What's it for?

Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Several columns back I mentioned saving a match box for future use and some of my other habits of reusing items. I write notes on the backs of envelopes, too, and recycle paper bags. That column must have struck a chord, or maybe hit a nerve, because I have had lots of comments and some really good conversations about recycling and repurposing, except in "those days" the practices didn't have a name; everyone just did what was expedient and used what was useful. Now that there is a name for it maybe hand-me-downs will become respectable again.


I wore my older cousin's dresses until I grew to be as big as she. Some of them were even handed down to No. 2 sister. In the "good old days" clothes were made to last, and three or four kids could get good wear out of a dress or pair of jeans before it was relegated to the rag bag for some further use. Not much of today's clothing can withstand five years of hard wear. We're lucky to get a season out of some of it before it turns into a car washer.

In the days before it was so easy to do the laundry (we've talked about this before), the accepted practice, and according to one of my friends, the required practice at her college dorm, was when you changed the sheets, you pulled the bottom one off, but turned the top one end to and put it back on the bed as the bottom sheet. Turning it changed the area of wear, thus prolonging the life of the sheet. Of course this was before fitted sheets (no, Dear, fitted sheets have not always been available). Laundry was done only once a week and the sheets had to be hung to dry. Washing half at a time saved time, energy, and water not to mention clothesline space. (What's a clothesline, you ask?)

Another one I'd almost forgotten about was flour sacks turned into dish towels or aprons. My career as a housewife and mother started a little after cloth flour sacks, but I remember Grandma and Mother carefully taking the seams out and washing the bags. I learned to sew, both hand stitch and machine, by hemming them for tea towels. If they were patterned, as some were, Mom might make an apron. Remember the intricate stitching at the top of the bags? If you were in the know, you could pull one string and the bag would whisk open. That stitching carried over to paper flour and sugar sacks for awhile until a food safe glue was developed. Now you have to tear the bag open. I'd rather have the stitching.

Another kitchen reusable was the glass dried beef comes in. They were just right for juice glasses or for little kid hands to handle for milk. Cheese spread: pimento, bacon, pineapple and other flavors, comes in a nice little reusable glass, too. I went looking for dried beef the other day, and found it on the top shelf between the pickled pig's feet and the canned brown bread in Country Foods. The cheese, still in glasses, is refrigerated beside the exotic one from Hawaii with wine in it in a plastic container.

One of my favorite "repurposing" stories comes from our time at the fish site. We lived on the beach in the summer and someone was always carrying the drinking glasses outside then leaving them, or dropping them on the rocks, or otherwise disposing of them. Back then, there was a fruit juice concentrate that came in a nice, tall coated metal can. It didn't need refrigeration and we used a lot of it. I saved the cans and used them as drinking vessels. They didn't break; I didn't care if they got lost and they were numerous.

Hubby's Dad and Stepmother came to visit one summer, and despite the rustic accommodations (read outhouse), everything went well. When they left, Stepmom gave us a gift of six decorated, glass drinking glasses "so you don't have to use those cans any more."  I thanked her graciously, then carried them home. We still have five of them. Repurposing at its best, completely misunderstood.

I think the reason garage sales are so popular here on the Kenai is because so many of us remember the old saw "Use it up; wear it out; make it do, or go without." Sometimes I see things at a yard sale that make me believe the seller simply wants to get something new, but then I see someone else pick up an old treadless tire to use as a raised bed for strawberries or a swing for their grandkid and I know "repurpose" is just another way of saying "That'll make a good ..."

The last time I talked with my brother on the phone I asked him if he could remember some of the inventive ways Mom and Dad reused everyday things. He laughed and said "Does using the wooden spoon as a paddle count?" I didn't remember that, so then he accused me, again, of being the favorite child.

Some things can be recycled too often.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.


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