Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Burn Barrels and 2 cent coke bottles

Today was trash day, but not recycling. In my city we only recycle 26 times a year, but trash pick up is 52 times a year. I don't recall how often trash pick up day was when I was a kid but there are things that I do recall and it was so different! Today, a fancy tall and somewhat sealed garbage can sits in my kitchen, a part of the decoration of the room. It seems to fill over night, the plastic liner gets tied and it is tossed into a second much larger rented-from-the-city-by-the-month trash can on the carport that I also pay the city to come and dump into their truck once a week.

First of all, when I was a kid, the only recycling was in our back yard when the burn barrel got full or the compost pile accepted egg shells and tater peels with some grass clippings tossed on top. We didn't tear off a paper towel every time something spilled then toss it in the trash, we used the worn dish rag that hung over the sink to clean spills then rinsed it and put it back. Our trash can was a small paper bag that found it's home under the kitchen sink. Papaw made a small pleat at the top, folded down to keep the bag open. I can't recall what that paper bag held since we put all food into the the compost, except bones, those went to the dogs. Anything that would burn went into the burn barrels. We didn't have tissues when we had a cold, we had snot rags that were tossed in the wash and to be used until worn through.

My grandmother let nothing go to waste. Her mold soup was famous among the family. Any left overs that appeared to be going bad was put into a large pot with chicken stock, soup was on! My nephew, Jamie, hated soup days so much that he wrote a large note in crayon then taped to her  refrigerator when he was just four years old. It said, "ON POOS"! I asked him what it said as it was hard to miss the large red letters. He said with his arms defiantly crossed over his puffed up chest, his chin pointed up, and back rigid, "NO SOUP!"  Yes, she kept making it as long as she could cook.

Mamaw also canned veggies out of the garden that were heading for too ripe. When in season, she had me crawling in the bushes and climbing trees to get fruit unreachable to her for putting up jam or baking pies. I pretty much lived outside but wish I had learned how to make jam and can garden vegetables. This skill passed from each generation seemed to die as TV was born.

I don't recall  how long it took to fill a burn barrel but clearly remember the fun kids had on burn days. We would whoop around the burning barrel with feathers pulled from pillows in our hair, like we saw in cowboy movies.  The next day, ash from the barrel was spread around trees and through the grass.

After a good hard rain, kids could not wait to get into the ditches and search for soda bottles. It meant we got to buy half penny candy, yes Eloise, there really was half penny candy.  Ditches held all kinds of treasures after a storm, the most valuable was the returnable bottle. Sometimes we would even get out in the storm to begin our search and get a leg up on the competition as some adults would look for return bottles. Back then, soda bottles were used over and over again.  The big companies must have known the lengths kids would go through to return the bottles and get real financial rewards. Depending on how badly we wanted some candy, the smallest of us would climb into storm drains to excavate between limbs of trees, stray gloves and pieces of cloths torn from a neighbor's clothesline. Digging in the muck was as important to us as any dig at a major archaeological site.

What a difference a generation makes. Recycle and reuse at home was everyday life, not a poster or PSA on TV and radio. It was a part of our lives that seems lost to the world of land fills and trash barges. The burn barrel is a lost art of reduce and reuse. Cites now have burn bans for such lowbrow activities.  We have to recycle our kitchen waste, although anyone can find a "class" on how to compost if they can buy an attractive and expensive compost container, rather than have an unsightly pile in the corner of the yard that to be turned with pitch fork, a few worms tossed in for good measure.

And I know for a fact that if I saw a kid trying to climb into a storm drain today, I would pull my car over and walk him home to talk to his parents, telling him all the way how much disease and danger was down there. Although my face and walk would be stern, there would be a smile in my heart as I recalled that I was usually the sucker that squeezed through the tight opening then sloshed through the sludge and slime, risking my own health as I picked through rusted cans, tangled wires and tree limbs just to find just one of those 2 cent bottles.

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