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Simple times when recycling was just a way of life

By Doug Bratcher

The home I was reared in had almost zero waste many years before it would become fashionable.
Food didn’t come in fancy packaging in a box that was only three-fourths full, and toys and clothing were sold without wrappings on a counter gondola at the Ben Franklin five and dime.
The Kroger store was about the same size as any other store on the courthouse square, and meat was fresh-wrapped in butcher paper and peanut butter was scooped in a small carton from a bulk container. The bread was sold covered in cellophane and the wrapper was saved to start a fire with.
Tuna or sardine cans were shallow and used after eating as milk dishes for the barn cats. Of course the larger tin cans became holders for any number of items, from fishing worms to old nails and screws. String to wrap meat could be used to tie up important papers or tied to a couple of those tin cans to make a telephone line.
Chicken feed and flour sacks were sold in printed cotton that was used for making children’s pajamas or skirts and shirts. I sometimes was able to pick the feed sack I wanted to have my shirt made of from the back of the feed store. Other clothing I wore came from an older cousin who was the same build as I was.
Shoes were another story, and I did my best to not wear any during the summer months. You had to have school shoes, and my dad once brought home a pair of saddle oxfords that he was able to purchase for a nickel after he bought a new pair for himself. Of course to me those shoes being brown in the middle and white on the ends were girls’ shoes and I wasn’t going to wear them. My mother spent a lot of time trying to dye the white parts brown, but when I wore them to school you could plainly see they were still white and brown.
Oatmeal came in round sturdy boxes that were good to put small toys and keepsakes in. Newspaper was used for wrapping apples, pears and potatoes for winter storage in the cellar.
My attic room was framed in with old telephone pole cross-arms, and you could stick a broom handle through the hole were the insulators rested and hang your clothes. The clothesline out back was made from telephone poles and cross-arms with wire strung between them. Nowadays it would be called a solar dryer, but it was used in summer and winter, sunshine or cloudy.
My first bicycle was a used one with only one pedal. It was hard enough to ride uphill anyway, but you should try it with one pedal. The brakes didn’t work very well, but my good-old mom tore them apart and fixed the problem.
My mother could also make a good kite with apple tree switches and newspapers glued around the string from the butcher shop. A tail of rags from some old clothes and a new ball of string, and that kite would fly as well as any 10-cent one from the dime store.
Household garbage was fed to the chickens, and the old milk cow would chow down on melon rinds and vegetable peelings. Jars were used for drinking glasses, and any other items were burned in an old metal drum if it ever got full. Milk came from the cow and not plastic jugs, and cloth napkins were used in the kitchen and table.
Now it’s called recycling.

Doug Bratcher lives in Liberty and handcrafts wooden barrels at Bratcher’s Cooperage in Corbin Mill downtown. His article originally appeared in the Liberty Tribune and is reprinted with permission.

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