Friday, January 20, 2017

Making Do and Making Waste

I found this compote at the local thrift store. It's a cobbled together affair, made from the base of a lamp and part of a glass compote.

The lamp could have been an old whale oil lamp, predecessor of the oil lamp we know today. The compote was probably broken, and maybe the lamp was too, so some enterprising and thrifty soul put the two together to make one useful piece. They did a good job too. The compote is sturdy as can be, if a little rough at the seam.

photo from pinterest
The compote, and a radio ad promoting new appliances for people ready to upgrade their kitchens, made me think about the fridge we had when I was a girl. I believe it was like this one in the photo, a Philco with a domed top and a straight up-and-down handle. We loved to open that heavy door and just stare at whatever was in there, feeling the cold blasting our faces. Of course if our parents caught us we were in trouble for wasting electricity and making more work when it was time to defrost.

We opened, and apparently swung on, the door so much that the handle broke off, leaving only a short nub. We knew we were in trouble then! I can vaguely remember the explosion when Dad found out. And I remember how he fixed it, with a piece of copper pipe bolted to the stub. It worked.

In fact, the old fridge lasted for years. I think it was replaced finally just before I left home when I was 17. It was ugly and beat up, the white enamel finish scrubbed down to the metal in places, but it still worked. I remember how much Mom hated it because it was ugly and the freezer was tiny and it seemed to need defrosting so often, a job she didn't like and often passed off to us kids to do. We didn't mind although I expect the mess we made doing it caused her more work anyway.

People kept things back then. they kept them until the appliances were worn out. Coming out of the Depression and World War II when metal and many other things were scarce, people made the best of what they had and wastefulness was considered a sin. This applied not only to appliances but to everything they used. Cars, furniture, even clothing were repaired and stayed in use rather than discarded. Getting rid of good things was almost showing off your affluence. People had only a few sets of good clothes, then they had work clothes and around home clothes. A new dress for Easter and maybe Christmas or a birthday was about the norm for adding to your wardrobe for most people.

The ad for upgrading appliances really pointed up the difference today. We shed belongings regularly as we redecorate or see new features we want. The world is awash is discarded clothing, piles and piles of it--according to an Atlantic article, we buy 5 times more clothing now than we did in 1980, and even in 1980 we were probably buying 5 times as much as we were in the 40's and 50's. All those clothes have to go somewhere, and the fact is a lot end up in the hands of textile recyclers--even those we "donate" to charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army. I remember being in a Goodwill one day and overhearing a staff member say that "the ragman is coming today." I'd never thought about what they did with all the stuff that didn't sell. Now I know.

The thing is, those old appliances worked better and lasted longer. They were built for 20 years of service, I think! Most lived up to that standard anyway. The clothing was for the most part biogradable natural fabrics until mid-century when the synthetics were discovered. So they rotted away once they made it to the dump. Today's clothing will last for decades, maybe centuries, in landfills. It doesn't rot away. Appliances have a large percentage of plastic now, and again, they don't biodegrade.

We've come a long way but in this area, I think perhaps we've taken a wrong turn. Those of us into vintage and antique furnishings and clothing are in our way recyclers, reclaiming the discards of society and making them new and useful again. I doubt manufacturers will change their ways, but the more we know about what happens to our waste the more aware we will be about what goes out our doors as trash.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Remaining Relevant: Pill Bottles, Trash and Prayers

And continuing the thoughts about aging:

I thought of my parents the other day as I was throwing out some empty prescription bottles. They took a lot of medications as they got older, and they had so many empty bottles all the time. How they kept up with refills I don't know, but they managed quite well somehow.

 They saved the empty bottles and there were usually several bags of them stacked in a corner. When I asked, they explained that they donated the bottles to a charity that sent them to Africa to be re-used. Apparently in Africa finding ways to get the pills safely home with people is difficult, and reusing the bottles saves a lot of money for the medical missions. So Dad would carefully remove the labels with a scraper, which took quite a bit of time as he had bad arthritis in his hands. At the time I thought, how silly. Now I see it differently.

Because, you see, it was really about remaining relevant even as age and accompanying health issues restricted my parents' ability to be out and doing. Travel was difficult, painful and time-consuming and they spent more and more time at home. Eventually Dad had to give up driving; Mom had stopped years ago. So they were reliant on others to take them shopping, to appointments and to church. The priest began coming to their home in the last few months of Mom's life because getting to church became too much for her.

But they found things they could still do, ways they could contribute to the wider world. They kept table scraps and composted them. Mom had a back-porch herb garden on a stand so that she could care for it easily. Sometimes they grew lettuce and onions there too.

They recycled their trash, carefully separating paper and glass and metal. Dad flattened boxes so they took up less space, smashed cans flat and rinsed out glass and plastic containers before putting them into the recycle containers. Mom saved magazines to pass on to nursing homes and anyone else who wanted them rather than toss them in the trash. They shredded paper and recycled that too.

