Mary Ann invented recycling. You won’t read that in any history books, but it’s true. Most people think the big recycling craze just started this last decade, but my Mom practiced the art of recycling way back in the ‘60s.
The most obvious recycling event at our house happened every August with the hand-me-downs. I don’t remember buying new clothes very much during grade school as I was always getting someone else’s clothes. I was the runt in my family. Even my younger sisters eventually outgrew me. But mostly, I inherited my older sister Tracy’s clothes. That was fine with me because I thought she had the coolest dresses, and I was lucky to get them two years after they had gone out of style. I also got my cousins’ clothes. Of course in grade school, once I had outgrown the hand-me-downs, Coleen and Melissa got them. But at least by then, the clothes had come back into style.
When Tracy and I were toddlers, my Mom made our clothes. They were really cute, and always matching. Tracy and I are practically Irish twins, and Mom usually dressed us as actual twins. I was the much shorter twin. She made us identical clothes through our early grade school years—I even remember being in a ‘fashion show’ in fourth grade. Tracy and I wore my Mom’s designs….polyester peach elephant pants with peach and blue halter tops. And she had us wear big straw hats and sunglasses. Move over Kate Moss and Heidi Klum. Did I mention this fashion show was held in our grade school cafeteria? We were famous for a few minutes, then went home smelling like creamed corn.
My Mom couldn’t help but be resourceful. Each year after birthdays or Christmas morning, Mom would quickly snatch up the discarded bows for the package-wrapping stash for the next big event. I’m guilty of this today. Well c’mon, I’m not gonna throw out a perfectly good bow; I just take off the used tape so the next person will think they’ve received a fancy new one.
Right now I’m looking at my stash of paper and plastic bags. I save every paper bag I get. Yes, I do reuse them often. Sometimes Jay uses them to drain his deep fried taco shells on. And the plastic bags—since I always forget to take my ‘green’ shopping bags to the grocery store, we end up with lots of them. But I have a fancy plastic bag holder that we store them in, and we reuse them for trash, taking snacks to parties and what-not.
Mary Ann had a different stash of plastic bags. I don’t remember plastic grocery bags when I was a kid, but I certainly remember clear plastic produce bags and bread bags. She did not throw those things away. In fact, she would rinse them out and carefully set them out to dry, by sticking them up on the louvered kitchen window. They came in handy for all kinds of things…storing homemade cookies, packing picnic lunches and my favorite—fancy homemade snow boots.
Mom would build up a supply for winter when we took our annual trip to Lake Tahoe to play in the snow. Why bother with buying the kids snow boots or galoshes when you have 300 plastic produce bags and Wonder Bread bags? Mom would outfit us all in two pairs of socks and our sneakers and then put about five plastic bags over each foot—securing them with leftover rubber bands from newspaper deliveries.
They’d last about an hour until each layer had ripped through appropriately and our feet would get wet. Then we’d retreat to the brown wood-paneled station wagon to have some sandwiches—packaged ever-so-nicely in recycled plastic produce bags.
So the next time you’re at the grocery store and they ask you “Paper or Plastic?” I want you to think of me running around the snow in my fancy plastic bag snow boots. Do me a favor and tell the clerk you’ll take paper.
One more thing: I’m glad my Mom never put two and two together and tried to make our clothes out of those plastic bags: