Landfill was more than a dump to many; Bristol sees passing of an era

BRISTOL — For the past 20 years, scale attendant George Smith, 89, has made taking the trash to the dump an extraordinary experience.
Bristol residents came out in droves last Saturday to thank Smith for his long service to Bristol, shake hands, and say farewell to the town’s landfill and to Smith’s quietly charismatic presence and welcoming smile.
Saturday, Aug. 1, was the Bristol town landfill’s last day.
Smith sat under an orange umbrella, sipping coffee, shaking hands and chatting with one person after another from the ever-expanding web of friendships and community ties he’s fostered and created. A big red box of Milk-Bones sat in front of him. Even the dogs had signed the almost two-foot-by-three-foot handmade card from Bristol well wishers: “Thanks for the biscuits, WOOF! — The Dogs,” was written alongside “Gonna miss this!,” “Love,” “Thanks,” “You will be missed!” and many other sentiments.
“We’ll miss all of the friendly help at the Bristol landfill,” said Liz Sayre, 30. “It’s the people. These are the people that I’ve been seeing here since I was a little kid, since I was my son’s age. Because of George, you do enjoy coming to the dump; you do actually enjoy coming to the landfill; he’s a great guy.”
The town decided to close the landfill — one of only two unlined, town-owned landfills in Vermont — after receiving notices of violation from the state Agency of Natural Resources last August.
“It was a business decision. This was 100 percent a business decision,” said Therese Kirby, Bristol town administrator.
Through some fortuitous circumstances, it looks like Bristol has probably raised enough money to pay for the dump closing, and the town has a plan for how residents will get rid of their trash and recycling (See related story here).
But those who came to the landfill at the end of Pine Street on Saturday were not looking forward to what will be, but back to what they’ve had.
“It’s nice to be over here,” said George Smith’s oldest daughter, Jane Dearborn. “You’re busy. You get to see so many people and find out what’s going on around town. It’s nice — people are honest and most of the people are good. Supposedly they’re losing money, but I don’t know. I don’t look at their budget.”
“It’s about money, it’s always about money, that’s my opinion,” offered Everett Lee, a Bristol native now living in Florida, who has returned to Vermont repeatedly over the years to spend time back home and help out at the landfill.
“It’s another community place that’s going to be vanishing,” added Jean Russell, another of Smith’s nine children, most of whom still live in the area. “Just another small town community place that will be gone.”
“This was my playground when I was a kid,” Lee reminisced, gesturing around the landfill. “I used to play over here all the time. There were good pickings over here, bottles, a lot of antiques that I couldn’t carry on my bike so we’d hide them. The bottle business was pretty good — couple of cents for each beer bottle and soda bottle. There was a great sandpit here — you could jump off the top and slide down in the sand.
“When I come back here to work, I get to see the people that I knew and went to school with almost 50 years ago. We’re all connected here, one way or the other — neighbors, family.”
The power of George Smith’s town dump community was demonstrated repeatedly Saturday as folks brought their trash to the town landfill for the very last time and said goodbye to George and hello to each other and talked about family, life and community events and issues.
“George, thank you for your service all these years,” said Bristol resident John Moyers, who then added, “and I have enjoyed our political debates.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Smith. “We sometimes disagree, John.”
“But we sometimes agree,” said Moyers. “It’s been good all round.”
Go to addisonindependent.com to read long-time Bristol resident Fred Baser’s thoughts on the closing of the Bristol landfill. 

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