time-consuming project, but he got it to work.  It was worth it, because up until that time, I had never heard my mother play.  She played beautifully; I couldn’t believe I didn’t know this about her.  Unfortunately, after we moved again, I didn’t have the pleasure of hearing my mom play for another 7 years.  By the way, Dad bought that piano for $25.  Before we moved back to the States, he sold it for $500.  Talk about a good investment!

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Thank you for visiting my blog! Here's a little about me: I am now a stay-at-home mom courtesy of a little epidemic called "A Bad Economy." It was quite a blessing in disguise because all this new-found free time gave me the opportunity to start an online scrapbooking supply business (you can find us at www.TheScrapbookPeople.com. We are geared toward the busy scrapper and offer easy to use products and kits -- sorry, shameless plug). Scrapbooking is a craft I found, jumped into and became an addict of almost 20 years ago. I love history, so what better way to preserve my own history through this wonderful craft, right? I love to share new things that I learned, discovered or think about with everyone so enjoy!

Posted on October 20, 2010, in Memorabilia Pockets. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. OH Maureen, you have done it again! I find you stories so interesting and I love your passion for life and all that you have experienced.

    Some people would be creeped out by someone being murdered on the piano, but hey clean it up and use the thing!

    • Back in those days, a deal was a deal, it didn’t matter what the situation. I can’t imagine my husband bringing home a piano with blood on it — it would never happen! Thank you Janna!

  2. Maureen, once again you have hooked me from word one. I have also made the mistake of putting a somewhat huge bow in Noelle’s hair for picture day when she was little and each time have regretted it. You think I would learn, but somehow in my brain I thought I could pull it off the following year. HAHAHA One time, I even paid for the photographer to airbrush the big yellow flower off of her head !

    I love the family day of junking ! It must have been so much fun.
    I always glance at what my neighbors put out at the curb. Who knew it could be a sport?!

    In my opinion, I think back in the day when money was tight and families out of necessity had to watch how every penny was spent, many fond memories were born. In a strange way, life was
    filled with such simple pleasures.

    • Teri, it is so funny that you paid to have her bow removed, that is hysterical! Junking was the best fun ever. Times are definitely different. My mom & dad used to get so excited when chicken was on sale at the market! Chicken for dinner instead of hot dogs — what a treat!

  3. What a neat way to find treasures!

    (stopping by from group 1)

  4. I love the image of you all crowded in that VW bus, giddy with excitement! Thanks for sharing this story – it’s so grounding to hear what the actual childhood memories are that stay with us.

    I thought you’d get a kick out of this post about my family’s “junking” experience recently: http://fltngmoments.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/my-trash-picking-pre-schooler/

  5. I love your junking experiences. They took me back to similar ones my family had ;o) What a sweet labor of love for your Dad to restore that piano for your Mom!

    • You “junked” too? I’m finding from comments I’m receiving that it was more popular than I thought. I remember at the time thinking that we were the only people in the world who did it! Thanks Rachel!

  6. I have friends who have done the same thing….much more recently….in Germany! I love it! Hey, if I could do it here, I totally would!

    Visiting from group 5 🙂

  7. Maureen,
    What an adventure to rescue so many unwanted items, even tho I never heard of junking like that. I love the photo of the VW bus – they were quite popular during the 1960’s with all the hippies.

    How wondeful that your Mother played piano so well, especially on a piano in gross condition. I hope you’ve had a chance to record some of her music.

    Beth from Group3

    • Hi Beth, sadly we never recorded any of her music and she doesn’t play anymore. A few years ago, she bought an electric keyboard and to her dismay, she couldn’t remember how to play. I guess playing a piano is not like riding a bike.

  8. Maureen, you shouldn’t be at all embarrassed about the junking! Actually where I live people do it all the time! They aren’t getting stuff as nice and new as you mentioned, but trust me…if you set something outside here someone will take it regardless of its condition. There’s even a group of people that call themselves “freegans” that have made a whole lifestyle out of it! I’ve never done it myself, but that’s mostly because I’m too lazy 😉

    I think the piano of death would’ve freaked me out too much. It’s so nice, though, that despite its terrible past the piano was able to be cleaned up and then provide such happy moments for your family 🙂 I’m just wondering if the guy who bought it off of your dad for $500 knew about the murder? I’m surprised he was able to resell it at all, that’s impressive!

    • You go “freegans” – I think it’s wonderful that people still do that! Yeah, the piano thing is quite freaky, but it’s funny when you are a kid, you don’t have a care in the world. I don’t ever remember being creeped out by it. I’ll have to ask my dad if the purchaser knew about the death…

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