As the official curator of the town dump in Acworth, N.H., Terry Ward knows that value can be found in trash. Old magazines, leather pouches, wood furniture—they all might be worth something someday. Ward is also betting that his own literary creation, a 25-cent weekly newsletter called Notes from the Dump, will be a future collectible. It has already caused some rumbling in the Granite State. Probably unlike any other newsletter in America, Notes from the Dump is a freewheeling six-page potpourri of philosophical observations, announcements of town meetings and art shows, remembrances of Ward’s own checkered past, political endorsements, elegiac obituaries, tips on bagging trash, ads for auto repair and banjo lessons, and classifieds on the order of, “Wanted: Personal worth in a purposeless universe.”
With Notes, Ward, 44, has found personal worth after a troubled life. A native of Rutland, Vt., he was a workaholic newspaper reporter, paying more attention to his career than to his wife and infant son. His four-year marriage ended in 1970, weeks after a daughter was born, and Ward began a decade-long descent into drugs and alcohol. “My world collapsed around me, and I really hit the skids,” he says. “I was finally living in alleys.” His turnaround started in 1980, when he wandered into Acworth and was allowed to do odd jobs for room and board. Ward eventually climbed on the wagon and re-established contact with his son, Sean, now 21. He took the job at the dump in early 1986, and that summer got in touch with his daughter, Cassandra, now 17. In September, feeling his creative urge returning, he began churning out Notes.
Though he has only 650 subscribers today, Ward has built a statewide reputation as the Rousseau of refuse, the Garrison Keillor of garbage. Not everyone, however, is taken with Ward. “Some people have dropped off the mailing list because of my views,” he admits. One woman complained that she didn’t want to read about his drinking days, and even Ward’s aunt was upset “when I wrote about the lice from my days in the gutter.” And some people just don’t like Notes. “One man,” says Ward, “told me there was just too much trash in it.”