Recently I received a forwarded e-mail called “The ‘Green’ Thing.” You know the kind of e-mails I’m talking about, the ones that have 16 sets of e-mail addresses of prior recipients and are indented so far from the left that there are only six words per line. I usually delete them, but for some reason, I read this one. It was about an older woman who was reprimanded by a young cashier for not bringing her own bags to the store. The following exchange ensued:
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back
in my earlier days.”
The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not
care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day or
didn’t call it “green.”
The writer went on to list some of the ways in which former generations were more “green” than current ones. I’ve been giving the subject some thought and, at the risk of sounding like one of those old codgers who walked to school in the snow uphill both ways, I’ve decided to add some of my own thoughts to some of the items on the list.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store… to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so … they really were recycled.
Other glass items were recycled at home. Jelly came in glasses with cartoon characters painted on them, cheese spread came in attractive juice-sized glasses, and peanut butter came in mugs with handles. That’s where we got most of our drinking containers. In addition, since we didn’t have Tupperware or Gladware, we used jars with screw-on lids for storage of everything from leftovers to coin collections.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
I can’t say much about the first part of this one, because most of the buildings in the small town where I grew up had only one story. I walked to the corner convenience store to pick up a loaf of bread now and then when I visited my aunt, but there were no grocery stores within walking distance of my house. Dad usually worked nights, so our one car wasn’t available for quick trips to pick up odds and ends when Mom got home from work. She planned ahead and did all her shopping and other errands on Saturday afternoon. If we forgot to put something on the list, we went without until the next Saturday.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.
I never washed diapers, because when I had my one child, my aunt gifted me with two months of diaper service (a now obsolete service where a company provided clean diapers on a preset schedule and picked up the dirty ones to be laundered at their facility). We lived in an apartment with a laundry room downstairs and way on the other side of the complex, so I got spoiled to the convenience and continued to use the service after the two months was up. But in my early years, I hung many loads of clothes on the line in the back yard. The sun and wind made them smell wonderful, but it didn’t do much for the wrinkles. We actually ironed most of our clothes, using a “sprinkling bottle” to dampen the stubborn wrinkles instead of a spray can of sizing. If we wanted a stiffer finish, we added starch to the final rinse instead of using another spray can.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
We had only one TV, and it was in the kitchen. We didn’t have a den, and Mom didn’t want us ruining the good living room furniture by sitting on it all the time. I never did quite figure that one out. But due to her cautious nature, our furniture lasted a long time, and due to Dad’s handyman skills, so did our TV. In the olden days, TV sets were huge things with innards filled with vacuum tubes instead of circuit boards. Most local stores, including the supermarket, had a stock of replacement tubes and a tester. When something went wrong with the TV, we didn’t toss it out and get a new one. Instead, Dad took the suspect tubes to town, tested them, and bought new ones as needed. When all else failed, we called the TV repairman. We only considered replacing the TV when the picture tube went out.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor.
Speaking of disposables, let’s talk cleaning supplies. Instead of disposable wipes, we cleaned with rags, usually recycled pieces of towels that had worn too thin. When we finished, we washed the rags and used them again. Instead of a dozen specialized aerosol cleaners, we used a pump spray bottle of glass cleaner, a can of powdered scrubbing cleanser, and a bottle of liquid bleach or pine cleaner poured in a bucket of water.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
Most of the kids I went to school with were long and lean, all elbows and knees, from riding their bikes or running over to a friend’s house to play. Most families had one car, so there was lots of car pooling even before the advent of HOV lanes. To get to my first office job in downtown Dallas, I rode in a car with five other women.
We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
Nobody except the largest companies had a computer, and most families had one phone. If your parents needed to reach you at school, they called the office. If you needed to call home from school, you went to the office. If you needed to call someone while you were out shopping, you used a pay phone. If you couldn’t find a phone, you waited until you got home. And if you needed to find the nearest pizza joint, you looked in the Yellow Pages.
That’s enough of an environmental stroll down memory lane. It’s easy to look at a situation and jump to conclusions or generalizations, but there’s plenty of waste and conspicuous consumerism to go around. Before you yield to the temptation to criticize someone, whether they’re young or old, take a look in your own trash can, at your own electric bill, at your own consumer practices. To paraphrase Matthew 7:3, why worry about what kind of grocery bags your friend uses when your own “green” things aren’t in order.