In this age of going green and recycling, it makes me chuckle sometimes when new-age groups act as though these are concepts that they invented. I recall when I was a small child growing up in Springfield, Missouri during the late 60’s to early 70’s. It was not a time when the “green” concept was very popular, but my parents and grandparents had grown up in a time of depression. I think that living through this time made them more aware of how precious each morsel of food and household luxury was.
My grandparents lived on a small two-acre mini-farm outside of town. They had a milk cow, several chickens and a half-acre vegetable garden. These few organic elements kept the two of them and our family of five in dairy products and vegetables for the year.
One of the things that as a child, I thought to be astonishing, was that even though they had indoor plumbing that functioned perfectly well, they still insisted on having an outhouse on the property. I guess today it would be called a “composting toilet”. This was used whenever they were outdoors in the warm months. It conserved water, energy and wear and tear on the well pump. This was not something that they did to “save the planet”. This was how they had been raised. Conserve, preserve and reuse.
What I remember so clearly, is that nothing went to waste on their little parcel of land. Many days each summer were spent under a shade tree in the back yard stringing and breaking beans, shucking corn or cleaning potatoes. Nothing went to waste. Any of the cast-offs from the vegetables were thrown into the chicken pen to add to their diet. If there was organic waste that the chickens couldn’t eat, it was put back into the garden. (These days they call it “composting”) The cow was milked daily and I remember many evenings spent churning cream from the milk into butter. The cream was placed in a mason jar and we would take turns rocking the jar back and forth until it began to make butter. (That was how we learned muscular dexterity instead of playing video games!) As kids, we spent our summer days off from school, helping our mom can corn and green beans. In the spring we would pick strawberries and make jam. Anytime that friends offered vegetables or berries free for the picking, we were there, baskets in hand. Every fall my grandparents would harvest walnuts and lay them out on feedsacks in the garage to dry. Cold winter months would be spent cracking nuts and picking out the flesh. Another treat was the peanuts that they would grow in the garden. A great winter treat was when my grandma would “roast peanuts”. They were a great smoky, salty treat! I was so incredibly lucky to grow up eating homegrown foods with no preservatives.
When my grandfather passed away, we were called out to the farm to help get it ready for a sale. This was when I was truly amazed at the frugal nature of these people. Their garage was a wonderland. For years, they had bought their dry goods in bags. These were called “feedsack” bags but they were hardly what we would think of these days as “feedsacks”. They were a muslin material with flowers and small prints printed on them. My grandma still had dresses that she had made of these when she died at the age of 96 in 2002. There were balls of string that she had kept from painstakingly taking the sacks apart so that they could be sown into clothes. There were buckets of nails. When a nail was pulled from a piece of wood it wasn’t disgarded, it was saved to be used again. There was much, much more but it would take pages to recall all of the ways in which they recycled.
Recently, as my parents were downsizing, I was at their house helping them get ready for a sale to recycle some of their belongings. Fortunately, I was able to recycle some of it myself. One of my most treasured finds was the nail keg that I remember my grandma sitting on as we sat out under that tree in the back yard. It had a little ruffled pad made out of feedsack on the top of it for comfort. Just seeing it brings me back to hot summer days drinking lemonade while shucking corn under the big shade tree. Since writing this post I have been able to pass the nail keg down to my daughter for her new apartment.
I seem to have inherited their knack for recycling. When I need to buy something, my first thought is, “is this something that I can buy used”? I peruse the thrift stores and flea markets on a regular basis to find things that I need that have previously been “broken in”! One of my favorite activities is to find items and repurpose them into something useful.
I like to think that my grandparents would be proud that I am carrying on the family tradition.