My parents, having grown up Appalachian poor, were always careful about saving things they could use again.
And milk jugs that could be used for toting water (or saving it if an ice or snow storm was coming). Sometimes Mama would cut the top of the jug off, fill it with dirt, and root cuttings.
In their coming-up days, they had little trash because everything was used again. Mason jars were washed and set aside for the next summer garden, flour came in “flowery” cotton bags that were used to make dresses, and snuff jars became drinking cups. Bits of paper they had, which included the weekly newspaper, were stored and used for starting a fire in the wood cooking stove.
When I was growing up, we had little trash. The newspaper had become a daily, and we also got the voluminous Atlanta Sunday paper. We used fabric towels and dish rags to wipe and wash dishes. I was around 14 before Mama frivolously began to use paper towels.
But she was judicious.
She mostly used them for drying out a pan or wiping off a counter. Then, carefully, she rinsed it out and laid it out to dry and be reused. Coffee cans were used for storing things like spools of thread or nails. In one of my kitchen cabinets is the last coffee can that Mama saved. She wrapped the bottom in masking tape so she could set it on her freezer and it wouldn’t create rust rings.
We had such little trash that one of us would tote off a paper grocery sack with two weeks’ worth of discarded bits and pieces down toward the pasture and burn it. The fire was over in less than five minutes.
One of the many commandments of my childhood was that I was NEVER to throw a gum wrapper or any paper out of the car window.
“That’s one of the most disrespectful things in the world,” Daddy lectured. He smoked and he wouldn’t even throw out a cigarette butt. “Keep the roadside clean in respect for others.”
For years, people practiced this small but significant piece of courtesy. It was underscored by an extensive ad campaign on television in the 1970s that showed what trash was doing to our streams and rivers. The commercial ended with an aged Native American man, crying at the garbage he found in a creek.
About 15 years ago, our road and its ditches became a repository for school papers, fast food bags, beer cans and water bottles. One day, someone threw out a broken bag of 30 plastic containers at the end of our driveway. I had to pick it all up and haul it off.
Last summer, I pulled in Mama’s driveway to see that someone had strewn food bags across the entire front. I was MAD. I had just cut the grass and it was looking most pristine until someone had tossed out their family’s Chick-fil-A. Seven pieces. I stomped over to snatch it up and got an unsuspected surprise when I picked up the bag.
I read the receipt stapled to it. The order was placed with an app so it had the man’s name, phone number, and the color and make of his vehicle. I snatched the receipt off, threw down the bag, and marched to the phone.
To his voicemail, I said, “You threw Chick-fil-A down the front of our property yesterday. I have your name, phone number, and that you drive a blue Lincoln Navigator. It is 10:55. I will give you until 12:30 to get over here and pick up your trash or I will call the sheriff and file charges. I have all I need.”
He was there in 20 minutes. Then, he came to the door to apologize.
Maybe it was a one-time victory. Maybe not.
Especially if the doer of misdeeds throws out Chick-fil-A.