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.

1 comment:

annie said...

I remember Momma getting one of those once, I hated that bitty freezer, that thing didn't live long with us. She hated it too, it just passed through her hands free because our other one quit and she didn't have money at the time to replace it. I can still see it now out on the enclosed back porch. Delegated there because she didn't want it in the kitchen. Of course the funny thing was she had the regular stuffed. Into the pantry, a tiny kitchen. She finally captured the dining room for a new kitchen complete with birch cabinets. Then she stuffed the dryer in the pantry. The old kitchen became a junk hole for every imaginable thing she wanted to hide.

You know, I hadn't thought of any of that in years! Here it is midnight and I'm laughing my head off. Guess I needed to let go of some steam, it's been a very hard week!

Thanks Granny Sue for the memories! 🤣

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