Long before “going green” and recycling was hip, my grandparents were doing it. It was nothing new to them. Where do I start? Old catalogues were never tossed away. They were put inside the outhouse, the privy. My grandparents’ privy was deluxe. It had two holes; a large one for the adults and a smaller one for the children. The covers were cut at an angle so they would not fall through. When I went inside, I always hoped I would find some dull, flat pages because the shiny ones left sharp corners and little to clean my bottom.
Left over food scraps were fed to the chickens or added to the pig slop to help fatten the animals. The animals’ manure was spread on the fields to help the crops to grow. The crops of corn, wheat, oats, and hay were foods that fed the animals and people. Egg shells and coffee were tilled into the garden to enrich the soil.
A produce huckster would stop at my grandmother’s house and sell her at reduced prices what he knew would spoil before the weekend. It was his last stop before he would drive to his home. She would cook, can, or serve it to her family. He would give her produce that had started to spoil and outer leaves that would not sell. She would cut out the spoiled spots and toss it and the leaves into the pig slop and use what she could save as food.
Walking into Grandma’s kitchen, I would see plastic bags hanging after she had washed them to allow them to dry. Folded and stored, she would reuse them. Washed plastic margarine bowls or Cool Whip bowls and lids were used to store leftovers or sent home with visitors containing food.
Pencils were used until they could no longer be called stubs. Used envelopes received in the mail were kept to make grocery lists or to keep score when we would play “Muggins” dominoes.
She would look at the pictures of clothing in the catalogues. (Before they made the migration to the outhouse.) Pinning newspapers together, she would make patterns and sew school clothes. Scraps of fabric and old clothing magically were transformed into works of art as she hand stitched the different designs of thick quilts.
Newspapers were used to start the fire in her coal stove or lit, they would singe the hair off the plucked carcasses of the chickens or used as a catch all when cleaning fish.
Empty cans became spittoons for my granddad when he chewed his “Cutty Pipe” tobacco. (He was a miner and chewed to remind himself not to swallow the coal dust.) The metal Spry or Crisco cans became shining miniature Christmas trees when they were cut into strips and curled away from the seamed backbone of the tin. She would put a shiny ball on the free end and a bigger bulb on the top. One year she made their Christmas tree out of wire tight from ceiling to floor and attaching pine boughs to it.
Orange crates became table, chairs, and a small cupboard for her girls at Christmas. Cocoa tins and small boxes became doll sized sofas and chairs when padded and covered with bright fabrics.
Even the ashes from the wood stove could be used to make lye. The lye would be used to blend with some of the lard from the butchered hogs to make soap. Wash water was used to was the white clothing, then the towels and sheets, darks, overalls and work pants, and if it wasn’t too dirty, the rugs. The water was used to water the geraniums in her flower boxes and on the gardens’ plants.
The only clothes dryer she knew was a length of rope and clothes pins, making use of wind and solar power.
Yes, my grandparents were definitely ahead of the curve.