the green thing and the good old days

I have no intention of using this site to recycle emails that make the rounds every few years—unless they are as good as this one. The deciding factor for me on the the ‘green thing’ was that it made me remember how we reused paper bags from grocery stores as schoolbook jackets. In my neck of the woods in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we called them generically acme bags because Acme was the biggest of the chain grocery stores then and there. So, without further ado, here is “The Green Thing and the Good Old Days.”

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Checking out at the store, a young cashier suggested to an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to the young girl and explained that “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my younger days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today—your generation didn’t care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right: our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in its day. Back then, grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things—besides household garbage bags, we used brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property was not defaced by our scribblings.

We cut the bags open with scissors, turned them inside out, and wrapped them around our schoolbooks as protective jackets. Scotch tape (often the only brand available—and the green one, not the red one) was used to hold the flaps down on the inside of the book’s cover.

We would then personalize each book by writing our names and the book’s title on the front and often drew pictures or glued photos cut from magazines onto the back cover.

But too bad we didn’t do the ‘green thing’ back then.

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.

We also returned milk bottles, soda bottles, and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilized, and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. This is now called recycling.

We washed cloth baby-diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a clothesline in the backyard, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes!

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

But that young lady is right—we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, one radio, and maybe one record-player in the house—not one 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 Rhode Island. 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. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

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 raked leaves with a bamboo or metal rake; not a gas-guzzling leaf-blower. We trimmed the edges of our lawns with hand-shears and pulled weeds by hand, not with an electric whip.

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 plastic cup or 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.

People took the streetcar or a bus to work. Kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a taxi service in the family’s 8 mpg SUV, which cost what a whole house did before then.

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—we used the yellow pages.

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

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I realize this is simplistic as all get out, but it does make a point or two. I will end this by nominating the leaf-blower as the most costly and redundant of all the “energy saving” devices: it creates noise pollution, air pollution, uses up fossil fuels for an unnecessary task, and doesn’t do anything but move the leaves from one place to another, only to leave them there to be blown back by the next wind!

Plus, it takes work away from people: instead of one man with a blower several men would be required to actually rake and collect the leaves . . . 

Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!