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Remembering a Ray of Anti-Litter Light

By LINDA HOCHULI | Aug 29, 2018

Less than two blocks into my morning walk down Barnegat Avenue, I turned around, went back into my house and grabbed a plastic CVS bag. Lately, I had been noticing the same pieces of trash debris on the road, day after day. I didn’t remember seeing so much litter in prior years.

And then it hit me – the absence of a particular neighbor this summer had made the difference.

For the past few years, my daughter and I had noticed an older man, wearing a hat, who always seemed to be out walking. Sometimes we saw him on Barnegat Avenue, and other times we spotted him on the beach. And as he walked, steadily but not particularly fast, he picked up trash along the way, filling up his plastic bag. Noting the time that elapsed between his walks south, to his walks north, we estimated that he was spending multiple hours walking and collecting trash each day.

I should mention that ever since I won the first Earth Day poster contest at Springside School, back in 1970 while in fourth grade, I have taken the “Don’t be a Litterbug” slogan quite seriously. I’m a strong proponent of recycling, have participated in beach clean-ups, and have reinforced the importance of a clean environment with both my family and students. Seeing litter really irks me, and seeing someone throw trash out the window of a car gets my blood boiling.

So, I loved seeing this man picking up litter in our Surf City community, every single day of the summer. Additionally, I have to admit I was interested in knowing more about the man. My husband would say I’m nosy, but I call it being observant and curious.

This summer, I had not seen the “walking man” (as we referred to him) at all. Being my usual “nosy” self, I wondered why he wasn’t around, and hoped he was OK. Again, due to my curiosity over the years, I had figured out where the man lived, as sometimes he would be outside tending to the flower garden in his yard. Then, a couple weeks ago, while riding my bike down Barnegat Avenue, I saw someone outside of the “walking man’s” house, and decided to stop and talk to him. I told him I was concerned that I hadn’t seen the man collecting litter at all this summer.

Sadly, he told me about his brother-in-law, Ray, who had suddenly passed away over the winter. With tears in his eyes (and mine, too), he described how Ray, who was deaf, spent his days, all year ’round, walking and collecting litter, then recycling the trash. I told him I had missed seeing Ray along the avenue and on the beach, and expressed my sincere sympathy.

So, after seeing that litter in the road, I decided that I would continue Ray’s legacy. On my daily walks, I would take along a trash bag and pick up the litter along the way. It’s such an easy thing to do. On a recent 2-mile walk, down to the Surf City bay beach and back, it didn’t take long for my bag to fill up with assorted trash and recycling items.

In honor of Ray, and for all of the Island’s residents and visitors, I encourage people to take along a litter bag on their walks so they can pick up trash, and help keep our LBI streets and beaches clean. We can all make a difference, just as Ray did.

P.S. Before I submitted this story to The SandPaper, I wanted to be sure Ray’s family approved. I reintroduced myself to Rich, Ray’s brother-in-law, and met Ray’s sister, Cathy. They both really appreciated the story. Incidentally, Rich said he had noticed me picking up litter along Barnegat Avenue; he had told his wife and they both smiled.

Linda Hochuli lives in Hamilton, N.J., and Surf City. She is a fifth-/sixth-grade English teacher at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, N.J.

 

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