An Ode to Anthony
As our family prepares to move, a reflection on how a trash collector so deeply impacted our lives
By Ryan French
As we were packing the last few boxes for our move to Michigan, I thought about what I am going to miss most about our first family home. The answer is Anthony, our trash collector. This article is my thank you to him and the lives he has touched, particularly our son, Jackson (we call him Jack).
Jack was born on July 18, 2015. Despite arriving a month early, he was a giant baby (10 pounds, 8 ounces). The vomiting started soon after. We initially assumed it was spit-up. We went to our pediatrician with our concerns. She suggested maybe the type of formula we used didn’t agree with him, so we switched. Nothing changed. Jack continued to vomit almost daily, maybe once or twice a day. Back to the pediatrician. Maybe we were feeding him too much. She asked us to keep a log of how much we were feeding him. We did. Nothing changed. Over the next year, referrals to other pediatricians, allergists and gastroenterologists followed. Jack was poked and prodded: needles in his back for allergies, a camera down his throat and into his stomach, and blood tests. Still no answers. Finally, almost two years later, the gastro doctor ordered an MRI of his head and neck. For some reason the tech reading the MRI gave his findings to us (normally they go to the doctor, who explains it). The tech said something about Chiari Malformation II, among a bunch of stuff that didn’t mean much to me. My wife, Stephanie, who is a nurse, had never heard of Chiari. And google is the last place you want to look up a brain condition. The three days before we saw a neurologist were sleepless.
Bobby Jones had Chiari; a charity for the condition is now named after him. Chiari occurs when the base of the brain sits too low on the opening where the spine and brain connect. The skull puts pressure on that part of the brain, creating numerous complications. The neurologist confirmed what the MRI tech had read and Jack’s surgery was scheduled for three weeks later. For each patient, Chiari can cause different symptoms; for Jack it was vomiting and headaches after laying flat for an extended time. Most mornings he would wake up screaming around 3 a.m. Steph or I would sit with him in the slider chair in his room and look out the window. He would eventually calm down, and we would gaze out the window as he fell in and out of sleep. That is how we came to meet Anthony.
Jack didn’t communicate much before his surgery; we were concerned enough to have him tested for autism. The results came back negative. Then one day while sitting with him in his chair, a Waste Management truck pulled up at 6 a.m. Jack sat up and pointed excitedly. It was the first time that he showed that much emotion. With no medical answers, we were searching for anything that made him happy. So the next Monday we were sure to be at the window when the garbage truck pulled up. Jack had the same reaction. I remember Steph crying.
The next Monday, promptly at 6 a.m. (because that’s when the truck almost always arrived), we went outside for a closer look—courtside garbage truck tickets, if you will. I’m not sure what I expected, but I know I didn’t expect the driver to jump out and introduce himself. It was Anthony. I also had no idea the role Anthony would play in the lives of the French family, and specifically Jack’s.
Jack loved Anthony and his garbage truck; every time he would see them he would scream with joy, and bounce excitedly. When you see your child suffer as Jack did those two years of his life, you latch onto anything that makes him happy. We dove headfirst into the world of garbage trucks: toys, wall decals, and most importantly the Monday morning tradition.
Anthony and Jack became fast friends. Every Monday, Anthony would hop out of the truck and greet Jack. The smiles melted our hearts. Our daughter, Annie, joined us at times.
When the time came for Jack’s surgery, we informed Anthony we wouldn’t be out to greet him for a few weeks. He wished Jack luck and gave him a high five.
Jack’s surgery was a success—doctors shaved part of his skull to alleviate the pressure—and after a stay in the pediatric ICU, we headed home to continue his recovery. Many long, sleepless nights ensued. One morning before dawn there was a knock at the door. I couldn’t imagine who would be there. I looked out the window. Anthony was standing there with a toy garbage truck in his arms. We didn’t even realize it was Monday.
I hollered to Jack, and he came running. Anthony held out his hand for their high five. Jack didn’t even look at his hand. Instead, he grabbed the garbage truck and began playing with it. We thanked Anthony profusely. At that point in his recovery, Jack couldn’t turn his head, so I remember him robotically turning his entire body from his truck to Anthony, making the connection of who had brought the toy to him. As I closed the door behind Anthony, I began to cry. I turned around to find Steph bawling.
As soon as Jack was well enough to go outside, our Monday morning tradition started again—with some twists. We learned Anthony loved coffee, so Jack would greet him with a cup (two creams, no sugar) and a donut. Anthony often would have something for Jack and Annie: A Waste Management bib, more toys, coloring books and treats from Anthony’s daughter, who was an aspiring baker. Rain or shine, in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, we rarely missed a Monday.
During the Covid shutdown, our Monday visits became more distant, but they remained just as important. The coffee was left on a table next to the garbage cans, and Anthony would leave his gift for the kids there. Then as we did every Monday, we would watch him pick up the neighbors’ cans before turning around just beyond our house and heading down the other side of the street. He would always honk. (Considering it was 6 o’clock, our neighbors must have loved it.)
If you saw Jack today, outside of the large scar on the back of his head, you would never know he had undergone brain surgery. He still has small struggles, but as I have said many times, we spent enough time in Children’s Hospital to understand how lucky we are.
Jack is pretty introverted and doesn’t make friends easily. We were out for a family walk when we saw a boy, about Jack’s age, in what we had come to know well: a Waste Management neon vest. Jack pointed out that he had the same one. After talking to Jake and his parents, Brian and Sarah, we all laughed realizing that each boy had gotten his vest from the same source… Anthony.
Jake and Jack became fast friends, and for the next few years play dates ensued, their friendship connected by garbage trucks. Anytime Jack received a truck-related gift he would ask to share it with Jake, who would do the same. Even when they moved on to construction toys and Legos, Anthony was the tie that connected them. In fact, when Jake and his family walked over to say goodbye this weekend, Jack gave him one of his old garbage truck toys. Of course.
Paul Aypan, a former pro golfer, has sons who loved garage trucks and who had a similar relationship with their garbage man. We shared pictures with each other. When Paul’s son dressed as a garbage truck for Halloween one year, Jack insisted on the same costume. All because of Anthony.
The tradition of greeting Anthony continued for more than two years. Over the last year or so, it slowed as Jack became more interested in other toys. It doesn’t lessen what those visits meant to Jack and our family, and always will.
So thank you, Anthony. Thank you for the honks as you drove by. Thank you for the coloring books, the vests and the toys. Thank you for the amazing treats from your daughter. But most importantly, thank you for being the reason our son smiled during a time when he didn’t do much of that. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for being the connection that led to a friendship with a neighborhood friend. This article will never come close to expressing what you have meant to all of us. That is why of all the things I’m going to miss most about our home, our trash collector is at the top of the list.