Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seniors pioneered the green movement

7/13/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“Green” senior citizens are trendsetters

This summer my email inbox has been chock-full of senior humor. Today’s column was inspired by one of those missives titled “We didn’t have that green thing back then.” The story began with the assumption that senior citizens aren’t concerned about preservation of the environment. A little reminiscing sets things straight.

“An older woman standing in line at the market was asked by the cashier if she had brought her grocery bags with her. Startled, she said, “No, I didn’t.” The cashier then informed her that she needed to think ‘green’ and she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment. 

“The poor woman just wanted to get her groceries bagged and paid for. She was bewildered. She looked at him, apologized and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”
“The clerk responded,  "That's the whole problem today. Former generations weren’t concerned about the future and didn’t care about saving our environment. We’ve got to change that."

Well, this fellow was rather shortsighted (an affliction of the young). On the one hand, of course, he was right. Things do need to change. We live in a throw-away society. Consumerism is out of control.

But then again, he was also very wrong.  Our generation was green before green was cool. Oh, we didn't have a national green campaign going. But make no mistake about it — we were ‘green.’

Back in the day, our milk and dairy products were in re-usable glass bottles. Glass, not plastic. At my house they were delivered early in the morning fresh from Adohr Farms. When finished, we returned the containers to the milkman. He took them back to the plant where they were washed, sterilized and refilled for us to enjoy another day.

Soda bottles and beer bottles were returned to the store for the same purpose. Deposits were paid and refunded with the return of each container. The same bottles were used over and over; more than material recycling. In 1959, a soda pop bottle made about 21 trips through the refilling system. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Yeah, we were green but people have forgotten.

In the kitchen, mother and grandmother wore aprons and used wooden spoons to mix and stir most baked goods by hand — no electric mixers. They grew and canned fresh fruits and vegetables in grandpa’s Victory Garden and they re-used the jars the next year. And those aprons? They wore them to keep their dresses clean (no jeans!) and cut down on laundry costs.

Grandmother loved to sew and she made almost all of our clothes. Fabric was inexpensive and patterns were cheap. The scraps made doll clothes and pot holders. She made my senior prom dress out of green taffeta and I was styling! Grandmother’s labor was priceless.
In our day, we walked up stairs, down stairs, to and from school.  Most stores and office buildings didn't have an escalator. Weekends, my girlfriend and I rode our bikes down the hill (a couple of miles) to sit and giggle in the neighborhood drugstore soda fountain over a 6-ounce Coca Cola. Then we headed home again to help with dinner.

Later, when we married and had babies they wore cloth diapers like the generations before them. All of their diapers and our clothes were washed and hung to dry on a clothesline because we didn’t have a dryer. It was labor intensive but we didn’t fill up the landfills with plastic that doesn’t decompose.

Now let me tell you, I was thrilled when we could finally afford a clothes dryer. But for many years, ours was a very average but green household. We had one car, no garbage disposal, no dishwasher and no freezer. We got along fine. And didn’t worry about the electric bill.

Looking back, I suppose that our parents were still living with a Depression mentality. We made do with what we had, or we did  without it. Tin foil was wiped clean and plastic bags washed and reused. Very little was thrown away.

The new television invention of the 1940s would not be recognizable today. Initially there was one per household with a small screen the size of a handkerchief. The picture was fuzzy and the sound worse. But we were enthralled. Today the screens have a designated wall and the sound system will run you out of the house (and money).

We didn’t have that green thing but we could afford what we bought.

Back then, no one exercised at a health club. We got our exercise the old-fashioned way. Mom scrubbed clothes on a washboard. Dad and the boys mowed the lawn with a people-powered push mower.  We kids exercised on roller skates, bikes, played hide ‘n seek after dark and ran up the street to see our friends several times a day.

We were healthy but we didn’t have that ‘green thing’ back then.

We drank from a public water fountain when we were thirsty (no plastic bottles). We refilled our writing pens with ink (no ballpoint pens) and we replaced the dull blades in a razor not the entire razor.

By today’s standards, our lives were simple. We did fine with one telephone per household, a record player and one bathroom for the whole family, We survived without CNN, the Golden Arches, iPods and Oprah. We did not find it a burden to care about our environment or each other. Hard work was not a burden. It was our reward.

What happened? You and I didn’t change. The system did. Drinking fountains were turned off. Everything edible and inedible was encased in plastic. Our clothes come from China along with disposable telephones and machinery parts.

‘Disposable’ is the operative word now but living green is as natural to us old-timers as breathing. Spread the word!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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