The Green Thing

green world
via GreenPromise.net

The following tale has made the rounds of the internet in various iterations for quite a while now.  It serves well as a starting point for this discussion:

We Didn’t Have the Green Thing

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
The older lady said that she was right — our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on to explain: 

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.  So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

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.

But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

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. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

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 (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. 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 just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

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 in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.” 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 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

This little story looks at the post-depression era citizens: my parents, and the way they lived in comparison to today.  I was born in the mid 50’s and lived my formative years when people (by and large) still believed in living within their means, repairing things, and being responsible.

While I was being brought through childhood, my parents worked hard to provide what the family needed.  We weren’t poverty stricken, but we weren’t well-off either.  We had what we needed, but a lot of what we had Mom and Dad grew or made themselves.  They instilled in us kids a sense of responsibility and stewardship: take care of what you have, because of you tear it up there may not be another.

It was during my young adult years: the 70s and beyond, that society as a whole began idolizing convenience.  Don’t cook, warm up a box dinner.  Don’t repair, toss it and buy another.  Consumerism began ramping up and everything was disposable, including relationships.  There was a time in my life that I bought into the idea that the convenience of disposable everything seemed to make sense.  Fortunately it was a short time, then my old-school upbringing kicked in again.

When Marie and I moved here to the mountains I became enchanted with the tales of the early settlers of these mountains.  They came across the mountains from the east carrying what they could on the backs of mules.  Wagons don’t work well when the best you can hope for are foot paths worn through the forests by animals and Native Americans.  There were no roads in the mountains.  They brought mostly tools and cooking implements.  With these they would make everything else they needed.  When you have to make what you have from what you find around you, nothing is disposable.  Even when something wears out you make it into something else.

In my mind, these were the ultimate conservationists.  And their attitudes still infiltrate the lifestyles of mountain folk today.  It is a common sight, especially in rural areas to see an old bus (school or metro) parked along the edge of a lot and used as a storage shed.  Most of the time this “shed” is packed solid with disused stuff.  Stuff that will, in all likelihood, never be used for anything but was stashed away because “I might need that one day.”  It is in their nature to save things as a hedge against a future need.  But then that stuff is never used for anything.

I too am guilty of this.  My shop has several closets, drawers and boxes filled with bits of stuff: hardware, fittings, hinges, tubing, broken tools, all manner of things that I could not part with because they might be needed for some future project.  On a few rare occasions I do actually put some of it to use.  More often the shop gets over-crowded and I’m forced to ruthlessly weed out my treasures for recycling or donating.

Just a few days ago I replaced the keyboard in my laptop because I’d worn the lettering off of about half the keys.  I was content to use it as it was most of the time (I rarely look at the keys anyway).  When Marie tried to use it for something she was just aghast with the condition of it and wondered how I was able to function.

We did discuss repair options: are replacement keys available, could I paint the letters back on, could I print stickers to put on the keys?  Each of these options proved to be impractical.  Marie shopped for, found and ordered a new keyboard and I put it in myself.

Then the old one lay here for days: grinning at me.  I could not bring myself to throw it away: what if the new one goes out?  The lettering was worn out but all the keys worked fine.  I might need it! As I thought this I remembered the box of computer parts in my office: boards, cables, disk drives: all saved “just in case”, but most won’t fit any computer made today.   Hmph, being rational is no fun.  I looked into recycling it: no go in our community, so eventually I (reluctantly) trashed it.

Now you watch: this new keyboard will conk out and I’ll wish I had the old one to use because a new replacement will be on back-order for weeks!

4 thoughts on “The Green Thing”

  1. That story may have been making the rounds, but I’d never seen it. All true. How smug this current generation is. Last year I saw a movie preview, and the director of the film — I guess it was yet another documentary about saving the environment — was saying that we need to start thinking about taking care of the planet. Start? We’ve been recycling since before he was born. And covering our textbooks with used grocery bags, too.

    1. I’m glad I was able to share that with you then, Charles. I always get a chuckle and an “uh huh” our of it. If we want to see ecology and conservation at look, take a good look at the lifestyles of the Native American (before us white men took over). THEY knew conservation!

  2. Actually, I think a lot of that started in the late 60’s. I remember my first TV dinners and Jiffy Pop popcorn and being amazed by it all at the time. I know that my parents bought some big things in the 60’s that they were probably still paying for years later. Course, for them it wasn’t because they were trying to live the good life as much as the fact that we were a military family, which doesn’t pay well, and military bases don’t sell everything.

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