They were fierce prayer warriors. Their prayers lists were long, and their morning and evening rosaries and other prayers took quite a while to complete. They prayed for many, many people, some that they knew, others perfect strangers to them. They took this mission seriously and devoutly.

35th wedding anniversary, 1980. They shared 61 anniversaries
 in the end.
When they passed away, I was in my mid-fifties, working full-time at a job an hour away from home. I was busy, stressed and tired most of the time. The time Mom and Dad spent on these endeavors seemed to me to be a waste of hours. Now I know differently. My parents were finding ways to stay involved and active, to give something back to society even as their ability to do so waned.

Today I am humbled by the words I've written here. In the past year I have been seeking ways to help. I may not be able to give much time, but I can give in other ways. I am finding what I care deeply about, like the flood victims, like this upcoming march. It's time to give back. It's time to honor my parents' wordless teachings.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Art of Aging--or Not

Larry has been having all kinds of issues this winter--back, neck, knees. Just one pain after another. The docs, of course, say arthritis. I think it's more than that; I think it's something to do with a disc in his lower back. So we are working through all the various tests and xrays the doctor orders and eventually they will find what we've been telling them from the start.

Meantime, life has been...interesting...around here. In September we both walked miles a day in England and Wales but today he can't do more than a block without enough pain to make him want to stop. He's using ointments, his walking stick, pain patches and this really cool lavender-scented wrap thingie that you heat in the microwave for a bit before placing on the place that hurts. It was a gift to me from a daughter-in-law years ago and it is one of the best things I know for easing muscle pain. Larry is also taking meds and they help some. But not enough.

The doctor recommended a board under the mattress, or sleeping on the floor. Larry decided to try the floor first. I put down a cot mattress and got him sheets and blankets and he crawled in. It was terrible. At least he got some sympathy and company from Daisy the dog, who laid beside him while he was down there, licking his hand. She felt sorry for him, I guess. Or maybe thought he was in trouble and couldn't sleep in the bed.

Next we tried the board under the mattress. Now to make this work right, it had to go under the whole mattress because we were using the wide table leaves and it took three of them. One wasn't wide enough and two meant I was half on, half off and that, my friends, just wasn't going to work! So we both slept, or tried to sleep, on a rock-hard mattress for about a week. Larry usually got up about 4am and went to sleep on a chair or the couch because he was so uncomfortable. I just tossed and turned and cussed.

All these attempts included middle-of-the-night shenanigans, and not the kind you're thinking. While on the floor, he needed to get up in the middle of the night because he was so uncomfortable and that meant he needed help, which meant I had to get up. The next night he was back in the bed, but hurting. So we got up and put the first table leaf under the mattress around 2:00 am. Much horsing about, which meant a long time dozing back off. The board was so narrow he was afraid he was going to fall off, so he was waking up often, which meant I would wake up too. Lights on, lights off, lights on, lights off.

Then the next attempt with two leaves under--Larry was sleeping when I came to bed. I got in, laid down for a split second, and was back up, yelling, "No way!" Half on/half off just didn't work at all. Lights on, and we found the other table leaves, lifted the mattress and got back in bed. Lights off. Back on to find the heating pad. Off again. Back on when he needed a pillow under his legs. Off. Back on to put ointment on his neck. Off. And then both of us restless all night because of the unfamiliar hard mattress. And he was up and out to sleep in a chair.

One night--or was it morning?--we were up and doing something with the boards, I think. The lights were on once again as we fussed around trying to get things right. I looked at Larry and said, "We're like a couple of old people, up in the middle of the night muddling around and grumbling!"

And it dawned on me: we are old people! I mean 65 is considered old, right? And yet, I don't really think of myself as OLD. I mean yeah, I'm getting Social Security and Medicare, at least until Congress messes it up. I have gray in my hair and some wrinkles. But most days I don't feel old, and I certainly don't think of myself that way, even if I am stiff and shuffling some mornings.

So when does a person finally recognize and admit that they're old? Or do they ever? Do we continue to see ourselves as capable and strong until we're so bad off that we can't function? I don't know. Meanwhile, the night-time rodeo is at a stalemate. His neck still hurts. His back and knees still hurt. I hurt in all the same places as before.

But I am still working hard every day, painting and lifting, cleaning and moving stuff, walking all over the place and busy, busy, busy. He groans around for a while in the mornings then can't help himself--he's back at it too. Right now he's collecting rocks so he can finish his stone wall that's been a three-year project. Later he'll be on the roof of the chicken house nailing down some loose tin.

Aging is physical for sure. Getting old, though, I think that's all in a person's mind. At least until they're really, really old. Whenever that is.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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