Each time I pick up a magazine, newspaper or listen to the television, I read or hear something about recycling. I see those little arrows going around and around, indicating a recyclable product. When I was growing up, we had never heard of this word, but we sure did know what it meant. I had seen the words bicycle and tricycle. Although I had never heard of recycle, I knew it meant using what you had, making do with it and using things until they were completely worn out before discarding them. I recall many ways that we recycled, not because it was an environmentally friendly thing to do, but because we had little choice in the matter.
Hog feed came in 100-pound cloth bags that we unraveled very carefully to avoid tearing the material. This strong, natural-colored fabric was used for sheeting in making quilts, men’s shirts, aprons or dresses. Miss Polly Parker designed and made a school jumper for me when I was in first grade. She put eyelets on the front and laced it with a long pink shoe string. She made a matching pink blouse to wear with it. I never thought such a beautiful dress could come from an ugly, old feed sack.
Flour came in 25-pound bags. Some of the bags were used as pillow cases when emptied. Mama stored up other bags with pretty print designs until she had enough of the same color or print to make a dress. She opened the empty bags flat, washed and ironed them. At the end of the summer, Mama gathered all the bags, cards of colorful rickrack, bias tape and spools of thread. Mrs. Ollie Moody, without a sewing machine, turned these sacks into beautiful dresses, slips and panties for six little girls. Chicken feed came in bags made of cloth we referred to as “chicken linen.”
For entertainment, we strung buttons on thread, wound them up and pulled them back and forth to make the buttons whir. We spent many enjoyable moments playing with the cheap whir toy. Used buttons also made excellent replacement eyes for teddy bears and dolls.
All clothing was handed down from the oldest to the youngest until it was not fit to wear. Then some of the prettiest pieces were cut into scraps for making quilt tops.
We were delighted to receive grocery sale papers in the mail. These usually did not have anything printed on the back of them and we used them for drawing paper.
Cornshucks were used to make a scrub brush by pushing the shucks into the round holes in the brush board. When they were worn out, we simply replaced with more shucks. Some people stuffed mattresses with fresh cornshucks. We used some in the crates for hen nests and piled others in the hog pen for the hogs to sleep on.
Mama even recycled the bleached wash water on Wednesdays, which were wash days. She poured it on the wooden porches and scrubbed them clean after all the wash had been finished and hung on the line to dry.
We did not have aluminum Coke or Pepsi cans. Soft drinks came in glass returnable bottles. Tea was not in tea bags but loose in glass containers that were used for drinking glasses when emptied. Peanut butter and jelly came in glasses we used as tea or juice glasses.
Grammar school teachers showed students how to fold a sheet of paper in half, make a sharp crease and neatly tear it apart vertically. This was our spelling paper. We saved the other half for the next day. We copied our school work from the blackboard that the teacher had written with chalk. Paper waste like we have today did not exist.
Teachers and students would have been lost without cigar boxes for holding crayons or other school supplies.
We considered ourselves very lucky to acquire an old car or truck tire. We reused these in many different ways. They served as bases during our softball games; we hopped in and out or over the tires, and used rope to hang them from trees to create swings. Mama filled some with dirt and planted red trailing verbenas in them.
Daddy bought shoe heels and leather soles for replacing worn out parts on our shoes. If he could not fix them there were shoe shops in town that repaired shoes very cheap.
Even clover that grew in the garden or fields wasn’t wasted after being pulled. We fed it to the chickens, cows and hogs. I still feel guilty today when I pull a very healthy hill of green clover from my flowerbeds and simply throw it away.
We have become a very wasteful nation. There are many ways we can recycle if we only take time to be aware of what we are doing. Years ago we had to recycle, but now we can choose to. Let’s make that choice.