Memories: Recycling now is quite different from past

Published 8:45 pm Monday, June 17, 2024

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Memories by Bev Jackson Cotter

We didn’t call it recycling.

Bev Jackson Cotter

I remember when plastic bags first came into everyday usage about 60 years ago. My mother-in-law would wash them and store them for future use. She was just being practical. There surely would be another need for that bag. She was doing what we had always done — saving for future use.

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Remember when we took our worn out shoes to the repair shop to have the soles replaced? Or when we handed down outgrown clothing to siblings or cousins? Or when women made rugs by cutting worn clothing into strips, stitching them together, and then braiding the strips or weaving them on to burlap bags?

Do you remember when cotton flour sacks were purchased with specific patterns so they could be sewn into kitchen curtains or new dresses or shirts or even underclothing or quilts or pillowcases or tablecloths? Speaking of quilts, I remember once seeing a township map where the squares had been colored for designing a quilt pattern.

My mother kept a small crock on the kitchen stove and poured bacon grease into it for future use frying potatoes. Leftovers were never tossed. They could always be eaten for lunch the next day or added to a pot of soup. Mom also occasionally made a green tomato pie. That happened late in the summer when the weather cooled enough so the tomatoes wouldn’t ripen and she’d smile and try to pass it off as apple pie. We knew better. The green tomato pie was delicious.

Does anyone still attach the last sliver of soap to the new bar? When they are both wet they stick well and even that tiny sliver is not wasted. Will today’s bottles of liquid make bar soap obsolete?

I remember reading about paper being so scarce among the soldiers during the Civil War that when they would receive a letter from home they would write their current happenings between the lines and in the margins and then send back the letter.

When pop (Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, rootbeer and orange) came in glass bottles, we used to save them and then return them for the five-cent refund, or was it three cents?

I’m sure that Dad was just as practical about saving and reusing items at his workbench or in the garage, but I’ve no idea what they might have been. I do recall that once, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my neighbor and I were playing house. We decided to make some pretend vegetable soup. We mixed up some water and sand and gravel from the driveway, added some small stones, pretending they were potato chunks. Then we noticed a bag of cement in the garage. We added some to our soup for texture, and when Dad came home from work, we proudly showed him our vegetable soup. He did not even smile. He simply added more cement and then used our soup to patch a hole in the foundation of the front porch.

I don’t remember ever hearing the word recycling, but during World War II there were massive drives nationwide, items collected to be melted down and then rebuilt as weapons of war. From our courthouse lawn, two World War I cannons and one Civil War cannon were turned over to the Freeborn County Scrap Committee, and from the county residents a thousand worn rubber tires and other rubber items including worn out boots and even corsets were donated. Every area community had a scrap metal drive. Thirty-five tons were collected in Clarks Grove alone. Even the Girl Scouts helped the war effort by collecting worn hosiery which was sent to factories making powder bags. One of the troops in Albert Lea collected 864 silk and nylon stockings.

When I googled “recycle,” I learned it’s just another word for reuse and was first used in industries in the 1920s. It didn’t become a household word until almost 1970.

We have always recycled. We just didn’t call it that.

Bev Jackson Cotter is a lifelong resident of Albert Lea.