WASTE NOT is an excerpt from the soon to be released book PATHWAYS

When did we become such a disposable society? I wish people would quit disposing in my front yard. When did planned obsolescence become…planned? I remember ranting to a science class about wasting resources before I even knew what planned obsolescence meant. Does that make me clairvoyant? No, it probably makes me Clarabelle the Clown. Just because we can throw away a plastic bottle should we? Why do we change fashions every season? Hems go down, go up, then go down again while ties get wide then narrow then wide again. How many of you actually wear something until it wears out? Blue jeans maybe. How many of you really drive a car until the wheels metaphorically fall off. I’ve tried often. Linda and I bought an ’86 T-Bird with sixteen miles on it. It was a beauty. Two hundred and sixteen thousand miles later, thinking we had “licked all of the red off the candy” we traded it for a Mustang. A local teenage boy bought it…and the now father of three is still driving it. Presently I am actually attempting to see who can hit a quarter million first – me or my ’97 Cherokee “Bessie Mae.” We just cracked one hundred and ninety thousand on the “Bessie Mae” but I may be slightly ahead. Am I the only one to name his cars?

My grandparent’s generation were the ultimate recyclers and repurposers. My grandmother was also huge on sayings, “Early to bed, early to rise”, “a fool and his money” and one that I heard maybe daily was “Waste not, want not.” She lived it. Old plastic Clorox bottles were carefully cleaned, holes punched in the bottom and a hole cut about a third of the way up from the bottom. Why? It would become a martin house that would join a colony of Clorox bottles suspended over the garden providing homes for birds that became part of Nannie’s insect control. Buttons were cutoff of unrepairable clothing that would be later repurposed into patchwork quilts with matching pillow covers. The buttons themselves were put into an old Quaker Oats container for future repurposing when I didn’t play with them. My first set of drums were old Quaker Oats boxes and a really magical “comeback” toy. Shoes were “half-soled” repeatedly, old overalls that had finally given up the ghost were cut into patches to extend the lives of this generation’s overalls and blue jeans.

Fall would herald another type of recycling. Dried corn and beans were gathered, the best put into burlap cloth sacks and suspended from the high rafters of the crib. There they would wait until the spring to be shelled out and replanted to provide the next year’s bounty. Potatoes were spread and separated from each other on old newspapers in the darkest corner of the crib waiting to be made into chowders, salads and mashed potatoes. Those that survived the winter were cut, dividing the eyes, and replanted in the spring to start the cycle of life all over again.

Late in the fall an odd-looking truck would show up. It was the miller’s truck, not to be confused with the Miller’s truck. This was cutting edge technology for the period. Instead of taking your grain to be ground up, the truck showed up to grind your grain. This would be preceded by a flurry of activity as corn was shelled from the cob, dang that really hurts your fingers. Corn was ground into cornmeal and grits and no I had never heard of polenta. Even the cobs were ground into a fine powder that was mixed with water to be fed to our hogs. None of this could be done until my grandmother had chosen her feed sacks. This was the ultimate repurposing. She would use the emptied feed sacks to make “sack” dresses that she sewed on her foot-operated Singer treadle sewing machine. Rarely, until later in life, did my grandmother wear anything other than homemade dresses, many made from old feed sacks. Later they would be repurposed into cleaning rags or tie ups for the tomatoes. If they were a particular favorite they would be put into her scrap bag to become a part of a quilt.

The first fall frost would signify another “waste not” moment as a hog would be slaughtered. If you have a weak stomach or really don’t want to know how your food is processed, you might not want to read any more of this paragraph. I was amazed at how little of the hog was left after it had been processed. It began with a “crunch” as a heavy hammer was used to dispatch the hog. My uncle didn’t want to scramble the poor hog’s brains with a bullet even though the brains would be scrambled with eggs later. The hog would be hung by its rear legs, its throat cut and blood would be drained to be used later in blood pudding or other recipes. All of the recognizable parts of the hog were butchered and all of the unrecognizable parts were turned into sausage, liver mush and souse meat. Yuck! Anyone ever read the ingredient list on liver mush? Hint, liver is not the first ingredient…or the second. I really don’t want to even think about souse meat. The bones and the head would be boiled, the broth used to flavor soups and beans. Later the bones would be ground and used as fertilizer. Hog tallow (lard) would be stored and used in the making of candles, soap and biscuits. I liked eating the biscuits better than the soap that was used after I uttered an “expletive.”

While I don’t slaughter my own hogs (actually I don’t raise them), I did pick up some of my grandparents’ frugalness and their belief in environmental safekeeping. At the very least, I ask the question, “Is there anything I can use this for?” I’ve turned two liter bottles into bird houses or feeders, old pots into strange artwork, and Jack Daniel’s bottles into lamps. I have a pair of jeans that have patches on top of patches…only because they feel sooooooo good. Kitchen waste goes into a compost bin to join grass clippings and black print newspaper in my garden. Glass, magazines and plastics are separated and placed into recycling bins at our local trash dump.

Without really trying, my grandparents taught me to be a good steward of my world. As I constantly pick up trash from my roadside, I wish others had been taught as well or had paid better attention.

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